Process 046 ☼ My Most Meaningful Shoot
Give Away: Carla Dief's new zine "TRIPS"
This week I’m diving into my archives to share what well might be my most meaningful shoot ever: the time I spent the day with food legend Phila Hach.
One of these images was published in National Geographic Traveller magazine in 2017 as part of their Snapshot column (see below) and a few others have been shared as part of my One of Many project, but this is the first time most of these images are shown, and I did a fresh 2022 edit on all of them especially for this issue of Process.
I am also sharing some of Phila’s beautiful words from the day, which I thankfully audio recorded on my phone during our shoot. Her words of wisdom and warmth have stayed with me ever since. I hope they make you feel encouraged like Phila did for me.
For this week’s GIVEAWAY we have a beautiful new (and sold out!) zine by Carla Dief, a great photographer and YouTuber I met in Madrid.
Important Note: Since this is an extensive issue with a many images it’s possible some email programs will cut it off before the end. To make sure you get to see the whole thing read it on the Process website here.
From The Archives: Phila Hach
One of my favorite things about photography is that my camera can function as a magical passport that allows me to travel into another person’s world. This is a big part of the reason why I loved working on my One of Many project, and why I am currently so excited to be documenting the creative community of Amsterdam.
It’s a privilege when someone who I have never met welcomes me into their life. It means they trust me to take photos that are representative and honor their story. Every one of these shoots are special to me and once in a while there is an extra special one. This shoot with Ms. Phila Hach was perhaps my most special one, in large part due to the effect she had on me personally and my photography journey.
At the time of our shoot Ms.Hach was 88 years young and a true living legend of Southern food and hospitality. She lived many lives before that. In the postwar 1940s she was one of the very first commercial flight attendants for American Airlines.
Already passionate about food and cooking she would use her down time in Europe to sample local cuisines and charm her way into famous kitches to pick up tips and learn new cooking techniques. She’d put that knowledge to use when she developed one of the first ever in-flight airline menus for American Airlines.
In the 1950’s, while continuing to fly on weekends, she hosted Kitchen Kollege, which aired five times a week and was the first live cooking show hosted by a woman.
In the 1960s, she wrote the first of 17 cookbooks to her name, including the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store series, the official 1982 World’s Fair Cookbook, and a United Nations cook book based on recipes gathered when she cooked for the 1800 delegates that visited Nashville in 1976. She fed three US Presidents, Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, June Carter Cash, and her personal friend Julia Childs.
When I visited Ms. Hach she was running five businesses with her son Joe, including a vineyard, an inn, a wedding chapel, a catering service and a conference center.
All of these numbers and names are impressive, but they are not the first thing I think about when reminiscing about my time with Ms. Hach. What I think about is the way she made me feel.
She inspired me with her words, her smile and her outlook on life. Her kindness was immediately apparent in her greeting as I arrived. The dulcet Tennessee tones of her voice transported me into a place where wisdom was plentiful and joy expected.
What I admired most about Ms. Hach was the way in which she married a sense of wonder usually reserved for young childred with a tender conviction that can only come from a woman who has lived a long and full life.
Her words and approach to life made me want to be the best person I can be, to be better, to be more like Ms. Hach. I’ve included some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom that were sprinkled into our conversation, all in her own words.
On inner strength:
When you learn to empower the inner strength within yourself, nothing else matters. There’s nobody on this very earth today, that’s exactly the same. And when you realize that, and you want to be a part of this flow of energy that we all have, then you walk freely, unencumbered, and unafraid. I think my parents taught us that. It opens every single door.
I still don’t know who I want to be. I’m 88 years old and I still learn something every day. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know. I had two children. My first son was born very prematurely, back in the 1950’s. They didn’t know what to do with him. He weighed a pound and a half. He lived, but was severely retarded and handicapped. A gorgeous little boy. He could’ve been stillborn, but he breathed. Now why is this? We don’t know. So, what happens to you in your life, you either become sour or you make lemonade out of it, and see all the sugar and all the wonderful things. Each day is given to us, to impact our lives either positively or negatively. I’m not a negative person. I’m not going to go that route, and I’m not going to let other people take me that route. You don’t need to do that.
I don’t like buttons. I love ruffles. I don’t have anything that has a button on it. Why? Because I get up at daylight, when it’s still dark, and I never can get my buttons to match.
I drink half a glass of red wine about once a month. I’m not a habitual person. I do nothing by habit. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t wear jewelry.
On wants and needs:
When we’re young, we want everything. And we deserve everything that we can earn. What matters is knowing that your needs and wants are two different things.
