Alumni Stories

Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold: Food photography’s power couple

BFA 07 Photography and Imaging

Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold met as Photography and Imaging students at ArtCenter, fell in love and in 2006 teamed up creatively as Peden + Munk. This inspired partnership now counts among its credits photo essay-style editorial and commercial work — including covers — for Bon Appétit, Sunset Magazine, Glamour, GQ, Food and Wine, The New York Times Magazine, Langham Hotels, William Sonoma and Crate & Barrel.

That to us is the most important thing that we took out of ArtCenter by far: the relationships with our core group of friends.

The pair’s trademark color-saturated, sumptuous food photography can also be seen in The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appétit; Sweet, by Los Angeles-based baker Valerie Gordon; and A New Napa Cuisine, Peden + Munk’s recent collaboration with three-star Michelin chef Christopher Kostow. They also recently launched their motion work with this piece for BonAppétit, profiling Martha’s Vineyard restaurateur, Chris Fisher.

ArtCenter: Your professional partnership began at ArtCenter. How did that come about?

Taylor Peden: It was something that was really organic. We’re obviously a couple, but that relationship came before the shooting relationship. I was doing car photography and Jen was more into still life and food. It really all came together when we took Paul Jasmin’s class. He was a huge, huge inspiration for us. In his class we both were doing something we weren’t doing in our other classes. We were shooting fashion and portraiture and we just kind of teamed up. And every week we were trying to outdo ourselves and impress Jas. By the time we were doing our Grad Show, there were three separate entities: Taylor Peden Photography, Peden + Munk—which is our business now—and Jen Munkvold Photography. Peden + Munk just had a certain vibe to it and probably a year out of graduation we really focused on that. And everything just changed from there. We got into the restaurant world and started shooting a lot of chefs and restaurants and hotels and portraits, and then started working for Bon Appétit and GQ. It’s been kind of like this snowball effect.

AC: What did you learn at ArtCenter that made the experience successful for you and that has most benefited you as you’ve moved forward in your creative lives?

JM: We sat down recently with a friend we went to ArtCenter with and we just talked about how amazing it is to meet creative people you can really mesh with, get inspiration from and ask questions of when you are stuck. That to us is the most important thing that we took out of ArtCenter by far: the relationships with our core group of friends. And it’s funny, as we go to meet with advertising agencies, almost immediately people know that we have graduated ArtCenter. And a lot of times, if the ad agency people have as well, it’s just this automatic bond and trust level that you have knowing that someone else went through this rigorous, crazy program that really made for some amazing creative calls.

TP: And definitely, the discipline. That was the biggest thing for me: the respect that you got from your peers, like Jen said, and the attitude that people had towards doing their work. It was competitive, but it was competitive in a good way. And if it weren’t for ArtCenter we wouldn’t have met each other, so that’s definitely one of the most important things in our lives.

AC: What is your creative practice like today?

TP: It really depends on the assignment. The one thing we love to do is tell stories and that’s what we started doing in Jasmin’s class. Some of our favorite assignments are when we’re completely left to our own devices and we’re in the middle of back country Memphis at some funky barbecue joint and we’re able to meet the people and hear a little bit about their life stories. And then we kind of construct this shot list on the fly, capture the images, come back to our studio, edit and weave a narrative thread through the images and create photoessays.

Our advertising work is different. We try to impart as much creativity to it as possible, but working with clients and agencies is more limiting than when we have complete creative freedom.

AC: You’ve worked with top magazines and you’ve done editorial commercial work for high profile companies. What do you consider your most significant achievements so far?

JM: We have three or four ad clients and many magazine clients that are coming back, and there’s no better feeling than knowing that we not only got the job the first time, but we did everything we could to have it be successful, and that came back around to us. I definitely feel proud when that happens.

TP: One of our first stories that we did for Bon Appétit was about a farm and restaurant up in Los Gatos called Manresa Restaurant. That was a game-changer for us. We love all the work that we’ve done with Bon Appétit.

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