Photography duo Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold – otherwise known as Peden + Munk – are hard to miss. Their vibrant work has plastered the pages and covers of publications like Bon Appétit, The New York Times Magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler – and they’ve gotten cozy with chefs like Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood. Needless to say, they’re a pretty big deal.
Working together since graduate school (Art Center College of Design), they have used their differences and similarities alike to fuel the chemistry between them and produce breath-taking, mouth-watering results. Much to our excitement, we had the immense pleasure of speaking with the duo to get the story of Peden + Munk from both Peden and Munk.
How would you describe your partner?
JEN: Taylor is diligent and creative. He is a virgo and seriously lives up to the sign. I am so grateful to have found a partner that is as hardworking and willing to go above and beyond as I am. His precision, attention to detail, and – not to mention – his huge heart is really his strong suit.
TAYLOR: Jen is one of the most dedicated, intelligent people I have ever met. Her prowess in the field of photography and production is unparalleled. She is extremely hardworking and never willing to give up. Always pushing the limits. She is always on time and prides herself on being the best possible person she can be.
Tell us the story of how you both met and began working together.
JEN: Taylor and I met while studying at Art Center College of Design. We knew each other for quite some time before we started dating and ultimately working together. Our mentor and teacher, Paul Jasmin, was the first to really support and celebrate our collaboration. He pushed us to be better photographers. But more importantly, he inspired us to be better, more mindful people.
TAYLOR: We met at Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena. Jen started there in 2nd term – which meant she was a leg up from me in 1st term. We knew of each other from orientation, but didn’t spend time with one another. It wasn’t until a mutual friend invited me out one night to hang with the girls at a local cantina. That night is where our relationship started.
We both took class and eventually TA’d Paul Jasmin‘s fashion class on Fridays. When we took the class, we often teamed up taking the best models for ourselves and going out into Pasadena for hours on end. We’d come back and everyone would be pissed. We didn’t care, because we knew that we had gotten great shots. As things evolved through fashion class and graduation, we had this separate body of work “fashion” that we called Peden+Munk. This is where our brand was born.
In a tiny, second-floor apartment in East Pasadena. Peden+Munk started as fashion and portraiture. However, once we were done with school, we no longer stayed in the fashion world. We began to do lots of assignments for local LA magazine, Angeleno. The majority of our assignments were related to restaurants, chefs, and bars. Sprinkle a couple artist portraits and designers in there as well. After not so long, we had this new amazing body of work. Cool, up and coming LA chefs in dark, funky kithens. Bartenders smashing ice cubes to make forgotten cocktails. This is where Peden+Munk took flight.
JEN: When I was 3, my mom taught me how to make her coffee. I would beg for kitchen tasks and would often close off our kitchen to take orders from my family. I have always been drawn to the kitchen and food. When I met Taylor, we started cooking together and developed a deep passion and knowledge for food that inspired and educated our work.
TAYLOR: Food has always been at the center of our relationship. Jen not having a kitchen in her Pasadena apartment above the garage was dying for a place to cook real meals, not something grilled. Myself, having grown up with home-cooked meals all my life, was happy with frozen lasagne from Trader Joe’s and going out to hang with friends and eat late-night Mexican. Some of our first dates were cooking in my South Pasadena apartment. I lived with a Korean friend of mine. So the fridge always stunk of kimchi. We would make Emeril Lagasse’s chicken marsala. Every time, we would tweak the recipe, adding more mushrooms or marsala to make it better.
This love for food stayed with us and got much more intense as we began to photograph some of the best chefs in the world. Whenever we stepped into a famous or not so famous kitchen, we chatted up the chefs and sous chefs. We were always interested in what they were making or how they did something. Then, on weekends or holidays, we would try these recipes for ourselves.
Describe your personal and professional style/aesthetic. How do they complement one another’s?
JEN: There is no line between personal and professional for us. The aesthetic and style are the same. We like simplicity. Stylistically, we are drawn to graphic lines and shapes. There is an honesty to our work that we are very proud of.
TAYLOR: We are very lucky in that we don’t have a personal vs. professional attitude. We get to do what we love and be who we are – no matter what. It does a disservice to us and our clients, if we are not. Our style is very clean and simple. We don’t overthink, or try to complicate matters. I would say that Jen is more of the producer and lead stylist. I fall under the tech guy, nerd column. However, I’m not afraid to voice my opinion or get dirty on set. These roles sometimes flip – which is very nice, as we can seamlessly attack a situation. And no one is the wiser.
What challenges do you face working as a team? Advantages?
JEN: There are only advantages. We are VERY different people, which allows us to tell a more well-rounded story. As a working photographer, you hardly get any downtime. Being able to sped day in and day out with Taylor by my side is key to our success and happiness.
TAYLOR: Working as a team has been great. I can’t imagine working in any other capacity. In this line of work, you really need someone you can trust – whether it’s your agent or a great assistant. Since we have always worked as a team. we don’t know any other way. I would say it definitely has major advantages. One major one being non-verbal communication. On set, in tense moments, we can exchange glances and know what the other one is saying. Or, we can “tap out” if one of us needs a breather or has to jump on a conference call. There are so many more. It’s hard to list. Number one has to be spending time with your partner creating great art that people appreciate and lives on forever. To me, that is priceless.
