Photographer Profile: Jenny Huang of Hello My Dumpling - New York City
Hi Jenny! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a food and travel photographer, and creator of the SAVEUR Mag Award winning blog Hello My Dumpling. I live with my three kitties, Hisa Bear, Azuki Bean, and Katsu Bun in Brooklyn, NY.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
Since I was a very small child, I have loved the arts. My mom likes to say that I was drawing before I could even read or write. And so the visual arts has always been the language that I feel the most comfortable speaking. But when it was time for college my parents were very hesitant about allowing me to major in the arts, so instead I majored in business and minored in design. I then moved to NYC to pursue a career in the fashion PR, with the hope that it would fulfill my creative aspirations. Unfortunately, it did not and I spent far too many years feeling like I was going nowhere. As a part of my minor, I had taken photography courses while at university, and I had absolutely loved it. But it still definitely hadn’t occurred to me as something I could pursue as a career. It took many years of exploration and lots of disappointment to finally figure out where my passions lie. Now that I think about it, photography just makes so much sense to me. It is as if everything has come around full circle. It is really the perfect way for me to combine everything that I love into one - the visual language, the creative freedom, travel, and food.
How did you begin your work in photography, food styling, and recipe development? Did one of these skills come first or did you combine your skills to create your career?
When I left my last full time gig, I was really at a loss as to what to do next. I knew that I was sick and tired of working for other people. I really wasn’t looking forward to job hunting again, so I thought now’s really the time to try and strike out on my own. It was really scary. I got a position assisting a food photographer to learn and to get a better feel for food photography and food styling, two very different jobs. I would say that all of these skills combine to create my career. My focus now is on photography, but I do offer my clients the flexibility of being able to style and create content as well.
Have you always been drawn to working with food?
Food has always been a huge part of my life. I was born in Sichuan, China and then spent my formative years in New Orleans. Both these places have deeply entrenched histories where the human culture has evolved around and along with food. My mom is a really good cook and I would say that I have always excelled at eating. But it is only in recent years that food has become such a of prominent part of my life. I have been very lucky in rediscovering my love of photography and being able to turn my hobby into what I do.
When and why did you begin your blog, Hello My Dumpling?
I started my blog about 3 years ago, during a big transitional period in my life. My friends had been telling me for years that they love my food and that I should write down my recipes. I finally did start a blog but only after I practiced photography for over a year and was fairly confident that I could produce quality work.
Do you often get to travel for work or do you find ways to create work while you are traveling?
This past year, I have been very lucky in my travels. Some of it has been for pleasure and some for work. Whether it is for a publication or just for Hello My Dumpling, I am always looking to create work opportunities when I travel.
What are some of your most memorable travels of this past year?
I recently just returned from a road trip in Northern Italy. As a part of this trip I shot and wrote a piece for SAVEUR on the first lentil harvest in Castelluccio, a town that was devastated by the earthquake that hit central Italy late last year. You can read the article here. Also, earlier this year, I spent a week in the gorgeous mountains of Crete teaching a photography workshop with one of my good friends. It was such an amazing event and I left so inspired. And of course the setting didn’t hurt either.
How do you come up with the recipes that you develop? Could you share one of your recent favorites with us?
The recipes that I develop are food that I eat on a regular basis. I cook a wide assortment of cuisines with an emphasis on bold flavors. It's this never ending variety and infinite possibility that I love about food. There is always something new to learn. As a photographer, I am also always looking for visually arresting food. I use Hello My Dumpling as a showcase for my work and I am always looking to challenge myself as a photographer with every recipe that I shoot. My most popular recipe and one of my favorites is my Salty Honey Pear Pie. It is super easy to make strike just the right balance of sweet and salty. And it’s crustless!
As a freelancer with many different skill sets, how do you decide on which types of work to take?
I choose work based upon whether they inspire and challenge me.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration for my travels. There is nothing I love more that the opportunity to explore different cultures and to see a country through the eyes of the locals, the people that understand and love a place the most.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I remember very distinctly what it was like before I figured out what I wanted to do. There was such a sense of complacency (I hate that word), and of settling. It was so unlike me and I never want to see myself mired in that hopelessness and inaction. After many years of feeling very lost, I have been able to rediscover myself through photography. I am thankful everyday that I get to do what I love. And all this drives me to constantly learn and improve in my craft.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face in your line of work?
Well as with any freelancing job, there is always the stress of finding enough work. I have been lucky enough to find a set of clients that I work with consistently. This then gives me the freedom to pursue creative projects that would definitely not pay the rent. But it is an almost constant internal dialogue to remind myself that I should not rely too heavily on these clients. The only way to grow and improve is to expand my client base and put myself out there. This is something I’m still working on and I plan on pursuing more clients, in particular travel related work, next year.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
This is a complex question. The short of it is that it is very challenging and often difficult being a woman and if our fellow females don’t support each other, who will? I have been so lucky in the amazing women that I have met so far working in photography and food. It is just one more element of my job that constantly inspires and pushes me to be the best that I can be.
Was there any particular person who helped shape your career in formative way?
Is it wrong to say that I am the main person who has shaped my career into the way that it is now? I took a huge risk when I made this drastic career change so there has definitely been many who have been very supportive over the years. My partner in particular, I couldn’t have done without his help. But I would say that I am a very stubborn person and when I set my mind to doing something, I have an iron will to do it to the best of my ability. I also think that, as a woman, it is so very important to depend on yourself as the main molder of your life and career. You are your best advocate.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
I think one of my strengths is in my ability to cope with doubt and moments of anxiety. I remind myself that dwelling upon something that I cannot fix won’t lead to anything. The only thing I can do is to look for ways to move forward. It definitely isn’t always perfect and I do have times when those moments become days. But eventually, something usually clicks in my brain and I am able to make myself understand that it is only through action will I see any results. This is the reason why I’m constantly looking for ways to learn and improve.
How do you manage your time?
Now that I am freelancing, I find that I am constantly working. If I’m not doing client work, I am working on personal projects. But I love what I do so I don’t mind it. But time management is definitely still a work in progress.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in your work?
For a photographer, the most important tool is your camera and your eyes. I have made leaps and bounds in my craft through simply through practicing. I cannot stress that enough with people looking to improve in photography. You need to train your eyes through practice. I am also constantly looking at the work of other photographers and artists that I admire.
What are some of your favorite places in New York?
Places to eat - Miriam for Israeli brunch, Cafe Mogador for Morrocan, Cafe Himalaya for Nepalese dumplings, and Cocoron for soba.
Union Square farmers market for inspiration.