Monday, January 7, 2013

The Hat Picture

We were recently invited to comment on the story behind what we felt was our most memorable image (so far). They asked: "Why does this image matter to you? What do you remember about taking the picture? Did the picture get published? How often do you think about this picture?"

If you know us well, you won't be surprised to see what photograph we chose...

The Hat Picture

When we were first starting out, in 2002, a one-day shoot in Charleston, South Carolina for a page story in Travel + Leisure was A Big Deal. Our assignment was to photograph a handful of new businesses that were opening up on the edge of downtown on Upper King Street, and we brought our A-game. What appeared to be the most photographable subject on the list that day was Magar Hatworks, where Leigh Magar was making a go at traditional millinery in an old part of town. We spent about 2 hours photographing there. The hats were gorgeous, as you can see, and the shop was functional — focused on the artisan’s workshop in the back. One of us — we don’t really know who—no, really, we don’t know — took a relatively instinctual shot of the wall from the opposite wall. The railroad-width shop meant a shortened frame that give the image its distinctive crop. I’ve often wanted to go back and see if we took other versions that day, but I never seem to get around to it. I guess I don’t want to spoil the magic.

When we got home, these pictures from our day in Charleston formed the backbone of a portfolio of images we were building to get our photography business off the ground. When we were awarded PDN30 in 2008, this image was used to advertise a talk we gave at Parsons for emerging photographers. The sponsors printed the image A0 on foam mount to greet the audience as they filed into the hall. The poster then rode around in the back of the sponsor’s SUV for a month before finally arriving at our home in Brooklyn. We hung it on the bedroom wall, and re-hung it in our new bedroom when we moved to Asia, and will hang it here in Boston when our shipment arrives. This picture might be the first and last image we see most days.

There was another shot of Jessie trying on one of the hats, that ran in the magazine. “The hat picture” did not. Most people love it as a print, but maybe not so much as an editorial image. I agree with James when he says, “it is rare that a single image stretches out to fill the space of one’s whole career so early.” In those early days, producing more and more new images was our tantamount concern.  Some of these early images, like our ‘hat picture’ became so representative of us-to-us, that it has become a sort of logo. It has been the opening shot of several of our portfolios. It is on our website to this day.

 As an emblem, it speaks volumes to us of the power of ingenuity, of talent, drive, and hustle in the production of art (hats and photographs, both) and it came out of a time in our artistic lives when an image this good, an image that sang aloud when we first cut it from the contact sheet, was like gold in the bank. The image is a simple, graphically-driven shot in primary colors, but it is also idiosyncratic in its way.  As James says, this was one of those images that wills itself upon you as a image maker. It wants to be the cover image for two or three book projects; it wants to be an ‘award image;’ it wants to print wall-sized. This picture has needs of its own.

Leigh Magar, Five years later in Budget Travel 

Five years later, we would return to Magar Hatworks, this time on an 8-day feature story assignment. Leigh Magar, too was thriving — her hats were featured at Barney’s New York now, her men’s line made popular by a celebrity trend. The Upper King Street area around her had grown up too, with the Lee Bros. marketing their cookbooks and boiled peanuts across the street, and designers and boutiques moving in everyday. This time, Leigh was much more comfortable in front of the camera. So we photographed her, making another of our favorite images [Figure 2, above: Leigh Magar five years later]. We also used the “hat picture” set up for a portrait of local designers. I remember wondering if we could “re-photograph” the hat picture and capture the same magic, but the shop layout had changed, and so had we.

Han Feng, fashion designer
Ming Ming and Jeff, gallery owners, art producers

The deep impression this image has left on us has something to do with what it says to us about what we do when we make photographs. Even though it isn't a portrait, we consider this work emblematic of our tribe: people who have scrapped together a dream of making things through a lifestyle of hard work, ingenuity, and creativity. The people we met in Charleston that day, and many others, are members of that tribe. The movement to upcycle, to learn heirloom artisanal crafts, to guerilla garden, to write poetry, we know so much about these things, and so little about taking a more regular path to riches and renown. We have photographed artists, chefs, silversmiths, fashion designers, weavers, architects, glassblowers, and more creative people than we can count on three continents now. We’ve eaten mangos from their backyards and tried on their hats. We even photographed another milliner, in Seoul [Figure 5: Mogool Millinery]. When there is a language barrier, we use the international language of Polaroid to make our vision clear. We hand out the files to these images to our subjects to use in promoting themselves. We believe that folks succeed in crowds, and we feel fortunate to be in a profession that gives us long afternoons photographing and chatting with so many successful and smart people. 

Mogool Millinery 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Morgan & Owens Interview

An article about Morgan & Owens, "On the Move," appeared at the Wonderful Machine blog over the holidays. Find it here.
"It might seem like it should, but we really don’t see any difference in shooting in Jackson, Mississippi or Penang, Malaysia.  Take our word for it — they are the same subject, different verse."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Singapore's new-millenial gardens for Travel + Leisure

We nearly missed seeing CD Sandra Garcia's handiwork on the newsstands during our long relocation from Singapore to Boston. She has been great to work with across several titles, and she has crafted an extensive redesign for Travel + Leisure magazine this year. Check it out - we're pleased to be a part of it!

