Destination Stories: New York City Jillian Guyette shows her perspective on the Big Apple

The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts in partnership with Leica Camera present a new series of “Destination Stories”: Exceptional images which capture the unique treasures and hidden gems of a destination. Through the images of one of Leica’s carefully selected local photographers, guests of The Luxury Collection in New York City are invited to uncover the city through the Leica lens and discover how The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts are more than just hotels, but intrinsic parts of the destination. Enjoy the perspectives of Jillian Guyette, a dedicated Leica photographer. 

For the Luxury Collection project, the decision-making process to decide what to photograph in New York must have been quite hard. Thinking that New York offers an astounding range of colors, scents, landscapes, etc., how did you approach the project in order to show something unique and interesting as seen in your pictures?

New York is bustling with things to do, and it definitely seemed like a large task at first to have to pare down places that I felt were off the beaten path enough to check out, but could still be accessible and enjoyable to a range of guests.

The exciting part about this project was I got to select places based on the way I most enjoy the city. Including food was key, but also green space and interesting places to shop. I wanted to focus on hidden gems. The green places that are in the middle of everything but somehow still feel a bit removed, the place that I had really delicious pasta, or the best place to snag a vintage treasure.

Many photographers have dedicated their careers to street photography, using New York as both their inspiration and subject. What’s your personal relation to the city and how does it inspire you and your photography?

When I moved to New York I was completely infatuated with how much activity was happening at all hours of the day. It’s inspiring to see such diversity around every corner.

As a photographer coming back to New York, and I think I do this in a lot of places I’m photographing, I’m most inclined to photograph the details, the mood, and the natural vignettes that come along with the city. New York is full of history and a never-ending supply of interesting and beautiful moments to photograph.

You visited several Manhattan locations for the Luxury Collection project, is there an underlying story behind some of the images that you took? Maybe of the people you encountered at these spots?

The underlying story was definitely capturing details, weaving in a color palette that would tie the images together, and maybe most importantly, it was about finding the softer moments in the city, and showcasing that. Giving a range of options for food, drinks, green space and wandering, I wanted to put together a guide that felt a little less typical of New York.

There is so much going on in this city at any given time, but I’ve always been more inspired by the quiet places. A main goal of the project was to avoid the popular tourist hot spots. Time Square is a sight to be seen, but it’s not at all what this project was about. The idea of an insider’s guide is just that, you get to avoid the overrun places, and go straight to the hidden gems.

You have a strong focus in food and its relationship to people. What’s your creative approach to food photography, considering it relates so much to the culture that creates the food, and their relationship to the city itself?

I approach food the way I approach a lot of my photography. I want it to look natural, and welcoming. There’s a sense of ease that I like to communicate in my pictures, something soft and easy that feels like you could put yourself in that moment.

Given the type of photography that I focus on, food culture is always on my radar. It’s exciting for me to be right in the middle of it, highlighting the beauty of food and sharing it with others, who will hopefully in turn be inspired to go try something new. With so many options for meals in Manhattan, it’s impossible to not feel overwhelmed with food suggestions. I wanted to share places I know to be incredible, tried and true favorites that are always delicious, with atmospheres that are worth experiencing firsthand.

The keen sense of detail you put into your images is seen throughout all your work. For instance, the careful composition of the image with the newspaper, the camera and coffee, or the image with the cocktail and low-lit foreground, are great examples of the amount of detail needed for food photography; how much effort is put into the technical and conceptual aspects for these photos? 

I did not used to consider myself a technically focused photographer, but I really am now, and I think food has a lot to do with that. There are a lot of precise elements needed to showcase food in an appealing and thoughtful way. Cocktails lend themselves to a moodiness that I think works so well in that picture from Death & Co. Whereas a pastry and a newspaper crave a soft and naturally lit environment.

These are aesthetic decisions that come with time and practice, and have shaped my overall approach to shooting food. For me, I want it to look easy and natural, when in reality there were a lot of technical decisions and thought that went into creating the picture.

Talking about the cameras, how do you compare these two: the Leica S and the Leica M, in addition to using them for still life or quick snapshots? 

The Leica S has a real presence when you’re shooting with it. It’s heavier in your hand, and I would argue takes a bit longer to feel in sync with, but once you do it’s amazing to shoot with. With a beautiful 37mp megapixel sensor, there is more than enough resolution for still life. Pairing the S with the optical quality of either the Summarit 70mm or Summarit-S 120mm macro produced images with a quality that is hard to find elsewhere, and a quality that I was incredibly happy with for this project.

The M has a very classic feel – lighter in the hand and much more subtle in appearance, you can blend in to the crowd while out in the streets and shoot without attracting too much attention. It’s reassuring to have such a small and easy camera, while knowing the quality will provide the results I need.

In your experience, what Leica camera would you find to be the perfect choice when it comes to food photography?

I felt at ease shooting food with the Leica S almost immediately. The quality was beautiful and I felt I had the exact amount of control I needed for still life.

The beautiful and clean imagery found on A Better Happier St. Sebastian is shot by you and your husband, can you talk more about this scope of work, why it was created and at a more general basis, how do you keep a consistent workflow both with your content and the photos included in each article?

I actually photograph everything for a Better Happier St. Sebastian, while Robert is in charge of the cooking and recipe development (apart from baking, that’s my department!). I got the idea to start Better Happier as a creative outlet more than anything. We were so focused on cooking, food and all that comes along with that from early on in our relationship and Better Happier developed naturally from that. It’s truly an extension of us.

Better Happier has been a really amazing project for us to collaborate on, especially now as we explore lifestyle and travel elements. In terms of content, it revolves almost entirely on what we’re in the mood to work on that week. We take inspiration from food trends, our own cravings and things we’ve been meaning test out. The photos in general are the easy part to keep consistent, although I am always pushing against being too formulaic, which is an easy rut to get into. Recipe development and presentation are more challenging, but that’s the fun part. We love a good challenge, and coming up with new and interesting ways to present beautiful meals, travel stories and anything else that peaks our interest.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to mention in regards to the Luxury Collection project or other projects you might be working on?

The Luxury Collection was such a pleasure to work on. As a photographer and creative, I really appreciated the opportunity to have such involvement from start to finish. During a time when we’re all so focused on web presence, it’s great to have the result be a tactile book. I love that the guests who choose to take advantage of the Leica promotion have an actual object from which to draw inspiration, rather than having to rely on a mobile device. There’s something really special and nostalgic about that.

I need to give a special thank you to Robert’s attention to detail in facilitating access to the locations. His production skill is invaluable to me on projects as large as this one. Overall, it was a truly great project to collaborate on, and I’m so thrilled to have been a part of it.

About Jillian Guyette:

Jillian Guyette is a photographer currently based in Philadelphia. Raised in upstate New York, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Her work is largely inspired by nostalgia, the changing seasons, and our relationship with food. Primarily a food and travel photographer, her ongoing love of exploring new places has allowed her to work near and far.  She has found that the ease of use and beauty of Leica cameras are harmonious with her aesthetic, particularly for this project.

Jillian works side-by-side on nearly all projects with her husband Robert Luessen, a photography producer and creative.

To know more about Jillian Guyette, please visit her official website and follow her on Instagram.

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