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In the Neighborhood: Arts & Culture in Washtenaw County


Over the summer I was contacted by Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and my friend Decky Alexander, Director of Engage at EMU to participate as a Navigator for In the Neighborhood, a new initiative to gather answers from residents about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. My role was to identify two artists who would facilitate an event, culling answers from ten attendees while creating art in tandem with conversation. Priority was given to getting to the root of what our neighborhoods feel like, how they do or don't function, who was making art, who was being heard and who wasn't. It was a tall order to fill. 


A while back Nick and I had worked on this idea to bring students and professionals to prepare and share meals together. The idea was not funded but I thought this was an opportunity to build a "safe" environment while enjoying in food. It was also a chance to build an ephemeral art happening where we had no clue what the outcome would be. 

The first artist I called upon was Marisa Dluge. As a performer with a effervescent presence, I knew she would be phenomenal at harnessing the energy of a group. She came up with the brilliant idea to include Elize Jekabson, chef and sculptor. As we started brainstorming, it was evident Elize's contribution would be key to the art building process and reflection aspect of the project. One of our planning meetings took place at Hyperion Coffee. It wasn't until I counted the chairs at the beautiful wood surface that I realized there were 10 chairs.  We were sitting at the surface our evening would take place at. Eric Mullins, one of the proprietors (and dinner guests) was generous in his time and effort and quickly agreed to let us hold the dinner there. Nick documented the evening, of course. 


We invited guests based on who we thought would have a valuable voice but may not have the platform to share these ideas regularly. The group included artists, a musician, belly dancer, event planner, and three high school students very involved in The Learning Studio

We centered our courses around key questions the AAACF was seeking responses to. We pared them down to five courses. 


Course 1: Building | Salad: How do you define your neighborhood? 

Course 2: Drawing | Sauces: What does the arts and cultural landscape look like? Feel like in your neighborhood?

Course 3: Deconstruction | Rice Rolls: What's missing from your neighborhood?

Course 4: Dialogue | Lasagna

Course 5: Closing | Ice cream



Over the course of the evening we realized our goal to serve, document, and capture five courses was a bit lofty. (In the interest of time, we skipped the Deconstruction course. By then everyone was hungry after an hour of conversation and building). The conversation between strangers was flowing and organic, unearthing more pondering. It's difficult to convey how rich the conversation was but a few key lines resonated with me. 

What builds your neighborhood isn’t just your neighbors…it could be the way the air smells. 

It has potential but it’s just not used. The people there can be something or someone but they choose to involve themselves in the streets. There’s a lot of athletes where I live but they involve themselves in the wrong crowd, messing them over. 

I’m an outcast, I’ve been in Ypsi for the last 10 years or so. Now I live in College Heights and there’s me driving down the road in a rusty ass truck. And they’re all with their kids and strollers and I’m like “never”. 

I don’t interact with my neighbors too much. We live in an apartment complex. I recognize a good chunk of you from being around Ypsi. It’s an abstract idea, but I know a group of people around Ypsi I have things in common with. 

So maybe neighborhood is more in the people you know. 


After building the first course:

We were trying to create the Water Tower - something that everyone identifies with as a landmark. My north star. 

This is the best representation of a neighborhood because we all did our own thing. We blended. We didn’t discuss but we worked well together and that shows how a neighborhood works. 

There’s a lot of connections and overlaps in pockets of art. I think it’s organic. 

Classes around neighborhoods. Upper class is sitting on green, they have a lot of “cheese”. This is some hurdles to jump over in order to move up. We were looking at different lines of watermelon. Some are rich, clean, better off than the ones down here…the ones are chewed up, spit out. 

The streets are messed up with a lot of construction. I used balsamic to show the streets are messed up. 

There’s a real class divided in the way arts and culture lives here. 

I disagree that there are a lot of places to play music. 


After the second drawing course:

Isolation, I drew an art community, isolated because people usually don’t see the actual value of art. People who see art can acknowledge what’s happening but others see it as another painting, it’s isolated to the world of the artists, whether it’s photography or painting. 

An Ypsi Mandala. It represents myself in the middle. This represents the growth I’ve experienced since I’ve moved here. Lines of connection, it is in who you know. 

My art world is so cool…and no one judges me for it. 

I’m a white dude, it’s easy for me to have access to all that stuff. I come from a family with means…not everybody can do that. I’m not always sure what to do about that. 

There’s still a need for spaces that are not downtown or in Depot Town. 


As I was listening to the conversation I heard yearning for inclusion, more spaces for performative work (including spoken word, theater, music) and a general wish to have high quality programs that are affordable or free. Ypsilanti is chock full of talent and opportunity, it's a matter of converging resources and distributing information so it reaches everyone. 

