Peden and Munk, Photographers
New York City
Interview by Laura Piety
A Rverie Conversation with photographers Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold, otherwise known as Peden+Munk. We've been huge fans since catching their shoot with the unbelievably talented kid-chef, Flynn McGarry (catch an image from the shoot below). Their iconically- bold images have lit up the pages of some of today’s top cultural publications including The New York Times Magazine, Vogue Nippon, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler and The Hollywood Reporter, to name but a few of a rather illustrious list. Enjoy. And a quick tip: make sure you've eaten, otherwise you'll be pretty hungry by the end of this feature!
It’s awesome to interview you guys. I've been admiring your work for a little while now, so I’m super excited that we’ve been able to pull this together. Firstly, where did the love of photography come from both of you?
Taylor Peden: My Dad is a photographer, so I kind of grew up in the industry, but it wasn’t until I started taking my own pictures in elementary school that I really developed a love for it. Shooting film with a 35-millimeter camera, and getting the pictures developed at the local one-hour place was really where it started for me.
What about you Jen?
Jen Munkvold: I've always been artistic and when I was 13 or so, my father gave me a Pentax camera. He wasn’t a photographer himself, but had a love for nature photography. I guess he handed me the tools, and I took to them right away and fell in love.
Do you feel like you had a natural eye for images? Did this innate talent spur you forward?
Taylor: I would say yes. I think any good photographer would say that. But, I’d say our eyes have really changed and developed over the years. Also, growing up in such a visual place like New York ensured there was so much to photograph. And people responded when they saw my pictures too, which helped me continue to do it, and continue to try new things.
We both went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I’d say that’s when we really started to take it to the next level and develop our sense of style and what we wanted to capture through our art.
What was the crossover between being students and deciding you wanted to do this professionally?
Jen: It happened pretty seamlessly. When you graduate at the Art Center, they do their own version of professional ‘speed dating’ where you sit in front of about 20 different art buyers or photo editors and introduce yourself. You’re kind of thrown in the pen and you have to show them your work, get critiqued, and try to create a connection with these people. Luckily, I had an automatic connection with a photo editor at a local magazine in LA, and so we had our first job before we even graduated.
Jen: Coming into work immediately was amazing, and he continued to support us and kept us working consistently for that first year. It allowed us to build our portfolio so we could start to reach out to other publications and people.
Taylor: The focus of the school was beneficial too, it was a good mix of fine art and commercial. They really wanted you to be a successful professionally. I think a lot of opportunity came from what we put into school as well. School and instructors can only do so much, but if you don't do the assignments or push yourself, then you won't get much out of it.
I’d say we were pretty dedicated. The school is also year-round, so we were able to graduate in three years, whereas it will take four or five years for a lot of others. We really wanted to start working as soon as possible. I’d also say a lot of our work ethic also came from our parents.
Jen: We've always been really hungry to be out in the working world, so that was a lot of our inspiration and drive.
How have you guys honed the Peden + Munk brand, and how would you sum it up from an aesthetic point of view?
Taylor: When we started out we wanted a very clean aesthetic for the brand. The design for our business cards and logo is pretty much the same now as when we graduated, just really simple. There's nothing flashy about our design or website. Our images are bold, especially in their color. That's what we want to jump off the page.
Monochrome is important to us too, so we incorporate a lot of black and white. We also try to push a sense of emotion through our imagery, and have the viewer really focus on the subject matter.
Do you have different roles when it comes to working as a team, and how are they separated?
Jen: We aren’t nailed down to one role each, but generally I take on a little more of the styling elements. Taylor is a lighting genius, so he looks after that. As far as post production, he usually initiates the edits and starts the process, and I come in towards the end and help build the story.
Taylor: But we’re both involved throughout.
Jen: We’ve definitely spent time figuring out how to work best together. We both taken on every role there is, and have interchanged and switched around, but now I think we're finally getting to the point where we’ve figured out what works best for us, and we’re honing in on those roles.
There's the well-known phrase, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. What ideas do you try and communicate with your images?
Taylor: Hmm, that's a tough one. Every subject and job is different. Jen and I did a barbecue story in Memphis, Tennessee, a couple of years back. There was no stylist, creative director or editors. We were really able to weave the scenario on our own by meeting the people, and re-meeting them and going back later in the day... and the next day. We really try to bring the bond have with the subjects into the imagery.
We want the viewer to find a window into their life, finding the subject in a quiet moment… or bringing the subject themselves to a quiet moment.
As I said, it’s a real mixer and depends on the job. If we're doing a cover story for Bon Appétit for example, our job is to make that issue, irrespective of the subject matter, jump off newsstands and grab your attention.
Taylor: There are different types of boldness, it can be a quiet, or colorful, boldness.
