Ross School - Senior Project 2008-09

Student: James Caputo

Mentor: Alexis Martino

Title:  From Pen to Plate


My photo essay explores the practices of local, traditional, and sustainable foods on the East End. Through this documentation I examined the culture and practices of raising and producing one's own source of food. In the photo essay, I document the processes and peoples involved in getting the animals, essentially, from pen to plate. Along with my final images I included cooking recipes for each of the animals photographed in order to establish the link between the animals and the foods we consume. My goal is to leave the audience thinking about what they eat and where their food comes from.


Silver gelatin prints on 16 inch by 20 inch RC Fiber paper. 

Image 1, Image 2, Image 3, Image 4, Image 5

For my senior project I choose to create a photographic documentation that explores the practices and culture of raising one’s own source of food. I photographed the processes and people involved in getting the animals essentially from pen to plate. The idea of the animal moving from its pen to a dinner plate is how I cam up with the title “From Pen to Plate.” I felt that this was a topic that seems foreign and unfamiliar to many people, yet it has always been and will continue to be an important and defining characteristic of our community and culture. For most of us the idea f raising your own source of food seems impractical and a thing of the past. While for others, like those whom I photographed, it is a normal, traditional, and very important aspect of life.

            I have always been interested in photography and after traveling to Brazil for M-term in my junior year I decided I definitely wanted to do a photo based senior project.  In Brazil we worked with renowned photographer Ernesto Bazan, who taught us to look for and capture “life’s beautiful moments.’” My original idea was to photograph these beautiful moments, but this time focusing on culture.

            After realizing that I would be limited by my location on the East End I had to think of concepts that would be both visually and conceptually interesting. With the help of my mentor I came to the idea of agriculture.  I had no exact plan of what I was going to photograph because I knew my final selection of work would be completely dependent on what I was actually able to shoot throughout the project.  With the theme of agriculture I began to shoot.

            My first shoot for my project was an Ecuadorian style pig roast at a pig farm in Manorville. Going into this shoot I still had no idea of what I was really going to photography or what I was about to get myself into.  My second shoot was on Shelter Island, of an 11-year old boy who raised and killed his own turkeys and ducks.  The third and final shoot for my project was of the same boy on Shelter Island killing one of his ducks.

            After I had printed all of my final images I added another component to my product. I decided I would make a book, using Blurb, which would tie my whole project together into one piece. In this book I included all of my images from the three stories along with additional information. For each animal I included a traditional cooking recipe, which I believe made a stronger connection between my images and my conceptual idea of exploring traditional and local food. In the book I also included instructions on how the animal was killed and then turned into food. These instructions gave a basic written description of what my photographs were depicting. Combining my images with the cooking recipes and how to information really captured the “pen to plate” essence of my project.

            There were a couple of issues I encountered on these shoots. In all of these shoots I had to make sure I got each photo I needed in order to be able to illustrate a complete story.  During these shoots I could no ask the person to re-chop the animal’s head off so I could get a better photograph. To overcome this issue I had to quickly photograph from various angles to make sure I got a good image I would be able to use in my final selection.  Because my knowledge of and access to people who raised their own animals was limited I ended up having to photograph Sawyer twice, once killing a turkey and again killing a duck. I was worried that the two shoots would look too similar to begin with because they were both of birds and involved very similar photographs and then having to photograph the same boy made it even more similar. In order to make the two stories appear as different as possible I had to photograph Sawyer’s cousin, who was luckily there at the time, holding the duck.  Throughout the duck shoot I also tried not to photograph Sawyer’s face so the audience would not be able to tell the same boy was in two of my stories.

            Shooting in a documentary style was a new and challenging thing for me as a photographer. I am used to shooting in a street photography style in which I just have to worry about each image individually. With documentary photography I had to constantly thing about all of my photographs as a whole. In this project I had to make sure I was illustrating a complete narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end, which an audience would be able to easily follow.

