Drinks that we are thankful for

By Robert Luessen

I’m not sure if it’s the food or the festivities, but Thanksgiving has always held the top spot on my list of holidays. There’s something that resonates for me about bringing together people to share a meal without the pretense of gift-giving or extracurricular celebration. It also helps that Thanksgiving is by far the best eating and drinking holiday on the calendar.

Photo taken by Jillian Guyette

Not that I have a ton of free hours in the day to devote to holiday preparations, but I always manage to carve out (pun intended) the time to devote to cooking a feast for my friends and family. These coveted seats at the table have no shortage of fine wine or tasty cuisine. Years ago, long before I helmed the entire Thanksgiving dinner I cut my teeth by helping in the kitchen.

Naturally helping in the kitchen came with a drink. For as long as I can remember, at the start of every Thanksgiving, my aunt or uncle would mix up a batch of Poinsettias to get the day started. I wish I knew the origin of this drink to my family’s holiday. I have a sneaking suspicion it falls into the same category of all well revered holiday mainstays; someone started it, no one can remember who or why, and nobody cares. Thanksgiving morning isn’t itself without one:

Poinsettia Cocktail

  • 1 oz Vodka
  • 3 oz Cranberry Juice
  • 1/2 cup Champagne
  • 1 strip Orange Zest
  • Crushed ice

Combine ice, vodka, and cranberry juice in a rocks glass. Stir to chill and top with champagne. Garnish with orange zest. Enjoy and refresh a maximum of two times before dinner, no more, no less.

That said, sometimes the holidays can feel more like a marathon than a sprint. Whether it’s days stuck at home with family whom you may not agree politically or socially, or you’re actually busting your butt to cook two Thanksgiving dinners for almost 40 people in 72 hours (something I may be all too familiar with and everything is fine). Multi-day affairs in my opinion call for either a lower octane option like beer or an easy drinking lower alcohol option like an aperitif. A drink that will waft you through the day (or multiple) without regret. Take it easy and try a Lillet Highball:

Rosemary Lillet Highball

  • 2 oz Lillet Blanc
  • Soda water
  • 1 sprig Rosemary
  • Crushed ice

Combine ice and Lillet in a collins glass. Stir to chill and top with soda water. Garnish with a rosemary sprig. Keep on refreshing this and you’re good to go.

Despite my calls for moderation and pacing, I can’t argue that at the end of the evening there is always time for brown liquor. Once the desserts have been served and the dishes are washed then it’s time to break out the good stuff. Below are some of my recommendations for after meal sippers

Whiskey try Hibiki Suntory
Bourbon try Michter’s 
Scotch try Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs
Brandy try
Copper & King’s Butchertown 
Cognac try Hennessy VS
Aged Tequilla try Don Julio 1942

 One should always save room for the last sip of the night.

Robert Luessen
Photo taken by Jillian Guyette


Running of the Pigs

When we heard about Stryker Farms and Nancy Poli we envisioned the next perfect Women’s Work shoot. Nestled just two hours outside of Philadelphia is where Nancy and her son, Nolan Thevenet run Stryker Farms. Unlike the traditional large pink pigs from Old McDonald’s farm, their Farm specializes in heritage pigs.

Nancy and Nolan raise a mix of 6 different breeds; Tamworth, Berkshire, Hereford, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot, and Large Black. These old-world breeds have a tendency to grow slower than conventional pigs resulting in a more flavorful pork. Stryker Farms takes pride in the fact that their pigs are raised outdoors and enjoy a natural diet of non-GMO grains and grasses without the use of antibiotics or hormones.

After a bit of pre-production, handled by Robert Luessen, we were ready to visit Stryker Farms on April 17th, 2016. With a sunrise call time Chris, Robert, Jared Castaldi, and Sam Green hit the road north towards Stroudsburg. 

With every mile, we drove the more the urban landscape drifted away leaving room for lush wooded landscapes. After a few music albums and several random conversations, we arrived at the dirt road of Stryker Farms.

Once at the farm we were greeted by a little shop selling their wares, such as cheeses and sausages. We drove past the shop, knowing we would return to stock up of delightful treats to take home. We continued to drive towards the buildings that housed the livestock. In a addition to pigs, Stryker farms also raises beef and dairy cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats.

