Organic by Francesco Mastalia

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Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


Editor’s Note: Our friend, Francesco Mastalia, has graced this site before, but now we are happy to say his outstanding images are about to be published.

Organic: Farmers & Chefs of the Hudson Valley will be released the first week of November.

This is a book that is worth your attention. 

This is from his book’s Amazon page:

The over 100 portraits of the farmers and chefs of the Hudson Valley were photographed using the wet-plate collodion process, a technique developed in the 1850s when the art of photography was in its infancy. With the use of large wooden cameras and brass lenses, glass plates are hand coated to produce one-of-a-kind ambrotype images. The amber toned images remind us of a time when the cultivation of land was a manual process that linked the farmer directly to the soil. “Organic” is one of the most misunderstood and often misused words describing food today. In narrating their own stories, the farmers and chefs share their philosophy about what it means to grow and live organically and sustainably.

It’s hard to describe how rich these images really are. It’s easy, however, to give you some examples of who’s in the book, so here’s a taste of who (among others) and what to expect.

Amy Hepworth of Hepworth Farms, works on a 7th-generation, family-owned farm

Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns was named one of the world’s most influential people in 2009 in Time‘s annual “Time 100”

Zakary Pelaccio, owner of Fish & Game, is famous for building Brooklyn’s first gastropub and pioneering NYC’s nose-to-tail culinary movement

Ken Greene at the Hudson Valley Seed Library provides many local producers with heirloom and open-pollinated garden seeds and protects 15,000 years of agricultural history!

Steffen Schneider at the 400-acre biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm has helped educate over 13,000 kids since 1972 as part of the farm’s Visiting Students Program

Farmers have great faces to photograph and they love to tell stories and talk about what they do.

We spoke with Francesco after seeing his prints live and in person. Here’s what he had to say about his work:

HandPicked Nation: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to produce this amazing portfolio?

Francesco Mastalia: I have always been an advocate of eating well. It was when I moved to the Hudson Valley and started meeting and talking to the organic farmers at the farmers markets–they inspired me. Farmers have great faces to photograph and they love to tell stories and talk about what they do. I just connected with them and it grew from there.

HPN: Your project is titled “ORGANIC”. You take on the definition of that word as do the folks in front of your camera. What did you learn about “organic”?

FM: Well, organic doesn’t always mean what you think it means. It really depends on who you are talking to. In 2002 the federal government took over the Organic Certification Program and redefined the word; and many of the farmers here felt it did not reflect their interests. Instead it was designed to allow larger corporations to get into the organic market. Organic was redefined to the point where a number of farmers dropped their certification because it did not meet their standards of what organic should mean.

HPN: Your choice to employ old photographic methods ties in perfectly with your subject matter. Talk about that?

FM: The wet plate collodion process dates back to 1851. That was a time when all our food was organic. In fact, in 1850 80% of Americans lived on farms and farmers made up 64% of our work force. Today that number is less than 1%.

HPN: This is an amazing group of people you’ve photographed. Are there common denominators with all these folks?

FM: Oh yeah, it’s the passion they have for what they do. They all possess a deep commitment and respect for the food, and the planet. Their passion was very inspiring to me.

HPN: The Hudson Valley is a perfect venue for this project. Tell us about locating the right people with the right stories.

FM: It started by asking some of the organic farmers at the farmers market in Warwick where I live, and it took off from there. One person would tell me about another, and so on. I got taken on a journey. To date I have logged in over 14,000 miles of driving just in the Hudson Valley. There are still so many more people that I would like to photograph and interview. It’s a much larger community then I imagined.

HPN: This is a very powerful body of work. You’re showing the greatness of the Hudson Valley.

FM: The Hudson Valley is an exciting place to be. The food scene here is just incredible. There are amazing people either growing, producing, cooking, and of course eating, really great food. But the big picture here is about our health, and the health of our planet; and there are a lot of people in the Hudson Valley very committed to that cause.

HPN: Thank you for speaking with us today. We really appreciate it.

FM: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Have you ever been to the Hudson Valley and experienced its food scene? Tell us your story.

Photo credit: Francesco Mastalia