Access was also a factor which could prohibit students and adults from consuming arts and culture in the county. Whether it's transportation, social familiarity or cultural access, there are barriers which keep people from enjoying an event. The students came up with especially thoughtful points on how one person's art could be mean something else altogether to someone else. We were the first of the In the Neighborhood events produced, there will one more in Ypsilanti and another in Ann Arbor soon. I'm hopeful for the outcome of these productions and what will be created as a result of these meaningful conversations. I'll end with my favorite quote of the evening. 

I feel like art can connect all of us. 



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Course by Course with Paesano Restaurant

I've been going to Paesano for as long as I can remember. The food, the ambiance and service has kept my family returning for years. Experiencing it when we returned to the area was no different. Owners Michael and Bridget Roddy always go out of their way to take care of their customers (and we hear this extends to their employees as well)! 

Nick and I love to go there even though it's removed from the downtown scene, or more likely because it is removed from the downtown scene. When we dine there, we know it's a destination experience where we'll linger through the courses. The service is impeccable and the flavors are always exciting. We had an unforgettable pappardelle dish as one of our courses during their Carnevale celebration a couple months ago. The ragu was perfectly savory with a touch of sweetness. We later discovered the sweetness was from sautéed grapes — so delicious!

Nick shot their seasonal menu a couple weeks ago and we were delighted with how beautifully each dish was plated, perfect for photographing, which isn't always the case. With their travel excursions, Italian classes, movie nights and birthday cards, they truly make you feel like part of the family. We can't say enough wonderful things about the restaurant and we're really honored to be working with them. 



The Wurst Challenge 2015

Just a couple blocks from the studio is this incredible organization called FLY Children's Art Center. And it's just like it sounds. It's a place for kids and families to let their imaginations take flight, possibilities are endless with courses in drawing, painting, theater, costumery, robotics and we're so lucky to count them as creative neighbors. 

One of their big annual fundraisers is The Wurst Challenge at The Wurst Bar, where contenders raise funds, eat LOTS of delicious sausages while dressed up in their best garb and make a name for themselves. You really can't go wrong when the thread for the event is #20feetofmeat. Yep.

Here are just a few of the momentous highlights of last night's event. 



A Nibble of Restaurant Week and Taste of Ann Arbor 2014

Arbor Brewing Co.

Arbor Brewing Co.

Gandy Dancer

Gandy Dancer

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

Nick's whirlwind week of shooting Restaurant Week and Taste of Ann Arbor participants is over. Whew! Here's a sample of the absolutely delectable plates he captured. We're so proud to be a part of the local food scene here. Thanks to everyone that let him come in during your busy days and especially for the goodies! 

Conor O'Neill's

Conor O'Neill's



Note: These were all mini sessions which Nick captured with his specially made handheld lighting system. Our full styling and food photo shoots usually take 4-10 hours. To see more samples of work, visit our Food page here



Food Cart Deliciousness at XDelica Dumplings

We had the pleasure of meeting Sean and Leeann a few weeks ago to talk about food photos and drawings of one of my favorite things to eat in the whole entire world — dumplings. With fillings like beef with potato curry and even cheese, things at Mark's Carts food courtyard just got even more enticing. 

My dumpling illustration will be used for their logo and branding.

My dumpling illustration will be used for their logo and branding.

XDelica Dumplings is all about quick, handmade and top quality ingredients coupled with delicious sides like pickled salads, sweet sausage and seasonal soups.

Tomorrow's opening day and we can't wait to try their daily combo or any of the rotating dumpling specials. Hope you're hungry because this is the first dumpling joint in the area and we're certain it's going to knock your socks off!



Taste of Ann Arbor + Restaurant Week 2014

Over the last two and a half years, Nick has become the photographer that people trust for gooey, decadent, in-your-face food photos. So when we started thinking about who we wanted to partner with this upcoming season, it made sense to work with Main Street Area Association. Maura Thomson not only oversees the bustling Restaurant Weeks (twice a year in January and June) but she also manages the logistics for Taste of Ann Arbor, a street fair that brings in thousands of people for a daylong food fest.

We're so excited to be a sponsor and the official photographer during both of these events. You'll see Nick out and about capturing the hullabaloo of the dinners and festivities as well as all the scrumptious photos on their website of the participating restaurants. We'll be working closely with chefs and owners to represent their succulent offerings from their limited menus so you know what to look forward to.

Nick will get to use the portable light set-up he created himself (more on that in a later blog) and we can share some our food styling secrets with you along the way!

When you see us out and about, stop and say hello and pose for a photo. (We'll try not to take it while you're stuffing a slider in your face). It's going to be a whirlwind Spring so check back for lots of details on the shoots and food styling!

If you're a restaurant owner or you know of a restaurant in need of professional food styling and photos, contact us now through June 2014 for a special Food Month photo shoot. 




Shots at Two James Spirits

Damn the snow for making me late last Friday because I was anxious to get to Two James Spirits, the first distillery in Detroit since Prohibition. Distilled and bottled right in the heart of the city, Peter Bailey and Dave Landrum are the founders of this small but incredibly high-quality operation. 