I don’t know if you have ever been on a farm but you can’t visit one without experiencing a particular smell.  This time was no different and the stench was unbearable. The muck created by the animals was everywhere, as expected. We need to set gear down on the ground but had no intention of anything becoming covered in manure. So we planned ahead and added plastic bags to the gear prep list. The plastic bags were wrapped to the bottom of all stands and power packs were placed in them. Of course, this was a time before we used battery powered lights so the farm quickly became covered with cords. To make things more difficult we wanted to keep the wires above the manure-covered ground. So we strung them like festive Christmas lights throughout the space.

Robert hanging festive extension cords

Once all of the lights, extension cords, and power packs were prepped and ready to go it was time to set up the shot. Chris came to Skryker Farms with a strong image in his mind’s eye. The vision was there and it was time to make it a reality. There was a path that directed the pigs from a lower housing location to an upper feeding area. This was the space that would allow Chris’s vision come to life. To create the illusion of Nancy calmly standing in the middle of stampeding pigs we realized it needed to be two separate pictures that would be combined in post.

The composition that Chris envisioned was with Nancy centered with the pigs running on both sides of her in the path. To achieve this it would require the camera to float in the middle of the chute. We decided that we needed to create a rig. Something that would allow the camera to stay in the space while the pigs ran through. The team devised a metal bar that attached across the path where the camera would be secured.

While shooting Nancy, Chris would use the rig as a tripod but of course, he too couldn’t be in the chute once the pigs were set loose. It was decided he would use a remote to fire the camera while standing safely outside of the action.  After a few tests of the remote to ensure it would fire we were ready to begin.

We were truly lucky to have such a charming and captivating subject as Nancy. We quickly got what we need from her and were ready to move on to the unpredictable part of the day. The pig run. We only had one opportunity to get this shot. Once the lower pen door opened the pigs without direction would instinctively run up the hill for their anticipated meal. Once Chris and Nancy climbed out of chute we were ready.

Release the PIGS!

With great excitement, the pigs rampaged up the hill running underneath the excellently placed rig/camera setup. At the same time, Chris was fiercely pressing the remote to fire the camera as to capture the thrilling moment. Once all of the pigs were clear of the chute and happily eating, it was a wrap. We began to clean E V E R Y T H I N G and then did another thorough cleaning once back to the office. Our time at the farm was quick and unforgettable. Nancy and her corkscrewed tailed co-stars were a delight. They gave us everything we needed to create a beautiful photograph that focused on the moment. We found a little piece of magic on this shoot that helped us create something unique and memorable. We hope you enjoy it.

Nancy Poli, Pig Farmer, Stryker Farms, Saylorsburg, PA.

Cursed Amongst the Corn

By Noel Pattani

No one ever believes me! When I talk about what I saw everyone thinks I’m just a crazy old man who has lost his mind. I usually wouldn’t waste my breath on retelling the tale but you are here so I should just tell you what happened and you can decide for yourself.

I have lived and worked this land my whole life, the last of 7 generations. We have always been farmers and I am the only one left. We took care of the land and the land took care of us. I was born in the bedroom right off of the kitchen. The youngest of 4 siblings. From the moment I could walk I was feeding the chickens, helping any way I could. The comfortability of the routine quickly became my standard of life. My family worked together like a well-oiled machine. Each person had a specific role needed to keep the farm running smoothly. Then one night when I was 6… everything changed.

I was in bed when a sharp light struck me in the face from my window. The unusual light was something that I had never seen before. It was a light that filled the room but there wasn’t any light outside. To this day I still don’t know where it came from. Oddly enough I wasn’t afraid. Instead, I was curious, uncontrollably so. I had to know what was causing this phenomenon. I quickly put on my galoshes and coat to protect me from the late night chill as I went to explore outside. The moment I stepped out into the cold evening I felt a pull towards our fields. It literally felt like a line was attached to my pelvis and with quick forceful pulls, I was tugged along. Finally, when the need to mindlessly move ceased, I found myself surrounded by stalks of corn and silence. I quietly looked around to determine why I was in the field. There was nothing, not even a breeze. Just a still cornfield. Then the light had returned. It was harsh, relentless, and overwhelming. I was paralyzed left helpless and terrified. I could feel a foreign energy fill my tiny body. The force vibrated through me like a jolt of lightning. The intense sensation quickly became too much to handle and with a whimper, I blacked out.