On job interviews:
The first thing that a corporations asks you is what your grade point average is. They don’t ask you about the things that make you successful, like your perseverance. They ask you about your degree. They don’t ask you if you take care of your body.
On reading and innovation:
I read constantly. I read a book a week. Not fiction. Life is much more interesting than fiction. I’m interested in the world. And that includes right here. The very wind that blows here this morning, the very clouds that are here, have been all over the world. The ocean was sucked up to make clouds, and the westerly winds come in and blow across China, and Europe. So nothing is new. The only thing that is new is what the brain of man can develop, from what is old.
I didn’t marry until I was 31. I’ve done a lot. I’ve flown all over the world. I’ve done the first women’s television show. That’s because I knew who I was, even if I didn’t know who I was going to be yet. You have to prove yourself in this life. When someone doesn’t believe in you, it’s hard. But always remember that people believe and trust in integrity. Keep your integrity. I’ve seen incredible new things come into this world and lived in the most unbelievable time. And you do too. Take advantage of it, and keep learning, with an open heart. Be humble. Be kind.
We don’t own the planet. We’re merely a little passenger on this space ship. And what we can do is absorb as much of the beauty and the quality of life that we all have. The little birds are passengers, the little bee that makes our honey is a passenger. The little fox in the forest is a passenger. And I love being a part of it, being that little minute molecule of this great earth. I’m here today, gone tomorrow. Will I be missed? No!
The one thing Ms. Hach was wrong about was that last line. She is very much missed, by many. Ms. Hach passed away about a year and a half later at the age of 89 years old. Her son Joe continues to operate all the properties of Hachland Hill.
After I wrapped up the shoot Ms. Hach asked me for my address so she could send me a thank you note. That never really happens at a shoot, even great ones. I still own this hand-written letter and will forever treasure it. The last line of the letter reads: “You wedged a little spot in my heart — come back soon and bring another wedge.”
Equipment & Lessons Learned
35mm f/1.4 + 50mm 1.8 lens
F 1.8 - 8
1/200 - 800 shutter
ISO 200 - 3200
This shoot was part of my first year as a photographer and I really had no idea what I was doing on a technical level. The settings on these images are all over the place and there were lots of mistakes. Thankfully technical imperfection doesn’t mean a photo isn’t “good” on an emotional level but they could’ve been better if I had had a better understanding of how to use my shutter times and iso to get proper exposures.
If I could go back in time I would’ve expanded my focus to also include the details of the beautiful spaces and environments we were in. The pictures of the fruit dish and the framed portraits on the wall are two of the only details I shot that day and you can see how much it adds to the story. I have since learned that there is a difference between a portrait of a person and really telling the story of that person by documenting their environment and unique details.
Another thing I would do differently now is to make sure to have a better balance of both vertical and horizontal shots. For magazine work vertical shots are so important because they can fill an entire page but I didn’t really know that at the time so I shot nearly all my shots that day in horizontal orientation.
Just some notes on how I could’ve made it better, which is not to say I am not happy with these images because they do the most important part: they move me.
That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this first ever From The Archives edition of Process. Let me know! See you next Sunday.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
PS If you have photography questions you’d like to have me answer drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line Process Question.
PPS After years of not using Twitter I started sharing some work there again, you can find me at @wesley.
When I was in Madrid in December I went on a great little photo walk with local photographer and YouTuber Carla Dief and her boyfriend videographer Manu. Carla just published her new zine “Trips” which features photos from her recent travels. One reader will win a copy of this zine from which the first print is already sold out!
To enter email me at email@example.com using the subject line Process Giveaway 046 before 11pm EST on February 2nd and answer the following question:
If you would make a travel-related zine inside of your own country where would you go?
The winner will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:
Make sure to show Carla some love on Instagram and check out her Youtube channel.
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I really enjoyed your article on Phila. I had the opportunity to meet her and spend a few hours with her at a site visit for a corporate retreat at Hachland Hill. I left feeling like I had spent a day with the nicest person on this earth. Also, I was on a sugar high after we each enjoyed two pieces of pie and a couple cups of coffee. And, I came home with one of her cookbooks; autograhped by Ms. Phila. One of the best days ever!!
I missed my chance with a beautiful person just like Phila recently. Barbara Holden passed, but we took photos together. I bought her painting, and we hugged on different occasions whenever we met at the local art galleries. At her solo exhibition, she said, “Raj, this is my last Rodeo.” I wish I had sat and interviewed her, but all is good. Her painting is in my office. She passed at 91 and led an extraordinary life.