Photographer Francesco Mastalia – whose new book Organic: Farmers and Chefs of the Hudson Valley will be celebrated with a book-signing event at John Novi’s DePuy Canal House in High Falls on Sunday, December 7 – came to his subject as naturally as the movement that he captures in gorgeous old-style wet-plate collodion process photography settled into our region. “I started three years ago, soon after finishing my previous book, because I’d become a big fan of my local farmers’ market and was looking for another long-term project,” he said. “Plus, I’ve long been an advocate for eating well, and once I started shooting I found how much I liked these people.”
Mastalia moved to Warwick from Hoboken, New Jersey about a decade ago. While there he completed his book Dreads, an exploration of the Rasta look that used the classic early photography methods that he was exploring at the time. The book went on to sell over 100,000 copies. The artist moved to Rhinebeck in the last year, because “I wanted something more centrally located. I’ve fallen in love with all the Valley offers, creatively.”
While shooting Organic, Mastalia traveled more than 17,000 miles up and down and back and forth throughout the region, eventually shooting 136 portraits before stopping to create the book, which has been getting accolades. Just as Dreads attracted an introduction by the Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist Alice Walker, the new book features an introduction by photo historian Gail Buckland, a foreword by actor/activist Mark Ruffalo and an introduction by Joan Dye Gussow, PhD, known as the mother of the modern locavore movement.
To get his look, which feels ancient on the one hand but simultaneously fitting for the new Hudson Valley, Mastalia worked in a process developed in 1850, using a handmade wooden box of a camera and an original lens. Among the farmers and chefs whom he got to know and captured in their home settings were the likes of Amy Hepworth of Hepworth Farms, a seventh-generation family-owned farm in Milton; Zakary Pelaccio, the Brooklyn gastropub pioneer who recently opened Hudson’s renowned Fish & Game; Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library; Steffen Schneider of the groundbreaking Hawthorne Valley Farm and school; and John Novi, the original locavore chef who has been making the Hudson Valley a culinary destination for decades.
“It’s an amazing community of people, these organic chefs and farmers,” Mastalia said. “Each is dedicated and passionate; all are hardworking and creative.”
In addition to celebrating Organic with a book-signing and culinary event, Novi will be showing Mastalia’s prints in his new gallery at the DePuy Canal House. Following the opening event, to be attended by many of those featured in Mastalia’s works, Novi will offer up a special prix fixe Farm-to-Fork Dinner for those with reservations. The exhibit will then run Fridays through Sundays through January 4.
Organic: Farmers & Chefs of the Hudson Valley book-signing/exhibit, Sunday, December 7, 3-6 p.m., reservations requested, DePuy Canal House, 1315 Route 213, High Falls; (845) 687-7777, www.depuycanalhouse.com, www.francescomastalia.com.