Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Interview with Sam Diephius, LA taco truck photographer

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 7, 2010

Sam Diephius first contacted me at the end of March, and fortunately has been patient enough (and nudged me with a few emails) to interview him. I was impressed with his photographs and his tenacity, so here goes.

1) On your website, you have a collection of 22 Los Angeles street vendors. Some of them are taco trucks and some are those guys that sell oranges by the freeway and the like. How did you select the people and places that you shot? Were they receptive to it?

In the neighborhood (Venice) where I live there are roving grocery trucks that show up late in the day to sell to the local community. I’ve used them quite a few times for picking up little things like tortillas, avos, tomatoes, et cetera. I always admired the way families or friends hang out around the trucks as sort of a meeting area to talk about the day and share story.

One day when I was frustrated about my job, I thought, “why am I flying half way around the world when there are amazing stories in front of my house”? I walked down and started talking to one of the truck drivers and asked him if I could photograph him, and in exchange I would give him a picture. He was a little hesitant because it was a little bit strange to him to have someone setting up lights and asking him to move around, smile, and be a model, but he was very happy when I gave him the picture the next day. These guys are very proud of their trucks and they are always happy when I bring them a picture of them with their trucks.

From there it was on, and I started asking everyone who sells things on wheels, Ice cream, fruit venders and even the pork rhine guy, but I knew the taco truck was going to be the holly grail. Most people are a little hesitant, but after I show them a few photos they are usually excited about the project. Since they are working I try and pay them $10-$20 for their time. Time is money for them and I try and pay them accordingly. The shoots last anywhere from 10 minutes to 2-3 hours depending on the situation. Some of the taco truck parks out in East LA have hours of prep time before they hit the road and they are usually open to just about anything as long as they can keep working. Good people for sure!

2) What did you learn on your odyssey through “El Barrio,” as you call it? Where in LA were you shooting exactly? Why did you pick those locations?

Actually this project turned out to be a lot more than just about the vendors and taco trucks. Most of the street vendors (vendors that don’t own a vehicle and sell on the street corners) are here illegally and are just trying to make ends meet. They work really long hours with little pay and have large families to support back in their home country. The people in my pictures aren’t taking American jobs, getting into trouble, causing problems, but they are here illegally. With all this talk about immigration in the press this project really brought this complicated issue front and center for me. One thing I can tell you is that Latin America has influenced our way of life in America in some awesome ways. For example, I can’t tell you the last time I had apple pie, but I can tell you when I had a couple tacos: yesterday!

Most of the images were made in Venice or in East LA. East LA is an awesome place to visit and if you haven’t been you should go. It is full of life and energy very similar to being in a different country.

East LA is a great location for shooting pictures of the Latin American culture and people, and the taco trucks are everywhere. It’s just a part of the lifestyle there. There are amazing murals and street art around every corner and it feels very alive. LA can really get a bad rap and for good reason sometimes, but East LA is really the center of the Latin American culture here and it can feel like it’s own city.

3) What do you look for when shooting street vendors? How do you try to vary your shots? What would you suggest to amateurs who shoot taco trucks in terms of approaching taqueros and also in terms of framing? I feel like it’s easy to just shoot the standard side or angled view of the truck, y’know?

Usually what I am looking for is someone this isn’t busy. If they are making sales I don’t want to bug them. After I’ve found someone I will go and introduce myself and show them what I am working on. Most of the time I will come back another day. This gives me time to think about what I want to do and how I will light it. Sometimes I take the subject to another location with a better back ground or different light and other times I will shoot them right where they are.

Anyone can make a snap shot of a taco truck (“lonchera”) but to make a picture that is unique the photographer needs to slow down a bit. Here’s a list of things to think about before photographing.

I. The most important thing is making your subject feel comfortable, knowing a little Spanish can go a long way in making the model feel relaxed.