Besides a few merchandise pieces I was there to shoot the bottled products, their 28 Island Vodka, Grass Widow Bourbon and Old Cockney Gin. 


And the tasting room with generous hours.


And the unique space at Michigan Avenue and 17th Street, overlooking the train station and down the street from Slow's Bar-B-Q.


If you find yourself looking for an experience and product unlike any other, visit Two James Sprits for yourself.



The Pizza We Couldn't Get In the City: City's Pizza

All the years we lived in Chicago, we never really had a go-to pizza place. We didn't love deep dish and we couldn't find what we came to call a Michigan Pizza. A Michigan Pizza has chewy dough, a crispy yet fluffy crust and toppings on top of the cheese. You'd think these things were easy to come by but time and time again we were disappointed. That is, until we moved back to Ann Arbor. 

We discovered City's Pizza not too long ago and it is by far the best pizza we've had in a long time. Once we started going and noticing how incredibly friendly the entire staff was, we were hooked. Nick went in to their open kitchen to work with owners Brian and Paul on capturing their pizzas as they came piping hot out of the oven. Can't you just see how it oozes yumminess? 

And when we're not in the mood for a pie, we can get delicious BBQ wings.  

Or super cheesy cheese bread.

City's Pizza really does deliver a perfect pizza every time. If you're in the area, you need to try it!

To get some delectable photos for your menu, ads or social networking pages, give us a call at 734-929-2498 or email us now.




Jazzy Veggie, Take 2: Delicious Vegetarian Fare

Jazzy Veggie is a staple on Main Street known for their innovative, vegetarian comfort food (many items on the menu are vegan). And in the last couple years they've become the go-to spot for herbivores and omnivores alike. When we worked with Andy a couple years ago, he was offering favorites like sweet potato fries and veggie quinoa burgers. 

As his customers tastes have evolved, so has his ever-growing menu. Behold the beauty of the beet, brown rice and lentil burger! 



Pair it with a salad of quinoa, corn and garlic roasted red pepper with kale on the side.

If you're not up for a quick bite, take the time to savor a full "meatloaf" plate with mashed potatoes and gravy.  

If pizza is more your speed, try the pesto, artichoke, roasted red pepper - hot and crispy right out of the oven.  

End your meal with a sweet apple treat from Achatz Handmade Pie Co. All vegan and all goodness.  

After the shoot, our stomachs were rumbling from the delightful smells. We had a black bean burger and an agave BBQ chicken sandwich. Each was chock full of spices and flavor.

Andy now has a new inventory of images for Facebook, Twitter and his website! Our food styling and lighting expertise makes all the difference for our clients. 

Give us a call or email to set up a free consultation today. 



Our Favorite Spot in Town: Food photos at Mr. Spots

For almost twenty years now I've been going to Mr. Spots, the home of the Philly cheesesteak (served on an Amoroso bun), hot wings and a phenomenally delicious chicken sandwich steps from UM's campus. I had discovered the place with my best friend during high school and continued to go even after Nick and I moved to Chicago on our visits home. 

We met with owner Keith McKendry (he owns one other Mr. Spots locations with his business partner Tim Wojcik) to talk about what look he wanted for his rotating digital menus, but we already knew the product all too well. We had little trouble highlighting some of our favorites like the Philly Original, waffle fries and chicken fingers.

The food is simply top notch American fare prepared in an immaculate and well-appropriated kitchen. There have been a lot of improvements since their first location (just next door) back in 1986 and it shows. Known for serving up the freshest and hottest food on the strip, athletes including Tom Brady and Charles Woodson have made Mr. Spot's their go-to place on campus and later during their professional careers.

But enough said. We'll let the food speak for itself. 

To schedule a meeting to talk about how we can make your food pop through styling and great photography, give us a call at 734-929-2498 or email us.



Sustainable and Delicious: Pop-up Dinners with Central Provisions

Our calendar's been busy with food shoots and today's post will not disappoint your senses.

We'd been to the The Bar at 327 Braun Court for drinks in the past but we kept hearing about a spectacular pop-up dinner that was taking place there. 

Central Provisions is a weekly occurring dinner on Wednesday evenings, sourcing organic, sustainable and when possible, local ingredients. Nick met the partners and chefs behind the operation Steve Hall and Abby Olitzky, while they whipped up their delectable plates and the results were beautifully tempting. 

The small plate menu changes weekly but here's what they were serving that particular evening: 

Ricotta baked in tomato leaves, crostini, pickled garlic scapes (brinery) 

Fried eggplant and padron peppers, buttermilk, chives

Crispy kale salad, shaved spring vegetables, parmesan, honey lemon vinaigrette

Cherry tomato cobbler, cheddar

Chicken with tarragon cream sauce, carrots, almonds

Summer berry pudding, whipped cream

With such a thoughtfully curated menu, it's no wonder that they're getting rave reviews and building lots of interest among the foodie set in Ann Arbor. To learn more about their ever-changing menu, contact them at

Bon appétit!