How do you work together at a shoot? Are two cameras always present? Do you ever shoot without the other?
JEN: Every shoot is different. I am typically focused more on the styling, and Taylor is an insightful technician. We often have 2 cameras when we are moving at a fast pace on location. While in studio, we tend to shoot with one and really focus on crafting the image together.
TAYLOR: It depends on the shoot. Everyone is different. On ad shoots that are more intense, we tend to work with one camera and focus together. But let’s say we are doing a travel story in Japan – there, we are both shooting. Sometimes, we do have to split up and go different paths to capture a story. This is also fine, as we have honed our skills over the years.
What kind of equipment do you use?
TAYLOR: We shoot mainly digital SLR’s, both Canon and Nikon. Like Coke and Pepsi, they have distant differences. We love our Apple computers, and for video, we prefer to work with the Red Camera.
Please tell us the story behind some of your favorite works or experiences working.
JEN: We recently spent a good part of a year working on ‘A New Napa Cuisine‘ cookbook with chef Christopher Kostow. We were living in LA at the time and would travel to St. Helena once a month to shoot the food, garden, and the artisans who Kostow works with. Every trip was a wildly creative experience. We rarely get the opportunity to spend such a long period of time on one project. This really was crucial in allowing us to immerse ourselves and craft the story.
TAYLOR: One of our favorite assignments was a BBQ story, in Memphis, TN. We were sent down there by Garden and Gun magazine. The story was about John T. Edge, a souther writer, and his son taking a BBQ road trip through Memphis and the south. They were seeking out real deal BBQ places that smoke and cook their own meats. A lot of the places were off the beaten bath, taking us into rural Memphis. Our favorite joint was Helen’s.
Helens had worked in this place since she was a young woman. Working under the husband and wife that owned the place. When they passed away, she sought out another job and a factory in her town. But the itch of BBQ wouldn’t leave her. So, she came back to the same place she had worked for years and decided to take it on herself. What I loved about Helen was her philosophy. She didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and perfect BBQ wheel. She just did what she knew from the previous owners. As we photographed her early in the morning before lunchtime, we chatted her up as usual. I – being myself and amateur pit master, was full of questions about what type of wood she used and where her pork came from. “What temperate did the meat hit before taking it off the pit to rest?” I asked. Helen replied, “I don’t know, I just take it off when it’s ready.” That was so refreshing and gratifying. To see someone so passionate about what they do, but not care about the stupid details. She made great BBQ, and that’s all that mattered.
What was your most memorable dining experience?
JEN: We traveled to Trancoso, Brazil a few years ago. The whole experience was magical. One afternoon, we traveled to what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. After a 15-minute hike, we were on the beach, at the water’s edge. There was a tiny shack. We met the cook, Silvinha, who fed us a casual, incredibly fresh 3-hour lunch that was unbelievable – not only because of the setting, but also because we felt right at home in a completely foreign land.
TAYLOR: Wow, this is a tough question. There are so many great memories and dining experiences we have had over the years. I’ll just name a couple that come to mind. First off would have to be the green enchiladas we had, when we traveled through Mexico. These enchiladas were made by a group of women at farmer’s market in Malinalco, Mexico. Malinalco is a mountain town that was so green and beautiful. Of course, it had an amazing church and beautiful town center. But let me tell you – these enchiladas were mouth-watering-ly good. Nothing to date has compared to them.
Another great dining experience was at The Restaurant at Meadowood. Here, we photographed chef Christopher Kostow‘s debut cookbook. We spent the better part of a year, driving back and forth to St. Helena, CA from Los Angeles. On most trips, chef would invite us to dine in the restaurant. Which was amazing. We are very spoiled and have had a lot of great meals. But this particular night, we sat at the chef’s table in the kitchen. The whole experience was better than the dining room. Here, in the kitchen, we sat amongst the chefs busily working, cranking out dishes. It was a lot more fun to watch and listen as orders were yelled out and chefs replied, “Yes, Chef!” in deep, hard-working voices. The dish that stood out in my mind that night, was the potatoes cooked in beeswax. They were so light and fluffy, with the slightest hint of honey sweetness without there being any. This dish – for me – summed up Christopher’s greatness. It was very delicate and simple, but harnessed what the Napa Valley gave him.
Five things you can’t live without?
JEN: Taylor. Coffee. Palomino pencils. My iPhone. Jacobsen Sea Salt.
TAYLOR: Food, movies, sports, iPhone, and of course – family.
Favorite travel destinations to date?
JEN: The Nagano region of Japan. Just last year, we were able to spend 3 weeks in Japan. Since college, we have studied Japanese culture and food. It was mind-blowing to finally travel there. We spent time in Nozawa Onsen, where hot springs feed large cooking baths, where locals cook anything from bitter greens to the famous Onsen eggs. We became friendly with an elderly woman, who was cooking in the Onsen. She brought us back to her home, so that she could show us her kitchen and feed us.
What’s next for Peden + Munk?
JEN: We are venturing into Commercial Directing. We recently directed our first TV spot, and we are really looking forward to shooting more. We also have travel plans brewing. This year, we plan to travel to Sweden, Korea, Japan, and Italy.
TAYLOR: We are really excited about more Video and Commercial Directing. Our work is taking us in that direction, and it’s really a dream come true.
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