II. Setting up shoots with the subject and returning another day can take some of the pressure off the model. Keep in mind most of the owners of the trucks and venders in the street are working, find out if there are certain times of the day that are slower for them and come back then.

III. Showing them an example of what you have done before can help them understand what you are trying to photograph.

IV. Always be polite and ask before shooting a picture. Try and give something back to the model no matter how little. Even buying what they are selling is a good start. Who knows you may try something that you’ve never had.

V. Sometimes I use natural light and sometimes I work with a lot of lighting, it all depends on the shot. By using lights I can accent different areas of the truck or the owners. Night images work nicely as well. Using natural street light or the light from the taco trucks can give a “real” feeling to the subject.

VI. Breaking the repetition. Let’s face it, taco trucks can look very similar. etting to know your subjects can make a huge difference in accessing different angles and locations of the trucks and the venders. If they feel comfortable you can then move them to a different location. Also moving in and out and up and down while looking trough the view finder will help to see things differently.

4) How does shooting in your backyard (Los Angeles) compare with shooting in some of the other international locations that you’ve worked in, like Jamaica and Burma? Are there any major similarities? Differences?

Shooting in LA is awesome. Going out shooting, coming home, sleeping in my own bed can make a big difference. The problem I have is that I can get easily distracted here. When I am in another country I don’t have a lot of options of distraction and I make more pictures. It is also hard to see the amazing things around me when I am at home because I see them every day. In another country everything is different and new.

Most of the photography basics from the list above apply directly to other countries. Sometimes I have to be more careful than other in other countries. For example, China and Burma are very safe, Kingston, Jamaica on the other hand I have to keep my wits about me. LA can be a little uncomfortable at times as well. The truth is that I find most people around the world to be very friendly and are interested in what I am doing and photographing.

5) What’s your favorite taco truck in LA? What do you typically order?

Gosh, where do I start? There’s so many “taco trucks” now a days that they are starting to spill over into other cuisines, Korean bbq, Brazilian, Texas ribs, grilled cheese, the list goes on, but I have to say the taco truck that sells actual tacos is the best. Let’s just say that (although they might be amazing) if your truck has a Twitter account, you are not a taco truck. They can have their sushi, kimchi, and crepe “taco trucks” and I will stick with my standard al pastor tacos or veggie with the works, I will do asada, or chicken burrito any day. On a side note, if I could, I would eat them ever day!

I don’t really have a specific truck I love but I will say this, my favorite truck is when I’m super hungry, it’s late at night, everything is closed, I’ve just finished a big work day, right when I am too lazy and tired to sit down for a meal and I’ve given up and am submitting to eating cereal for dinner. The one that appears on the side of the road with it’s lights on at that point in time is my favorite!

Taco truck photo contest winners!

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 4, 2009

First prize in the taco truck photo contest goes to Aurelio Jose Barrera of East Los Angeles. Congrats Aurelio!

He writes: “This was shot Halloween night 2009 on Whittier Blvd in front of Kmart in East Los Angeles.”

He’ll win a copy of Scott Wilson’s new book: Tacos: Authentic, Festive & Flavorful.

Second place goes to Gwen Harlow of Oakland.

She says that this is her favorite shot of a taco truck that she’s ever taken. It’s of the El Novillo Taco Truck in the Guadalajara parking lot at Fruitvale & E. 10th St. in Oakland.

She wins five bucks to go buy tacos with!

Thanks to all those who entered!

Taco truck photo contest: Win a book!

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on October 28, 2009

First, I got some new photos to share from Lexica and Jeff from last weekend’s awesome taco truck tour of Fruitvale.

So, in the spirit of nomadic taco photography, I’m instituting a weeklong taco truck photo contest.

The prize?

A copy of this soon-to-be released book by Scott Wilson (of fame), Tacos: Authentic, Festive & Flavorful.

