Photographer Matt Nager Takes on a Personal Italian Pasta Project

Matt Nager (www.mattnager.com) grew up in the Rocky Mountains and frequently traveles throughout the Southwest for assignments. Growing up, he spent much of his free time getting lost in the mountains, filming movies with his friends, and jamming on the saxophone in his school jazz band. His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. He strives to learn and share stories about the people he is photographing and the environments they are in. Matt has recent shot assignments for Smithsonian Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, Discover Magazine, Fast Company, Der Speigel, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, AARP Bulletin, and Psychology Today among others. Matt speaks English, Spanish, and is learning Italian.

Matt: "Growing up, I never had a big desire to go to Italy. Then I met my wife, Ivana. She grew up in Sicily and for the past five years, I have visited Italy every summer. Ivana's sister lives in Northern Italy, and I was searching for a small project to shoot while we were there on vacation. Of course, food is a major part of Italian culture, so I was looking to highlight a small aspect of Italian cuisine. The region of Italy where her sister lives, the Emilia-Romagna region, specializes in ravioli, tortellini, and piadina, so I decided to focus on this. At the time I did this story, I was doing a lot of traveling, and many of my projects were being used in the NY Times. This story, however, has never been published.

FINDING THE IMAGES

"As far as finding the subjects for the images, we really just walked around, talked with people, and photographed at restaurants. There was also a food festival occuring while I was there celebrating the local food. I set up photographs with the cooking school Casa Artusi in Forlimpopoli, which was created in the name of Pellegrino Artusi - known as the father of Italian cuisine. Italians are interesting to photograph, but can be tough to approach. Once I explained what I was doing, people warmed up pretty quickly. Whenever I work with a subject, I try my best to contact them in advance. It is always better to call or email a subject, explain your project, and and get permission beforehand. Often it is not going to work out if you just walk up to a restaurant or location and ask to take pictures. Try to find their PR person or the manager. Every business likes good press. Explain what you're doing and it isn't too difficult to gain access.

"If it is a person on the street, I go up and talk to them for a few minutes about what they do before I bring up the camera or taking pictures. It's all about trust, and the fastest way to kill trust is to immediately take out the camera and demand photos.

MATT'S EQUIPMENT IS LIGHT AND SHARP

"I always travel light with regards to equipment. On this particular story, I simply had one digital SLR camera and a couple of prime lenses. Nothing more. I use Nikon digital gear. Specifically, I shoot on a D800. These images were shot with a D700 camera. I use 35 mm, 50 mm, and 85 mm lenses. I like prime lenses because they force me to use the frame and move my body rather than rely on the lens itself. I also think the image comes out sharper, as there are fewer filters with glass in prime lenses.

MAKING YOUR OWN WORK IN EDITORIAL PHOTOGRAPHY

"It can be tough to be a travel photographer. I work mainly as an editorial and project photographer based in Denver, Colorado. When I do travel, I always try to make a small project out of where I am going. I usually pitch the story to editors before and after I am traveling. I have found that editors will usually say, "Sounds great. Show me photos when they are done." That means, I normally don't get paid until after I return, and there is never a guarantee. My travel photography is, more or less, something I do in addition to my day-to-day work. I have been lucky, that many of my stories have been published."

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