Penny de los Santos was in Mexico City this week on assignment. I’ve written about her before — she gives photography workshops and works often for Saveur, and is generally always doing a million cool things at once.
We’re friends, so I sent her a little note suggesting we get together if she had time. She responded with a better offer: Would I mind being her assistant? The payment would be street food.
Dude. Would’ve done it for palomitas.
I didn’t really know what being a photo assistant meant, but it turned out to be a lot of hanging out (looking for “moments,” as Penny says), and holding the light reflector and flash bulb. The flash duties ended up being a lot of fun — I squeezed with Penny into a cantina booth and aimed the light at a serenading musician’s face, and then later captured a churro-maker in the Centro Histórico. I’m a timid photographer generally, but this flash stuff was liberating. I suddenly didn’t care if anyone yelled at me.
Really, the best part of the gig was watching Penny. She has this unbridled enthusiasm for her job. If she liked a certain fonda or a certain scene, she’d just stand there dumbfounded for a second and then exclaim, “This place is freaking awesome!” with a smile like she couldn’t believe this place existed, that the world could even come up with a place like this. And then she’d squeeze her way in, walking behind the kitchen counter to snap photos of pots bubbling on the stove, or standing on a chair, or walking up to a group of people eating to stick her lens between their shoulders.
It’s funny, because people seemed to forget about her after a few seconds. That seems like the real gift — how do you arrive on the scene as a photographer and then disappear?
I brought my own camera with me on these trips, but it stayed in my purse most of the time. Finally, on the third day, I got a little bolder. I even asked Penny how to adjust my white balance. She gave me a sort of pained look, like, “You really don’t know how to do that?”
Penny’s giving a workshop in Mexico City in July, if you’re interested in catching her next time she’s in town. I’ll be helping her out as a guide.
Here are a few shots I took when I finally dragged my camera out of its hiding spot.
Verdolagas con puerco at Fonda Margarita
The famous refried beans, creamy with lard, at Fonda Margarita
A plate of warm conchas from El Cardenal
Pork heads at the Xochimilco Market
Squash flowers at the Xochimilco Market, almost too pretty to be real
Fava bean salad at the Xochimilco Market