From old standby dishes to taco truck favorites to more ambitious varieties like the Hot Fudge Taco, this book contains something for every fan of a dish that’s both simple and soul-satisfying. Taco obsessive Scott Wilson includes such delights as Tacos de Cazuela (slow-cooked tacos served from the pot) and Sauteed and Fried Tacos. He explains the varieties of tortillas (and how to make them from scratch), along with meat and vegetarian options, appropriate salads, sides, salsas, and drinks and desserts. Includes 50 recipes and 25 color photographs.

To submit an entry, send me an email [cyrus] with “Taco truck photo contest” in the subject line and an original photo of something related to a taco truck in California.

It could be a photo of tacos bought at a truck, horchata being poured, taqueros, art — anything. There just needs to be a California taco truck in operation somewhere in the photo.

If you’re so inclined, feel free to upload to Flickr with the tag “taco truck photo contest,” and send me an email with the URL.

Please include your name, city, and the name and location of the taco truck that you shot.

1st prize – a copy of the above book
2nd and 3rd prize – $5, Paypaled to you by me to spend at the taco truck of your choice.

The photos will be judged by me.

Deadline: November 4, 2009, 12 pm Pacific Time

Good luck!

Veni. Vidi. We ate a ton of tacos. (I personally had six tacos plus a tostada de ceviche.)

Man, what a ride! Thanks to all who came out! I don’t know what the total number was, but someone told me that at its peak we had 35 riders and taco aficionados! Wow! I’m stoked that so many people were out to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, biking y muchos tacos! (Scope the pictos, here.)

Also thanks to CouchSurfing, Thrillist, 7×7, and for helping me get the word out!

If I did talk to you, I’m glad to have met you! If I didn’t, make sure to come chat with me the next time around — for future reference, I was this guy.

Jennifer Webber and Ryan Morris sent me some photos. Email me if you have any more: cfarivar [at] cfarivar [dot] org.

We even rocked a proudly used Twitter hashtag: #tacotrucktour. BTW, you can find the Twitter account for this blog @catacotrucks, or my personal account @cfarivar.

Dudes, I can’t express to you adequately how fun this was. I really thought that only three people were going to show up, which would have been fine. I didn’t anticipate being the “taco boss,” as someone called me. I’m just a guy who likes to eat tacos. And ride bikes.

I mentioned that there’s a Google Map of Oakland taco trucks. As you can see, we only made a small dent in the trucks here. I’d definitely like to explore more of what Oakland has to offer, and then perhaps do an SF version and maybe Richmond, too?

I’m thinking Sunday, November 22, 2009 for the next one? Again, Fruitvale, but this time, different trucks? I’m open to ideas. Feel free to leave ‘em in the comments. I’ll post once it’s finalized.

Stay hungry, and ride safe!

Interview with Juan Posada, Los Angeles Taco Truck Photographer

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 22, 2009

I recently came across the new site of the Asociación de Loncheros, the new site of the organization of taco truck owners in Los Angeles. Their meetings and corresponding trucks have begun to be photographed by Juan Posada, a Colombian wedding photographer who has lived in Los Angeles for a long time. I shot him my standard quintet of questions to see what he was about:

1) Your day job is as a wedding photographer. How did you first become interested in photographing taco trucks? What are your favorite ones to shoot? What’s different in how you shoot weddings versus taco trucks?

I became interested in photographing taco trucks after attending one of the “Asociacion de Loncheros” community meetings. I was searching for a photographic project and after meeting the taco truck owners and getting to hear about their struggles I immediately got interested. My approach to photographing a wedding is not very different to the way I take pictures of the taco trucks. In both circumstances I am documenting people’s lives and telling their stories through pictures.

2) What is unique about Los Angeles taco trucks? Have patrons/taco truck owners ever been wary about you taking pictures of their craft?

What makes taco trucks unique is the people; the people that work in them and the patrons that visit them. They bring life to streets that otherwise might be dead. The flicker of the grill, the fluorescent lights, the smell of carne asada and people gathered around food enriches the urban experience of many people in Los Angeles. I always establish contact with the taco truck owners before taking photos at their truck. So far patrons haven’t been wary of me photographing them. I always make it obvious that I am taking photos and sometimes tell them what I’m doing, if I feel it’s necessary.