A lot of people think that it's difficult to build a business out of a creative endeavor. What does that look like for you guys?
Jen: We've always had really good business sense in general as far as picking clients, but I would say that ultimately, it’s more that Taylor and I are really hard workers, and we’re willing to give all of our time and every ounce of ourselves to both the business and to the creativity. It just becomes one and the same. I really think that if you work hard, really hard, harder than you ever can imagine, it will lead to success, no matter what it is. When people see that, and when people feel that, and it’s genuine, I think that there's no question that you'll be successful.
That’s a great answer. I totally agree. Can we talk a little bit about some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on, and maybe even like a dream project that you guys would love to dive into?
Taylor: Last year we were able to collaborate with this amazing three-Michelin-star chef, Christopher Kostow. He has a restaurant in St. Helena, California.
I love St. Helena!
Taylor: Yeah, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. His restaurant is called The Restaurant at Meadowood. He has really amazing relationships with a lot of local growers, ceramicists and livestock owners. We were able to go up there about eight or nine times last year and shoot his cookbook. We'd be shooting food one day, and then we would meet his beekeeper the next. We shot a lot of the food in a barn at an artist’s retreat, which had a big wood fire kiln and great outdoor space. That was an amazing project, and we also did a story about it for Bon Appétit.
I’d say that was one of our dream projects, because we were able to just shoot everything, the people, the food, the nature, the landscapes.
Jen: We loved being able able to construct the Napa story as well. The way that Napa Valley is generally portrayed is completely different to what we experienced when we were there. We were able to go into this ‘secret spot’ and capture moments that a lot of people who travel to Napa probably never see.
Taylor: Yeah, so that was a great … The Memphis BBQ story we mentioned was a lot of fun. We loved that one. We also did another piece, a kind of farm-to-table piece with chef and farmer, Chris Fischer, on the Beetlebung Farm on Martha’s Vineyard. We shot a video for that as well. It was a lot of fun pushing ourselves in the video direction, having to do the music and editing was a great project for us. That was a dream.
That’s very cool.
Taylor: And we were in Hawaii earlier this year shooting another cookbook.
Jen: I guess we love to travel! That sums it up, right?
Taylor: Yeah, I’d say traveling, doing something new, always eating the food and experiencing new things.
Yeah, so basically, you guys have got a pretty great job… ha. You do so much traveling, where are some of your favorite spots?
Hmmm let's see.
Martha's Vineyard - Beach Plum Restaurant and Beetlebung farm: amazing farm to table.
Madrid - Bodega de la Ardosa: for Vermouth.
NYC+Paris - Buvette: their Croque Madame's are out of this world!
Portland+NYC - PokPok.
Los Angeles - Varnish: for cocktails
Los Angeles - Valerie Confections: Durango cookies!!
Los Angeles - Dong Dae Gaam: delicious authentic Korean
Copenhagen - Cafe Nemoland: it’s in the Christiania neighborhood... we had the most amazing pork sandwich there and still dream about it.
Copenhagen - Kødbyens Fiskebar
Copenhagen - Ruby Cocktail Lounge
Brazil (Near Trancoso)- Silvinha's Restaurant, Praia do Esspelho: get the seabass in a soy/ginger sauce.
St Helena, CA - The Restaurant at Meadowood: of course!
Okay, last questions. We always like to give our readers some kind of tangible advice, so you could talk a little bit about the equipment you use, and also any advice you'd give to someone picking up a camera for the first time?
Taylor: The Canon 5D is definitely our workhorse. We also shoot with a Nikon, the 5800 as well. We use all Apple computers just because they’re tried and true. If you're picking up a camera for the first time, don't be afraid to experiment. Try and go manual. A lot of people go with the automated settings, but once you learn how to manipulate the shutter speed, aperture and lighting, and do stuff manually, you'll learn to appreciate it, and you know what's going to work for you. You're not replying on some automatic setting, which could screw you up.
Jen: If anyone’s ever traveling to New York, our favorite photo store is right around the block from our studio. It’s Foto Care. We try to buy all of our equipment from there. They’re amazing guys. It’s a smaller shop and they’re incredible, they’ve been great to us through the years, as well as Taylor’s father who is also a photographer, so we’ve kept the family tradition!
Taylor: Do your research online and then go out and actually feel the camera. Take a basic class or buy a book, and definitely go manual. Try new things. I’d say work hard too. If you want to make something out of it, you’re going to have to try and try again.
If you’re trying to do fashion or something, you need to find the best stylist you can work with, the best clothes you can work with, the best makeup. Keep pushing it.
Jen: Surround yourself with beautiful places, people and objects and try your hardest every day. Stay committed to keeping aesthetics high and you'll figure it out.
For more information visit http://www.pedenmunk.com
All images courtesy of Peden + Munk.