A Vision Through Gathering
Like my family before me, I believe that carving out time to gather for meals, drinks, and conversation is what it’s all about. That food not only gives us comfort but hope. Each meal is a constant reminder that cooking and sharing a table with the people you love — with your family, friends, or strangers — is one of the most potent and universal occasions in which to connect in the world. These stories of sharing a meal, these are the kinds of stories I tell.
As a kid, I watched my mom not only raise my three siblings and me, but I also watched her take her passion for chocolate from the family kitchen to a storefront. She taught me how to respect the craft, that the ingredients you use and the procedure you follow are crucial, and to eat anything imperfect. Working in the store, I would watch the customers revel in her unique creations. I accompanied her to trade shows — meeting and talking with suppliers from all over the country — watching her entrepreneurialistic spirit on full display. When the shop later burned to the ground, she continued to exemplify grace under pressure — traits that I've come to understand are critical when it comes to running your own business.
From my dad, a jewelry company president and a 40-year career man, who never missed a day of work, came the quiet examples of loyalty and work ethic. Gleaned from accompanying him on weekend sales trips were early introductions to the tenets of deal-making and road warrior-ship. On these trips, hotel adventures were the reward — and to this day, the pungent odor of chlorine stills brings a smile to my face.
Sports loomed large in Sylvania, Ohio, and thus, I participated all through middle and high school in a wide variety of them — suiting-up for soccer, wrestling, boxing, and football. For gas money, I took a job at a local restaurant as a dishwasher and busboy — my first foray into a professional kitchen, a place of chaos but also a place of multi-sensory wonder. Looking back, I can see that the teamwork skills drawn from sports and my time in boy scouts — that trust in who was on your left and right — would be what I would later deem most valuable to my survival in the professional kitchen.
At sixteen, I took a job as a prep and then line-cook at the local country club where I learned about the importance of everything in its place and that there is no such thing as too much prep— cleaning, slicing, dicing, chopping; and that a sharp knife is essential for efficiency. I loved the feeling of making people happy through food and service. I learned that delivering the most memorable experience for the customer required cooperation between the front of the house and the back of the house — that communication between all parties was the key to success.
But it was an art class in high school that put its hooks in me. I began to envision a life lived steeped in creativity — and a dream of becoming a painter or a sculptor began to take on real shape. I also developed a passion for typography and design, and through the support of many, I attended the Advertising and Design program at Columbus College of Art and Design.
While there, I worked part-time at another country club, this time as a sous chef — the one who keeps the kitchen from falling to pieces. There was so much activity, so many people, and such a mishmash of aroma — fish and meat — plus the prep, baking, roasting, grilling, and sautéing. The kitchen hot and highly charged; pulling double shifts was not for the faint-hearted. The work also affirmed my belief that there is nothing better than sharing that staff meal or a cold beer with colleagues after a busy night of service.
But a second-year assignment to create a series of ads featuring the iconic Coca-Cola bottle would change everything for me. With it, I began my obsession with still life photography. I did my best to channel the techniques of the painters and sculptors I had come to admire — Henry Moore, Charles and Ray Eames, Georges Seurat. I spent hours striving to mimic how these masters used the details and the colors, the light, and the shadow. Through this exercise, I decided that I wanted to work with a camera for the rest of my life.
Championed by my teachers and my family, I changed my major to photography, spent all my free time working in the darkroom. Then through the ties that bind, I found myself in Northern California interning and living with my uncle, Table-Top Photographer Terry Heffernan. And just like his family had done before him, my uncle opened his home and business to me. He was my coach, employer, and mentor.
Each day we would drive the windy coastal roads from his house in Napa to his studio in San Francisco, talking non-stop about our love of food, travel, and photography — and of its early stewards — Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Weston, Stieglitz and Penn. It was a place of unimaginable beauty — vineyards, rolling hills, deep redwood forests, and its dramatic rocky coasts were my film photographer's dream. The city was a melting pot for art, culture, and food — dim sum and burritos; and where over beers and camaraderie at the counter of the beloved Sushi Man, Chef Ryo would help me to venture beyond the traditional to the more exotic delicacies and adventurous dishes.
After graduation, I began work full time as Terry's second assistant, finding myself on sets alongside some of the country's most iconic brands and ad agency luminaries. Generous with his time, my uncle encouraged and pushed me to explore new tools and where I would eventually cut my teeth on broadcast productions as a PA.
Terry and his team embodied all I was beginning to hold dear — of showing up on time, sharing stories, laughter, spending time with family, taking pride in your work, leading by example, and surrounding yourself with great people who push you. And above all that, our shared belief that nature will always be your greatest teacher, she will always clear your soul — something that would be a lifelong inspiration for me, a sensory experience I cherish from fly fishing to Montana and beyond. All told, I would spend five years working for my uncle, and the next two years freelancing — and most memorably so for the mercurial and legendary rock & roll photographer Jim Marshall.
Eager for growth, coupled with a yearning for family and the Midwest seasons, led me back to Chicago. Founded with the belief that the common good should take precedence over individuality, Goldberg Photography is a business that reflects the tenets that family and community are the glue that holds us together through thick and thin. Here, the door is forever open, always room for one more at the table.
It is in this locale where I would find another like-minded community of visionaries and collaborators passionate about craft — creatives also obsessed with thinking about the best way to communicate the right message and then marry it with the right techniques — about what makes a striking image or film, or how best to integrate stills and motion.
These interactions with those who share this same passion for the craft is what gets me up each morning. At the end of the day, it’s not only fun to create things together, but it’s about who you do it with and the partnerships you build that makes the difference. There’s tangible energy when working with people who are really good at what they do. It is this energy that I believe is so important in our jobs.
This energy is one of the things I loved most about working in a professional kitchen — that in times of chaos, a ragtag group of people from different backgrounds, all speaking different languages, somehow come together to function as one group. This coming together is how we managed to raise $40K for Puerto Rico's Hurricane Maria victims and how we ended up there with generators and water purifiers. Most recently, when the global pandemic hit, this spirit of volunteerism and a desire to serve was the driving force behind figuring out how to come together and find ways to give back to the local community. The world is a much happier place when you contribute to it.
Ultimately, my work is a tribute to all the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned along the way — unpretentious narratives that reflect a lifetime of memories gathered from time spent immersed in the stories, scents, and sounds of rural towns, sculpted cities, and alluring nature. It is an on-going love letter to my wife and daughter who inspire me with their creativity and abilities to see the joys in the everyday details.
My work is also my way to offer a peek into how I see the world both inside the studio and beyond. I provide a look into the questionable, sketchy back alleys and hole-in-the-wall joints that we’ve discovered on our way to find the sublime — be it to the west side of Chicago for the most outrageous Italian beef, to Melaka, Malaysia for the spiciest curry crab & bee larva appetizer, back to Cuba for more paella or to a sardine and txakoli festival on the Spanish coast of San Sebastian — these photographic ruminations a reminder of all that is possible when we tell ourselves to not only see but also to share, what we see in the world.