By Kristin L.Wolfe
You know when people say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, I’ve turned this phrase over and over in my head when thinking about the immensely talented photographer, Winter Caplanson. I’m at a standstill as to how to respond to that phrase because I have ooed and ah’d and gone on nonstop to people about her work and other times I have been left utterly speechless at the sheer beauty or raw capture from her lens. What is so profound to me, is I can instantly spot one of her shots. There’s such a unique style from composition and color to tone and setting. One thing is for sure, whether it is a thousand words, or none which will do her work justice, I’m in awe.
After working with her for over a year now, on the stunning publication Connecticut Food & Farm Magazine, which she founded and orchestrates, I’ve gained so much respect for not only her photography, but the countless hours she puts in to promoting the food and farm industry across our state. And, just about everything she does seems to be a labor of love.
From starting the Coventry Regional Farmers Market and bringing it to light, to the magazine, Caplanson brings viewers, readers, buyers, and creators together. Her work demonstrates the epitome of community. And, she makes sure readers see the tireless work that goes into the products consumers enjoy, not just the final instagram shot.
“Telling the stories of Connecticut farmers, makers, and chefs, in images and words is currently all consuming to me.
My commercial photography provides a tremendous opportunity to meet people in the food and farm world and hear what they are growing toward and see what is unique in that work. I’m always pondering the story that we might tell as insiders of the local food movement that an appreciative public wants to know about.”
No one would deny that farmers work hard, but Caplanson will be there at dawn to capture them feeding the animals or picking the harvest, so readers can really see the work; so they can see the toil, the sweat, sometimes the challenges. As a matter of fact, one of the most stunning photos I’ve seen of hers is a close up of a farmer’s hands, all seasoned and covered in dirt. She’ll also be the one to snap shots at a restaurant on off hours to catch sous chefs preparing the mise en place before everything is cooked, and not just get a beauty shot of the dish on a diner’s plate when it’s served. When presenting the world with such imagery, the work and countless hours that may otherwise go unnoticed, it often creates an essential level of understanding. In one shot, Caplanson can tell someone’s story, and perhaps, connect us all in a much more meaningful way.
Although it might not seem like it on the surface, her 20 years as a teacher groomed her for the work she does now; she brings people together, and builds on their strengths and what makes them unique. As a photographer, she makes the often unseen seen as when a good teacher really sees or listens to a student. We all just want to be seen and to be heard at the end of the day. On either side of the lens, Caplanson has achieved that. She explains, “[Teachers] have the ability to quietly be with you. They invite you to learn, collaborate, and make new understandings together.” This is what she does now, giving many in the community a platform where they may not otherwise have one, and where others can appreciate what they do.
In addition to her work behind the lens and traveling all over the state to meet with farmers, chefs, crafters of all sorts, she wrangles other creators together to produce Connecticut Food & Farm Magazine, a pro-bono effort for all involved. Despite the voluntary effort, Caplanson says, “The assignments they accept from us are topics they are passionate about. The connections the magazine provides puts them in places and with people they otherwise may not be able to access. Sometimes it is portfolio building. In other cases, it is a welcome stretch from their professional photographic niche. It is like Christmas morning for me to open their photo folders and see the magic they’ve captured.” As for me, as a writer, I remember just wanting to be a part of such a beautiful, meaningful publication.
“Because our magazine is digital,” Caplanson continues, “we can include many more images than if we had to worry about page count. Our lookbook approach means the photographers’ work is showcased, and even improved by excellent design. I think we all swoon when we get our first look at each new issue!”
When I first saw Caplanson’s work I remember being struck; I was truly mesmerized by everything. It was dark, and rich with deep hues I wasn’t used to seeing, especially in food photography. It was as if instead of just shining a light on the plate of food, she was creating a moment, a mood the viewer got to be a part of. “My eye rests easy on black,” she says. “I love deep, dark shadows in my images, so I have learned to find or make that light. I gravitate toward and incorporate rich color… chartreuse, burnt orange, verdigris, and indigo.” Beyond the colors and compositions, she often includes pieces which capture the eye, like an old trinket or bowl or sign. “I have lived my whole life surrounded by antiques. They deliver story and soul.”
Even though creators can get deeply tied to much of their work, I asked her to talk about a favorite. She recalls, “at the Brooklyn Fair, the sun sinking below the horizon was casting the kind of perfect golden hour light that lasts only a few minutes. When light is that perfect, all a photographer wants to do is put something interesting in it. I ducked into the cow barn and asked the first young lady I saw whether she had a cow there and if she did would she like to bring it out right then for a photo? She led out her calf ‘Billie’ and, with the blue ribbon in hand that the two had won; they stood nose to nose and she gave that cow a smooch; and I swear that sweet, doe-eyed cow kissed her back. It was a moment in time that, to me, captures the love of farmer and animal and what it is to be an enthusiastic young person coming up in the world of Connecticut agriculture.”
You’d think beyond all she does to unearth the Connecticut food movement, we’d just catch her napping by a fire at home; but, even when she’s “off” you could find her exploring. “Look for me where the old things are,” she laughs. “Junk shops, Brimfield, and Goodwill. I am ever on the hunt! I love cooking but defer to the chefs for beautiful plates [and] I’m more likely to be dishing up comfort food. I inherited the gardening gene. I have four dogs and that is almost enough.
Before I let her go, I wanted to talk to Caplanson about women in particular. Knowing that Femfluent will be reaching a cross-section of all ages and backgrounds, I asked her about young women carving out a path like hers. She asserts, “Be of service to the industry. Work for free until you are good enough to charge. Under promise and over deliver. Work a lot, for a good amount of money when you can, for a little money otherwise, and sometimes for none at all because all that work accelerates the pace of learning all the lessons experience will teach you.”
Thank you, Winter Caplanson, for your time, your extraordinary efforts as a steward for the Connecticut food industry, and the beautiful stories you tell through your lens.
Learn more about Caplanson’s work @connfoodandfarm.