It's hard to imagine our Singapore home fading into memory! Better to revive our memories by diving into our trove of images from the "other side" -- a project we can't wait to start on between shoots this fall. More to come, along with new print editions, to be sure!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nathaniel James: Look who came to town!

It's been an exciting spring since our last update. To say the least, we'd like to officially welcome our first born Nathaniel James to the Morgan & Owens enterprise. May he live long and endure many photoshoots with dear old Mom and Dad.

Favorite travel magazines Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveller UK kept us busy around Singapore over the last few months while Jessie transitioned into a Creative Director/Producer role during her maternity leave. See the new Gardens By The Bay spread out this month with Conde Nast Traveller UK below, look for more in Travel + Leisure, and keep an eye out for what might be our largest feature page-count to date later in fall 2012 (details later!)

We also enjoyed new clients Credit Suisse and even appreciated getting our first full-sized bus-painted advertisement for a Singaporean University!

But while our busy shooting schedule had us focusing on Singapore in big ways, Jessie's academic work drew our gaze toward our next adventure! We will be leaving Singapore at the end of July after three fantastic years to base out of Boston for a year while she works on her early-American research projects and is a guest colleague at Wellesley College. More on that in our next post!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Monday, December 19, 2011

Prints for Sale

Last minute Christmas shopping? We have selected a handful of our favorite 2011 Morgan & Owens prints to share with you, now on sale at our photoshelter gallery. 
Shipped from US, in sizes from desk-top 4"x 5" to big-wall 24"x 35," in prints and stretched canvas. If you're located in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere, drop us a line, and we'll work out getting your print to you. Limited editions will be printed by us and shipped at the New Year, when we return from a little merry-making trip to Phuket.
We're launching with 16 editions of landscapes, seascapes, poolscapes, and friendly faces. Thanks! and please comment if you have any questions or special requests.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Singapore Eating Guide

Happy Holidays! While we all have food on the mind, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite local eating.

In the past year we have had the opportunity -- no make that 3 opportunities -- to shoot stories on Singapore's extraordinary food culture. We love nothing more than to get to go inside the kitchens, get to know talented chefs and makan makan makan, or eat eat eat. So this is going to be a multi-stage post, as I take a moment before James finishes the kari ikan (Malay fish curry) we're having for dinner, to note a few of my favorites.

If you'll allow us to become temporary food bloggers (like Marge Simpson) here follows our totally biased, woefully incomplete, and entirely delicious

Guide to Eating Well in Singapore

Eat Laksa, Popiah, Chilli Crab, Chwee Kueh, Ondeh Ondeh, & Kaya Toast

These are our favorite (mostly pescetarian) local dishes.

Deserving of its own category, LAKSA is a coconut noodle soup, flavored by a complex spice mix that changes from region to region, even between neighborhoods (but always includes laksa leaves). Sungei Road Laksa, near the "Thieves Market" where the older gentleman behind the counter "tariks" or pulls the coconut broth over the noodles. Get two bowls so you don't have to stand in line twice -- you will want more. My friend over at Notabilia just posted a vegetarian recipe you might wanna try....

POPIAH rolls resemble a small burrito: a rice paper"skin" wrapped around cabbage, nuts, eggs, tiny shrimp, chili and seasoning. Qi Ji, a local chain whose most central location is at the bottom of the Technology mall Funan. Pick up a hard drive and a delicious snack! Fresh iced chrysanthemum tea and popiah, mmmmmm.
    KUEH Biting into a ondeh ondeh, a coconut sweet with palm sugar in the middle, is a messy, sweet, sticky, addictive experience. Maybe we moved to Tiong Bahru because we tasted one when we came by to see that apartment. The best, in my humble opinion, are at Galicia Pastry in Tiong Bahru, where you can also get kueh dar dar, or little green kaya & coconut wraps, and cannisters of pineapple tarts at the Chinese new year.
    Also in Tiong Bahru market food center, you'll find stalls three excellent dishes to try: Chwee Kueh, a hot preserved radish topping on glutinous rice cake with chili oil at Jian Bo #02-05, Lor Mee, a thick soup with fried fish on top at #02-23, and Pau (hot steamed buns) at Tiong Bahru Pau #02-18. You should probably have some sugarcane juice with lemon to wash it down. 
    KAYA Toast, a generous helping of coconut and pandan jam between slices of toast and toast-sized butter, is one of my favorite treats here. Get "Set A" at either major kaya toast chain -- Toast Box or Ya Kun Kaya Toast -- and it comes with two half-boiled eggs, dark soy and white pepper, and a kopi, or local boiled coffee with sweetened condensed milk and sugar. You can also get toast with peanut butter, pork floss, and other toppings, and at Toast Box, they have decent noodle dishes and a bakery. I hear of more traditional coffeeshops in the east, but unfortunately, I haven't tried them all yet. 

