Dan Goldberg‘s home away from home is his studio, a welcoming environment where food is at the center, visitors never want to leave, and creativity abounds. Dan’s imagery for The Green O resort shows how he brings his studio’s aura on the road, blending nature with food, beckoning the viewer to join him at the table.
The Green O is a high-end couples-only ranch in Montana. Tell us about working with The Green O. When you discussed the project, what was their challenge? What were they looking for?
I have worked with their sister resort, The Resort At Paws Up, for almost 20 years. I have a great relationship with the owners and creative team, and there is a huge amount of trust and respect for one another.
Because of our close relationship, they give me a lot of creative freedom. This freedom is a lot of fun but can also be challenging. We don’t always know what or where we are shooting. There is a lot of pre-production and planning that goes into the shoot, but there is also a lot of spontaneity. The goal was to collaborate with Chef Brandon Cunningham on a series of food images that showcase the culinary experience at The Green O. The food is beautifully art directed, modern, and unique. The resort is exquisitely designed private homes in a sanctuary of trees.
You refer to this campaign as “nature meets culinary.” The result is unique and unexpected. Where did the campaign idea originate? What was your overall goal?
This summer, my family and I took an RV trip to the Resort At Paws Up. While I was there, I walked over to the new Green O location and looked around. They were just breaking ground, and I imagined myself
staying in the treehouse. The sounds of the birds, the wind, and the river. The smell of the sage and evergreens. It was extremely relaxing and magical as I was sitting on a log in the middle of the woods. I was brainstorming and trying to come up with an idea of how to shoot food for the new resort.
It wasn’t until my drive back to Chicago that I had an aha moment. On the last day of our drive, we woke up at 4 am and started driving through western Wisconsin. It was so foggy I could barely see the headlights in front of me. The sunrise through the fog was beyond beautiful. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but my family was sleeping so, I kept driving. That foggy sunrise gave me the idea of shooting food in the landscape and making it mysterious and magical. There is a symbiotic relationship between the food and the landscape, and that is where the idea originated. When I got back to Chicago, I called Larry Lipson at the resort and said I have an idea for a Green O food shoot.
With a background of working in professional kitchens, from being a line cook and a sous chef, you understand the role that food plays in telling an overall service story. How does this experience help you when on a lifestyle/food shoot? What about working with this chef, specifically?
Chef Brandon and I have worked together in the past, and we hit it off from the moment we met. He has a huge appreciation and respect for photography and my craft, and I feel the same about his food.
Because I spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a line cook and sous chef, I speak the same language as a chef. We can talk about the best way to cook something, so it looks great on camera. Speaking the same language makes it easy. It also enables us to push each other creatively — to the point where we are both out of our comfort zone. Honestly, that is when the magic and serendipity happen. We both had some wacky ideas, and somehow, we pulled it off.
Chef Brandon had this idea to shoot bone marrow and light them on fire as candles. At first, we planned to line them up on a tree in the woods. On our scout day, Chef Brandon saw a candelabra and said, “what if we put the bone marrow on the candelabra?” I loved the idea, and we drove around looking for the best place to shoot it. We were staying in an old farmhouse on the property where there is this beautiful, little spring creek in the back. So I had an idea of putting the candelabra in the creek, adding some foggy atmosphere in the background, and shooting it at the blue hour.
Creating imagery for an institution whose intent is to welcome people, making them feel at ease, seems like it is a no-brainer for you. Why do you gravitate to projects like this?
Food is love, and there is nothing I enjoy more than cooking for people. Hospitality is a big part of my business and working with a resort that does the same is a dream client. Breaking bread with clients, friends, and family is what life is all about. I miss having people over for dinner and clients at the studio. When I had the opportunity to take another drive to Montana and shoot food in nature, I jumped on it. Shooting a steelhead cooking on the side of the river at sunset was a phenomenal experience. When we finished shooting, we threw some tomahawk steaks on the fire, opened up some wine, and had an epic feast with my clients and crew. Something that I have not done in almost eight months. Since we shot outside, it was very easy to social distance and enjoy a dining experience that I will never forget.
Follow Dan on Instagram to see more inviting imagery of what is good in life transformed into art.