Meet Sean Fraga ’10,
photographer, farmer, NINJA
Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington State.
Major: American Studies: Material Cultures and Built Environment.
Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Food status: Vegetarian since 7th grade
Fascinated by: Airports
QHow did you start photographing for the Yale Farm?
AI did Harvest as a pre-orientation program and I loved my trip. We spent a week on a farm, picking peaches. We cleared out the greenhouses. It was overgrown with weeds, so we took machetes to it. When I came back, I spent some time at the Yale Farm during their workdays, had pizza there with their oven. I totally fell in love with their place. It’s a really visceral way to get a connection to nature, especially in New Haven. The people at Harvest and the Yale Farm reminded me of people from home. When I was looking at student jobs online, I found a job with the Sustainable Food Project as a photographer. I’ve been doing it for 2 ½ years, since my freshman year.
QFruit or vegetable?
AThat’s really hard. I will say fruit, with a caveat: tomato. I love all different types of tomatoes. Especially the heirloom tomatoes that are knobby and different colors. I think that my favorite tomato is the sun-gold cherry tomatoes that grow at the Yale Farm. They are incredible. Every September, one of the first things I do is eat a cherry tomato and I eat them until they vanish. They’re great raw, they’re great on pizza.
QFavorite uncooked food to photograph?
AI’ve had a lot of successes with radishes for some reason. The Yale farm grows radishes in three or four different colors, red and yellow. When they are all bundled up or on a plate, they are incredibly vibrant and incredibly striking. We wash them off and bind them together. Each radish has its own little glow and then there’s a collection of 25 of them all staring at you.
QFavorite cooked food to photograph?
ACooked food is hard to photograph. I appreciate food stylists a lot more, having tried to come away with great images of cooked food. The pizza we make at the Yale farm is really hard to photograph because people eat it so quickly. We had an apple galette workshop and pictures of the galette came out really well. The apple caramelized and the dough becomes a golden color. They serve it on blue plates with whipped cream. The white whipped cream and the golden galette makes you want to eat it, which is what good food photography should make you do.
QYou’ve been published in “Gourmet.”
AYes. The “Gourmet” story is a tragic one. I took head shots of Josh Viertel. Josh used to be one of the two directors of the Sustainable Food Project and now he’s the CEO of Slow Food USA. It is a group that advocates taking the time to enjoy food, a response to American fast food. I took a head shot of Josh in the Silliman dining hall. We gave it to Slow Food when he was appointed their CEO. Slow Food turned around and gave it to “Gourmet,” but didn’t tell people where it came from. I’ve been published in “Gourmet,” but I’m the only one who knows that I took the picture.
QWhen and how did you get into photography?
AI’ve been stealing my parents’ cameras on vacations since I was a kid and taking my own pictures. At some point, during Christmas, they gave me a digital point-and-shoot. I took a photography class in high school and developed my own film. I worked in a darkroom. I hated it because I was raised on digital, the ability to take hundreds of pictures and dump them on your computer and sort through them. I did photography for my high school paper. It has always been something I’ve been interested in and have always had an eye for, but never thought I’d do it pseudo-professionally.
AI shoot with a stock lens. The stock lens works well at the farm with the vegetables but it doesn’t work with the master’s tea, where you have to be obtrusive. They would call me the photo ninja. I would sneak around really slowly and get into really small positions and take pictures and sneak out of the room and come in from another door and take more pictures from another angle.
QHow do you get to the farm?
AThe eternal question. I usually bike up to the farm. But the easiest way to get to the farm is to take the blue line [Yale bus], get off at the Sterling Chem Lab, walk to the end of Prospect, take a right onto Edwards.
QFavorite dining hall dish?
ASustainable lentils and the garlic mashed potatoes. I’m vegetarian, but I love it when they serve it with the pork because the pork comes with the cranberry cherry compote. The compote is tangy and sweet — I think it goes really well with mashed potato and lentils. I developed a fascination with lentils that I didn’t have before I came to Yale.
QWhat’s going on from here?
AAfter I graduate, I think photography and food will split. I will always appreciate food. I have grown up with foodies — my dad will cook elaborate three-course meals just for fun. Photography, I’ve always been interested in. I love using photography to capture the world around me in a way that shows my own view of it. One of the harder things for the photographer for YSFP is, I don’t always get to see where my photos end up. It’s always a surprise about what ended up where, how the graphic designer thought about it, how the YSFP thought about it.