    The Chilli Crab, favorite national dish to serve to tourists, is really extraordinary. You can get lots of versions of it, and they are all different recipes. Black Pepper Crab, Crab Bee Hoon (see above) -- all are wonderful, so eat in a big group to get more than one. Our favorite spot for this dish is at East Coast Park, where several of the best seafood restaurants are "co-located," in a pleasant breezy spot by the sea.    
    Finally, there's Chicken Rice. I've never tried it, but our subjects always seem to LOVE Tian Tian at Maxwell Hawker Center, and so do Robin and James. So there you go. 
    Next time, I'll report on food served with air-conditioning. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shanghai edition

: AroundSpace Gallery (

...part of our "From Singapore with Love" blog-post series

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seoul Cool - September, Travel + Leisure

Things we loved in Seoul: The street scene - very nyc, the coffee shops (millions of them), the indie designers, Mapo-Gu and Garosugil, walking around the hills of Samcheong Dong, vegetarian dinner at Baru, Miss Park, the size (one of the largest five cities in the world, surprisingly), the couple who started Mogool Millinery, Soju....and, of course, all the lovely people we met and worked with!
A lot more than a little bit of soul in Seoul.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011


Earlier this summer I made a quick visit to see my dear friends Raphaëlle and Xabi in Paris. Raphaëlle shared this grand exhibition, Monumenta, "Leviathan" by Anish Kapoor. The video does not do justice to the delightful experience of being plankton for a day.

A quick plug, Xabi has a new book out this month, here (en français).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Malaysia's foodie tour - Budget Travel's May issue

This one blew right by us! We shot this feature for Budget Travel in the May issue. It's a wonderful journey up the Malay peninsula from Melaka (Malacca) to Kuala Lumpur up to Penang.

DONALD & LILIE'S: This wonderful family of three takes Nonya cuisine to a whole new level. They operate a small unassuming cafe out of the back of their Peranakan home on the main drag of Melaka's historic district. It was after tasting their Laksa that James decided it to be his favorite Southeast Asian dish -- followed closely by Roti canai! This shoot, for us, was an opportunity to try all the different sorts of Laksa they make in Malaysia -- Assam, Nonya, etc.

Because Melaka is so small it feels very classic. Some of the best places in town are tucked into 100+ year-old shophouses, and the vibe is lively on weekends as people pour in from nearby Singapore for a taste. Here, the Peranakan tradition seems very strong, at least at the tourist level.

KUALA LUMPUR: The contrast between little historic Melaka and bustling modern Kuala Lumpur is stark. We were in the Jalan Alor area, where the street food is gritty and hot! The vibe seems like a blur between classic Malay culture and architecture mixed with a street vibe that I imagine might resemble New York in the 1970's. We introduced ourselves to barbecue stingray, which tasted like something between crab meat and moist grilled cod, and loving the tangy and spicy rub.
The Sunday morning scene at Yut Kee, where the one-day-a-week roast pork extravaganza creates a line all day long! (right)

We hear rumors that this old and cherished establishment might be pushed out by city development in the area. We sincerely hope not!

Next stop, OLD-TOWN PENANG: We've walked the streets within this historic, unesco-heritage town several times now! It's old, it's hot, rough-and-tumble, and completely charming. In Georgetown, you can find old popiah sheet-makers (below, right) - think pizza tossers mixed with crepe street-venders.

Hotels like the Straights Collection that let you roam through vintage architecture and straits-style furnishings. It's no-doubt our favorite place to stay when in Malaysia (aside from its other location on the island of Langkawi!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Big River

Before we introduce this new work to you, I'd like to take a moment to remember my Aunt Lorene Joslin, who passed away peacefully in Springfield, Missouri this past weekend. A minister to the deaf and a woman of great faith, who spoke with her hands and her heart, she will be missed by our families. I'd like to dedicate the photograph you see here, made last October in Laos, to her memory. It's one of my very favorites, and I hope she'll like it.

One of our adventures last fall was a three day trip up the mighty Mekong from the Thai border to Luang Prabang last October with the classy boat outfitters Luang Say. We shot the story for Budget Travel's spring "Dream Trips" issue.

James is fond of telling people that two things are true of Laos, first, that we would never in a million years have thought we'd get the opportunity to go there twice, each October we've been in Asia--it's just so far away feeling. Second, the town of Luang Prabang is the rare place where you can close your eyes and know right where you are: the smell of the river and the spicy food, the sounds of chanting, bells, and bicycles, the soft mountain air on your face. We'd gladly spend a lifetime sitting in front of Le Banneton, munching on croissants and coffee, getting to know the young monks of Wat Saen, and smiling back at the golden Buddha across the road.
Our boat stopped over at a small fishing village near Pakbeng. The Khamu (or Khmu), one of the largest ethnic groups in Laos (a place of many ethnicities), live communally in small villages along the river, trading products, fish and rice in the market in Luang Prabang.

It's become an integral part of our photographic practice to give back to the people we photograph by making polaroids after the shooting's done. So without further ado: a video of our happy afternoon among the Khamu.