Lunar New Year  (FYI: it’s the Year of the Pig!) was celebrated just last week! This provides the perfect time to take a peek inside my recent shoot at the first American location of the Bejing-based dumpling house, Ja Jiaozi.

Here’s a fun Chinese New Year fact: Dumplings, or Ja Jiaozi, are eaten because the crescent shape resemble ancient Chinese money, and consuming them is intended to bring fortune to your family for the following year.

With that in mind, I’ll admit that I did my very best to bring fortune to my family when I ate here! 🙂

I love any opportunity to work with CallisonRTKL, and as a major dumpling fan myself, this shoot was an opportunity to merge so many of my favorite things!

A Welcomed Shift

While every project is distinctive in its own way, I shoot primarily in shared spaces that are more corporate in nature – so the hustle and bustle of a restaurant space is a welcomed shift in gears. Over the years, I find it so interesting to see the similarities and trends of shared spaces regardless of their use.  Shared space almost always comes with a welcoming energy, a periodic sense of calm and occasional sense of chaos as people come and go, and (in the case of all my clients!) thoughtful design elements to allow for private corners and large-scale gatherings.

Work and Play

Photographing within a working restaurant space is a unique challenge because there are two very distinct camps of people involved in the space: those that are working and those that are not!

Navigating between the relaxed and the working worlds in the same space is tricky as a photographer, and my team and I work quickly and quietly so that we don’t disrupt the distinct hum that comes from a busy professional kitchen space.  At Ja Jiaozi every dumpling is handmade to order, so the sense of urgency was continuous and only increased as they got busier.  As a photographer who has waited patiently for the perfect twilight shot of an exterior and then hustled to capture that moment before the sun fully sets, I can genuinely relate to the way the kitchen staff feels during a dinner rush!

Fresh New Location

As the first American location of a very popular Beijing-based dumpling house, I can only imagine how complex the international grand-opening process must have been to coordinate.

(side note: can you imagine how much global video chatting went on? So much!)

When spaces are added onto existing buildings or remodeled to fit older spaces, there is often a visible split between the older and newer elements. But, when new design is executed in a brand new space such as at Ja Jiaozi, it really allows designers to run full speed and gives me an opportunity to highlight the thoughtfulness of it all when it is completed. I enjoy taking care to include as much as I can in each frame – from the sauce caddies on the tables, to the coordinated decorative wood and ceramics, to the clean grey shade that continues across the floor and walls – so that any viewer can quickly feel how complete the design feels within this dining atmosphere.

Shine On

Dining in dark moody booths can be romantic or harken to the old hollywood days of steakhouses and Frank Sinatra, but as a photographer I’ll take natural light and picture windows any day!

Shooting indoor shared space with an open floor plan allows every shot to feel like a showcase of sorts. With different activities happening in every corner of the space and diners at various stages of ordering and eating, my job becomes complex quickly.

In the case of a restaurant space, I also have to consider the reality of pointing a camera at people while they are chewing – which, if you’ve ever been caught in a candid family photo at Thanksgiving, you probably know can be a less-than-flattering moment for just about anyone. With that said, I love the extra challenge of really staying aware of my timing to keep diners comfortable and relaxed while I photograph around them.


Searching Out Great Eats!
Discovering the best places to eat while I’m on location

There’s a special place in my heart for dumplings, so when Ja Jiaozi was added to my schedule I knew that my dinner plans were already figured out!

After a long day of work, my team and I (very literally) feasted on boiled dumplings, fried rice, cold noodles, stir fried vegetables, and milk tea for the road. I will certainly return here the next time I am in Irvine!

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