            I also encountered problems even before I began to shoot. Getting access to places and people to photograph continued to be a challenge throughout my entire project. The first thing I had to do was make sure each person would allow me to photograph their animal. There were two cases, once when I was suppose to shoot at a commercial duck farm and once when I was suppose to photograph and organized deer hunt, when the people would not allow me to take pictures because they were worried that I was an animal rights activist or that a group like PETA would see my images. After I got permission, I had to make sure there would actually be an animal present for me to photograph.  I tried many times to organize a shoot of a deer hunt and skinning but it never happened. I had consistently contacted every person and organization that I could think of that deer hunted to try to accomplish this shoot. Since deer season started, practically every weekend, there were multiple people who were suppose to call me if they killed a deer. Either there were no deer to be hunted or just no one ever called me. I even sat in the woods on Shelter Island with two hunters but we didn’t see a single deer the whole time.

            In addition to my final three stories I also photographed men crabbing. These images did not make it to my final selection because many of them were not as visually interesting as the photos from my other stories were. Also, as a collection these images did not successfully tell a story because there was no definite beginning, middle, or end.

            The two major skills I greatly improved on through this project were printing and obviously photography. When I first started printing my final images I wasn’t the best printer and had done very little dodging and burning before. Since I was printing on a large scale I knew all of my images would have to be printed very well because any mistake would be noticeable.  For my first attempts at printing it took me three or four prints before I got my exposure, contrast, and especially dodging and burning right for my final print. However, by the time I printed my last prints I was able to successfully print an image in just one or two tries. Through this project I also developed the skills for shooting documentary style photography. I acquired the skills to shoot documentary by perfecting how to use images to visually tell a narrative to an audience.

            This project has not only provided me with insight into the art of photography, but also into the culture of homegrown food. As I visually explored the subjects I developed a personal understanding and perspective of the topic. I took great notice to how the role of raising one’s own source of food has changed in our society over time. Hundreds of years ago raising your own food was the only way of getting food. Now with supermarkets, importing, and exporting food is always accessible. Home grown sustainable food has evolved from a necessity to an uncommon alternative for healthier and fresher food.  Through this project I have realized how packaged and processed meat wrapped in plastic is much more normal and accepted than someone producing their own food. Something so unnatural has replaced traditional practices that were once deeply rooted in our culture and daily life.

Works Consulted

The works I consulted included primarily photo essays from Photo Eye and different recipes. I used the photo essays for inspiration and to get an idea of the work I would be doing. I used the recipes and cookbook to base the recipes I used in my book.

"Adam Jahiel at photo-eye Gallery." Photo Eye. Viewed 10 Sept. 2008 <>.

Coastal Living. "Glazed Long Island Duck Recipe." Sept. 2002. Viewed 05 Jan. 2009 <>.

"Debbie Caffery at photo-eye Gallery." Photo Eye. Viewed 10 Sept. 2008 <>.

Elise. "Roast Turkey Recipe." 15 Nov. 2004. Viewed 05 Jan. 2009 <
archives/ 000037moms_roast_turkey.php>.

"Jon Edwards at photo-eye Gallery." Photo Eye. 10 Sept. 2008 <

Neill, Robert H., and Ellen Rolfes, eds. Outdoor Tables and Tales : Recipes and Food Memories from America's Top Outdoor Writers. New York: Tradery House, 1992.

"Pentti Sammallahti at photo-eye Gallery." Photo Eye. Viewed 10 Sept. 2008. <>.

"Perry Dilbeck at photo-eye Gallery." Photo Eye. Viewed 10 Sept. 2008. < /forms2/homepage.cfm?image=1&id=36382&imagePosition=1&Door=52&Portfolio=Portfolio2&Gallery=0&Page=68>.

Pujol, Layla. "Fritada de chancho recipe." 11 Feb. 2008. Viewed 05 Jan. 2009 <>.

Community Member (Details)

            Originally my outside consultant was supposed to be Jon Snow. He is a photographer and teacher at the Hayground School. I unsuccessfully attempted to get his contact information numerous times so he was never able to look at my work or give me feedback. However, Ernesto Bazan did look at my almost final selection of work. He, toughly, critiqued and discussed my work with me.