The morning rooster woke me laying on top of my messy bed. I frantically searched around my room looking for evidence of what happened last night. My only evidence of last night was a piece of a blue fabric clutched in my right hand. I remember the swatch felt so important to me and radiated a comforting warmth. After dressing for the day I carried the precious piece down to breakfast. The family gathered around our large wooden kitchen table but someone was missing. My older sister, Sarah, her seat was left empty. My mother told me to investigate and I quickly sprinted up the steps to stop at Sarah’s room. I gently rubbed the soft blue fabric in my hand as I hesitated from fear of what was behind the door. I slowly opened it with a familiar creak. I would hear that noise everytime Sarah left her room and it was the first time I heard it that today. Entering the room I teased her about being late for breakfast “Sarah! Wake up sleepy head!” She was laying in her bed with her back to the door and I quietly called her name. Still she didn’t move. I walked over to the bed to shake her awake when I noticed her blue nightgown. I looked down at the fabric in my hand and knew where it came from. I reached out to touch Sarah and found her cold to the touch as if all of her warmth was in the tiny fabric in my trembling hand. I rolled her over to find an expression of open-eyed horror.

The autopsy said that Sarah died of asphyxiation but I knew the truth. It was the light. But at the time I had my doubts until the light came back when I was 13. The next day I woke with a white piece of fabric and my brother Thomas dead. Asphyxiation. The summer I turned 15 the light came back. I awoke with a gray piece of fabric in hand and Stephen, my last sibling, died. Asphyxiation. The light once again came back, I was 25. When I rose the next day with a piece of my mother’s nightgown and I knew it was just me and Pa. The only two survivors of the relentless light that had picked off my entire family for unknown reasons. The last time the light visited me was when I was 45. Unlike every time before when I would wake up in my own bed this time I found myself standing in the middle of the cornfield. In my right hand was a piece of my father’s nightshirt. It was then that I knew I was alone. My entire family was stolen and I am to blame. While watching the sun climbing up the sky I realized the truth. I am the light and the light is me.

Personal Work – A cure for what ails you

By Chris Crisman

Did anyone play the lottery this week? Our team certainly did and a $10 ticket turned out to be less about the chance of winning a gazillion decimal points. It became a time to share the possibilities of a future. Some of us would shut it down and coast, some of us would devise a plan to share the wealth and give back to everyone that could use it, some of us simply dreamt of just taking a break. It’s a tantalizing exercise to contemplate the opportunities you could have, the challenges that would arise, and just how you would find ways to balance it all.

We are approached to work on so many jobs and it is hard to deny the randomness to how each year shakes out for us. We try to move forward on as many opportunities as possible and they need to have the right values to do so. When looking back on a year we seem to strike the right balance of projects. To be able to find creative fulfillment and financial stability with our work. Sometimes we are presented with a special Unicorn project that we dream of working on but no matter how much we fight for the job it still gets away. Even though you think you have dominance of the situation, there will always be a number of variables that are out of your control. Embracing this reality has really kept me from going insane.

Another aspect of our work that helps balance the inevitable presence of impending insanity – personal work. It is as easy as putting a pin on a map. Just you and your camera traveling to beautiful locations can be unpredictable magic waiting to happen. 

 Alternatively, you can dedicate your time and other resources to hone in on exactly what it is you want to express; this is my preferred method. With these projects – or singular images – you can easily give you and your team back the control, vision, taste, and your calendar that often seems out of your hands.

It all sounds simple, but I still struggle. I struggle with the where, the when, and the how. I struggle with whether I am choosing the right concept or idea to focus on. Will the small detail of a coat on the guy actually ruin an otherwise perfect image? Above all else, I struggle with the why. If I make this picture, will anyone care? Will it inspire someone who sees it? Anyone? Beyond all else, is there a chance that this work could possibly change the way people see the world? I think about all of this with every project that I undertake – especially the ones where I am able to have complete control of the end result.

I’ve already mentioned embracing randomness- this idea goes both for things you can and can’t control. Alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson who was right when he said, “Some days you kill it, some days you just choke”. The reality in this sentiment rings clear for me. I won’t always be a winner, but If I keep my head down and focus clear, I will continue to find a balance throughout my career. One last thing, don’t spend more than $10 playing the lottery, even if I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

Reflections on the Road

Thoughts from an assistant on making the most of working on location

It’s hard to choose a place to begin when I reflect on all of the incredible experiences and opportunities I’ve encountered since joining up with the Crisman team a year and a half ago. Prior to working with Chris & Robert (and now Noel), I wouldn’t have described myself as ‘well-traveled’ but I’ve been lucky enough to take a few international trips and I’ve walked away from each one with a new found appreciation for the beautiful and vast possibilities traveling holds.

Copper Mountain, CO

The priority is always the project at hand and making the best work possible. But one of the many benefits of working with these guys has been their passion for exploring the culture and cuisine of each and every place the job takes us. That passion has had a trickle-down effect and functions as a constant reminder of the importance of staying open to new experiences and maintaining a fresh perspective while on the road.