3) I see that you’re from Colombia. Does Colombia have taco trucks or other similar types of street food? How does your background influence your interest in taco trucks?

Colombia doesn’t have taco trucks as we don’t have tacos, but we do have a lot of food on the street. Hot dogs, skewered meat, empanadas, arepas, etc. are ubiquitous. You can always find good, cheap food on the street. Being far away from my country, makes me long for the warmth of the Latino culture and I have found that in my encounters photographing the taco trucks.

4) Have you seen any trends/unique aspects of trucks from behind a lens that the untrained eye might miss about these trucks?

What catches my attention about the taco trucks is that they are restaurants on wheels. They have running water, hot and cold, sinks, freezers, grills, etc. What people probably don’t realize is the amount of work involved to put one of these trucks on the street. There is extensive work before and after. The normal work shift is 12 hours.

5) Any advice for the amateur photographer who wants to shoot at or around their local truck?

Just introduce yourself before you shoot and explain why you’re interested in taking pictures.

Tacos Jeesy's & Tacos La Que Si Llena, East Los Angeles

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 12, 2008

I had four post-midnight tacos tonight en route home from a show in Pomona.

The horchata at Jeesy’s was very good, and the pastor at Tacos La Que Si Llena was exceptional.

Also, Jeesy’s gets points for having an awesome neon sign and for letting customers dish out their own onions, salsa, carrots and jalapeƱos.


About Time Taco Truck, West Los Angeles (Brentwood)

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on July 11, 2008

Believe it or not but there’s a taco truck in the ritzy neighborhood of Brentwood, parked on the northside of the Brentwood Country Club (San Vicente Ave. at Bristol Ave.) weekdays during lunch hours.

I swung by at 2 pm today and there were at least half a dozen other men ordering/waiting for food.

For $8.50 (a fortune at a taco truck), I bought a 0.5 L bottle of Mexican coke, and two carnitas tacos “plate.”

It came with a small side of chips/beans/salsa and sausage and onions with a really good spicy sauce.

Sadly, the carnitas was a bit fatty though, came on the bone, and the tortillas didn’t really hold together very well.

Three Brothers Taco Truck, East Palo Alto

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 12, 2008

I had a really good pastor and carnitas taco (and a so-so asada taco) at Three Brothers Tacos in East Palo Alto today.

Tacos, Three Brothers, East Palo Alto   Three Brothers Tacos, East Palo Alto Three Brothers Tacos #2, East Palo Alto

San Francisco: Los Compadres Taco Truck is saved!

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on June 1, 2008

Ok, I’m a little late to this one, but apparently a taco truck right here in my own backyard — Los Compadres (Hayes St. and Polk St. near San Francisco’s City Hall Plaza — was going to be removed as per the request of the lot’s owner, Central Parking Systems. A concerned and intrepid taco aficionado, Matthew Goudeau, started a Facebook group and a small campaign to persuade CPS to let the truck continue to serve its delicious wares, and I’m happy to announce that it worked!

The San Francisco Sentinel and Goudeau’s Facebook group report that the truck has been saved! I just might have to go over there next week to get a celebratory taco — or three.

Modesto Taco Crawl

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on May 23, 2008

I did my own mini taco crawl in Modesto last week, exploring three of the five trucks parked next to one another on the corner of 8th St. and H St.

Here are their names, from H St. towards I St.:

El Super Taco (only one that advertised mariscos)
Los Portalitos
El Mexicano “C”
Adriana’s Super Tacos
F.K. Jessica’s No. 1

Sadly, I only had time for the last three, but enjoyed them very much, especially F.K. Jessica’s, which had really sweet pastor. Also had a pretty good jamaica at El Mexicano, as they were out of horchata.