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.