Papi Chulo

I was asked last weekend if I would head to Manly to photograph Papi Chulo. Of course I said yes despite the fact that I had a couple of other commitments that day.

Last Sunday was a beautiful sunny almost-summer kind of day so the ferry to Manly was heaving, and at one point, whilst queueing, I almost thought they would shut the gates, and I would have to wait until the next ferry. However, I got there with time to spare, so I sat outside the venue for a bit, to get myself into the headspace, and trying to remember what the it looked like on the inside, as it occurred to me then that it had been more than a year-and-a-half since I’d last visited.

My brief had been to capture scenes of smiling staff taking good care of their customers, busy kitchen action, shots of people walking into the venue with the signage clearly in the frame, pull-back/wide frame shots, exterior and interior shots, including shots of the restaurant with the windows open and welcoming, as well shots looking out to the wharf. It sounded like a ‘can do’ on paper, but the reality of it was far more challenging.

For a start, it was super windy that day, so the windows were all closed. I sat outside for half an hour trying to capture people on their way in. Most of this time was spent waiting for the right person or people to walk into the frame. Why is it that when you want something to happen, it simply doesn’t? Whoever said that being a photographer is about being patient was right. She hadn’t taken into account the factor of being on the clock, though.

When I got inside, the restaurant was in full swing, and I couldn’t get anywhere near the pass (the bit where the chefs place the plates under the heat lamps ready for them to be conveyed to the table). There was also someone in front of the pass 99% of the time, coordinating the orders, his torso effectively blocking my view. He was doing his job, so there was no way I could even contemplate asking him to step aside. There was also a table of six or seven right in front of the kitchen, precisely where I would’ve stood in order to capture the working open kitchen so that was also a non-starter.

I sought out smiling staff instead. They were as few and far between. They seemed to be concentrating very hard on their tasks, which I understood, of course – it was a busy lunchtime service. In fact, the only person who smiled regularly was the manager, Jamie.

Speaking of Jamie, he was kind enough to open one of the windows for me, so I tried to tick the boxes of the items on the list involving open windows.

Pull-back, wide angle shots were also part of the brief, but these too proved to be challenging. The best places to stand for these were in doorways or thoroughfares, or in spots where diners were already seated. I understood the desire was to capture a busy and buzzy environment, but due to the level of activity taking place, it was not possible for me to position myself where I needed to be, without interfering with the movements of the service staff.

I won’t even mention the impulse people have to pose whenever they see a camera pointed at them. Or worse, when they stop and wait for you to take the shot, thinking they’re doing you a favour. Usually, I haven’t seen them, so I don’t know they’re ‘being nice’ and waiting for me… or I’ve seen them, and I’m poised waiting for them to walk into the frame… but there they are w-a-i-t-i-n-g.

Argh! I was so frustrated by the end of the session. That said, I quite like a few of the shots in this series – I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m tooting my own horn – because they feel very light, clean and bright. (Remember my last post where I was concerned about being too dark? I forced myself not to ‘stop down’ as much as I normally might during this session and I think it worked out fine.)

Anyway, as I’m typing this, my shoes are drying out from the drenching they took this evening when the skies opened. I almost can’t believe that these photos were taken only a couple of days ago. Talk about changeable weather.

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