Beale St. Memphis, TN

Everything from small towns to big cities hold culinary gems if you know where to look. Research should always start with boots on the ground. Do you have a friend in the area? Is there a local producer or crew member you worked with in the past? Give them a shout, for these can be some of your most valuable resources.

Sophi Davis Hunters Hot Springs, Montana

If I had to pick a favorite location it would be Montana hands down. I was absolutely blown away by Montana’s beauty. That and the fact that we got to spend 2 days with climbing legend and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, fishing crystal clear backcountry alpine lakes didn’t hurt either. It was definitely a life-changing trip for me and both reignited my lust for the outdoors and introduced me to the world of fly fishing.

Yvon Chouinard

I continue to be amazed by the places I find myself through this work and the many awesome and talented collaborators I have the pleasure of working with. Whether the job is a small editorial assignment with Chris and I or a large, multi-city ad job with a crew in the double digits, each project has a story and each story helps informs how I approach the next.

Park Hill Poultry, Erin NY

Stand ins

Liberating the Lands

Anna Valer Clark

When Anna Valer Clark first arrived at South East Arizona, a place she would call home, her first question was “What do the cows eat, rocks?” The land she stood on was exhausted and the only thing thriving in the unfortunate barren landscape was the tiny rocks scattered across the view. She had left her life as a New York City socialite to become a Permaculturalist. She wanted to stimulate or directly utilize the patterns and features observed in the natural ecosystem to revive the terrain.  She saw the potential of the land and dreamt of restoring it back to its original grandeur. Many years of poor management, over-grazing, and logging in the hills had left the earth unable to hold the rainfall causing monsoons like floods and severe erosion.

Valer believes where there is water there is life and with barely any life remaining on her land the key was to avoid further damage. She realized she could hinder the erosion and capture water in the hills by putting rock dams across the places that been affected in hopes to return this area to its former glory.

 As she suspected the areas where the dams were established prevented further devastation. The soil did not wash away and that gave the native plants an opportunity to grow roots and thrive.

With each year the natural vegetation grew and established itself with vigor. To see the lands today one could not conceive that this was once a place of dust and sun-soaked earth. Anna Valer Clark has brought back balance to her lands and the harmony is magnificent.

My life has been a continuation of applying these same principles of harvesting water, revegetation of the land, and the restoration of water to dry areas. My mission has been to take severely degraded land and restore it. If one can accomplish this under the seemingly impossible conditions, then one can do it anywhere.

Anna Valer Clark

A Taste of Honey

Christy Wihelmi

The natural fear of a stinging bee is a threat that we often face when retrieving our desired honey. This fear was not lost on our team when we were faced with the challenge of working with these tiny soldiers.  However, there are many different roles that bees have and the bees we often see are the foragers. They have a crucial role in the hive and in nature in general. It is their job to search up to a 3-mile radius to collect nectar from the surrounding flowers while simultaneously pollinating the area. The nectar is then brought back to the hive to produce honey. They are the bees we typically see flying in and out of a hive and it is those bees that co-starred with Christy Wihelmi on our shoot on Cal Poly Farm.

Christy in her own right is a keeper of bees. She is an avid gardener and has become the rescuer of bee swarms that develop in her community garden. The word “swarm” sounds overwhelming and terrifying but it is a natural instinct for bees.  Once the population grows too large for the hive, the colony divides. This process involves a new queen to develop and the old queen leaves to start a new home. A swarm is created when a gathering of bees surround the traveling queen. The bees are particular docile during this time and their sole goal is to protect the queen. At this time it is easy to handle them to relocate or just wear them on your face like a beard of bees.

Bee Bearded Man

Even with Christy’s bee handling knowledge, they are as unpredictable as the weather and they don’t follow direction very well. This is a challenge you face when working with animal talent.  That being said, we had a game plan, all of the techniques first developed by ancient Egyptians, and a lot of PMA (positive mental attitude) which is always a good start.

Robert Luessen wishing he wasn’t surrounded by bees

This project was especially challenging for Chris and Robert who both faced childhood trauma regarding bees. Under any other circumstances they would have been with the rest of the crew some distance away, but instead, the two had to suit up and get acquainted with our tiny stars.

With the on-set beekeeper managing the bees with perfectly timed puffs of smoke to subdue, we accomplished beautiful photos that inspire. There was only one stinging incident which, ironically happened to one of the far away crew members. When we finally wrapped, we left that day with new found respect for bees and the people who keep them.