Travis Duncan works primarily in his home community in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he photographs local chefs and beverage professionals for both corporate clients and publications that include The Washington Post and Food & Wine. Duncan’s ongoing personal project, a chef, winemaker and brewmaster portrait series, brings to life the foodie scene in Missouri.
“I wanted the photographs to be more than just prop-based portraits,” Duncan explains, “so bringing in a degree of gesture ended up being key.”
ASMP: You photograph mainly in the culinary world. How did you get your start in that field and how long have you been in business?
Travis Duncan: In my home base in Mid-Missouri, food and agriculture are a big deal. I have a lot of good friends in the food scene here, so photographing food and beverages is naturally a good fit.
When I started my business in 2001, my focus was mostly portrait work. It didn’t matter to me what type of portrait I was making, as long as I was working with people I would be satisfied. A few years prior to starting my own business, I assisted for three amazing ASMP photographers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shooting food, portraits, product and catalog. I joined ASMP myself in 2004 and have enjoyed the membership ever since.
ASMP: What are some of your favorite clients you’ve shot for?
TD: The Business Times Corporation, FEAST magazine, Food & Wine, Learfield Communications, Nike, The Washington Post, to name a few…
ASMP: When did you start your chef, winemaker and brew master portrait series? What did you want to evoke through these portraits?
TD: I started working on this specific set of images in May of 2015 with the idea of creating a series of unique, storytelling portraits of the creative personalities behind our local food scene. It was a short project — I think I had everything photographed within three weeks or so. It was fun, and I think the most important thing for me was to incorporate elements that spoke to the individual subject and their unique culinary strengths. I wanted the photographs to be more than just a prop-based portrait, so bringing in a degree of gesture ended up being key. I think we made it work well and achieved a good level of success with the photographs.
ASMP: How did you meet your subjects in this series?
TD: I contribute my time and skills every year to the Boys & Girls Club for their photo needs. Each year they have a big fundraiser for the club called Cork, Fork & Brew. This is a great event that brings together some amazing talent and compassionate humanitarians from within our community. In 2015 we raised over $140,000 for the club, and over $375,000 over its four years in existence. It’s a great cause, and I met several of the subjects during this project. I’ve also come to know many of the subjects over the years of living in our community.
ASMP: What are the key ingredients for shooting an excellent culinary portrait?
TD: I think shooting an excellent culinary portrait is the same as shooting any excellent portrait. With my chef series I wanted to know a bit more about the individual strengths of each of the chefs in order to create portraits that underscored each of their unique styles. I think with any portrait, if you can combine great gesture and composition with other storytelling components, and great technical execution, you’ll likely have a successful picture.
Portraits are a strange beast. There has to be a level of trust between the person being photographed and the photographer. It’s a give and take. Once you get to know your subject a little, and you are able to get them to let down their guard and just be natural, you’ll get great looking images. It’s very much a balance of human psychology and observation.
ASMP: In general, what sets your work apart from other food, beverage and portrait photographers?
TD: I do have a hyper-sensitivity for seeing small degrees of gesture and expressional differences in people. It’s something I’ve always been good at. I have also been told on numerous occasions that I am obsessive about light quality, easy to work with, consistent and reliable.
ASMP: What is the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?
TD: The sense of community, advocacy and educational benefits I get by being a member is huge. Also the vast resource base available through the ASMP is an incredible tool for me. It seems like I still struggle daily with pricing concerns, estimating and negotiating, but with ASMP at my back I have the confidence of being able to draw from a collective knowledge base. If I can’t find the answers I’m looking for through the ASMP website, I know I can always call up a member that has more experience than I do for guidance.
ASMP: Have you formed any important relationships through your ASMP membership?
TD: I have formed a few nice relationships with clients through “Find a Photographer” over the years, which is great. Some of my biggest mentors and oldest relationships have been with other ASMP members, and I appreciate all they have done to help me with my business over the years.