It's intimidating to photograph the photographer. With a quasi-broken lens and only a few days left of a month spent in Los Angeles, I showed up at Go Get Em Tiger in Los Feliz to have a coffee, a catch up, and to host a brief photo session with Jeff Newton. Jeff is the founder of a coffee culture website called Americano Mondays where he produces cafe features, captures portraits of coffee professionals, and creates videos he calls AM live sessions. You see, Jeff is professional photographer. He has worked with clients such as; Nike, Wells Fargo, Sports Illustrated, and Conde Nast, to name a few. So, it's no surprise I'm feeling slightly restless with an uncomfortable twinge in my gut. How am I going to pull off taking images of Jeff that even begin do his work justice? If this doesn't work, there isn't enough time to schedule a re-shoot!
Over conversation about his growing family, the coffee industry, career goals, and a couple of filter coffees, I'm reminded about the nature of Jeff. Jeff and I have known each other through coffee for a few years now, and the thing about Jeff is, he is so casual, easy to be comfortable around, and his presence is disarming. These are qualities which undoubtedly make Jeff successful as a photographer, but also help me dissolve my inner critic. And, what am I thinking anyway? Jeff's work speaks for itself. It has an undeniable precision and intensity that only someone who's spent decades honing their craft can achieve.
In this case, it was a privilege to photograph the photographer. Today I am grateful for the opportunity to share these photos alongside and interview with the incredibly talented Jeff Newton of Americano Mondays...
tLBCC: How did you get hooked on specialty coffee culture?
Jeff Newton: I fell in love with coffee in the mid 90’s. I don’t remember the exact year or date but I was probably around 18 when I started actively hanging out at coffee shops. At the time, I was just starting to take photography seriously and was writing a lot of poetry (probably not good). So I would go to coffee shops—pre laptop and wifi days—with a journal or yellow notepad and write all night long. The hook most likely came because of the community of friends that I made in that process. We were all there in the hopes of finding ourselves and it was in those early adult moments that I truly fell in love with the culture of coffee.
tLBCC: You’ve done work for clients such as Nike, Golf Magazine and Forbes and have also taken incredible portraits of strangers you meet on the street. Is there anything unique about capturing photographs of coffee professionals?
Jeff Newton: Yes and no. I'm used to working with people that aren't necessarily comfortable being in front of the camera. Even some famous people are that way. However, I would argue that the same character traits that have led the athletes and actors I’ve worked with to become great—training through repetition, a drive to never quit, an appreciation and love for their craft—are the same ones I’ve seen in many of the successful people in coffee.
tLBCC: What is your current favorite feature for Americano Mondays and why?
There are a few of them that I’m proud of for various reasons. My short film on Nicely from Menotti's is something I’m very proud of because I proved to myself that I could produce a film project for Americano Mondays on my own. But what also stands out from that experience is the friendship and respect I gained for him during that process. We are both fathers and he had his first son a bit before we had our daughter, Paloma, so he was a great person to go to for wisdom on being a new father.
I would also say that my Mexico City feature is one that I’m rather proud of for various reasons. That was a big gamble. I had no idea what I would get while I was there. Also, I'm not fluent in Spanish—so I wasn’t even sure if I was going be able to properly explain what I was doing. Thankfully, the Mexico City coffee community was so welcoming and I photographed almost every single day I was there—over a nine day period. That was also a turning point for me with Americano Mondays because I saw that this could exist outside of the U.S. And, that opened up the capabilities big time… I'm dying to go to another country and shoot again.
tLBCC: Has investing in Americano Mondays—your passion project—influenced your photography career?
Jeff Newton: Yes, shooting in the style of Americano Mondays has greatly influenced my commercial work. Since most everything I shoot for Americano Mondays is naturally lit, I’ve had to do some fun stuff in camera—adding elements in front of the lens, etc., to naturally create lighting affects. That style has inherently been fused into my commercial work. Only a few years back most of my commercial work was very overly produced with a large amount of lights, production, and post processing. Not to say that I’ve completely abandoned that, there are certainly times where it is necessary. But, my style has probably changed more in the past couple of years—directly because of Americano Mondays—than it has in the 20 years I’ve been pursuing photography.
tLBCC: You recently released a beautiful two part AM Live Sessions series featuring artist, musician and coffee lover, Propaganda. Can you share a little bit about your experience bringing that series to life? Why is sharing Propaganda's work and story in the context of coffee meaningful to you?
Jeff Newton: I'm technically an outsider in the world of coffee and that’s given me the freedom to allow Americano Mondays to extend beyond the confines of strictly a coffee blog—to be more about the culture that surrounds coffee. Even though I was once a barista—pre third wave—I still loved photography and music just as much. And thankfully, they were all able to co exist within each others world.
Case in point, if I wasn’t working behind the counter you could still find me sitting there, sipping my probably-not-so-good-early-2000’s coffee editing images or talking with other photographers or artists. And, in a completely different time in my life, you could find me in a coffee shop writing poetry that I would perform at slam poetry events held around my home town of Arizona. So the idea of having a live performance series, AM Live Sessions, just felt like a natural progression for the site. So many of my first memories of coffee shops involved open mic nights or live musicians performing at local coffee shops. And, as someone who loves both music and coffee, it’s a perfect pairing.
With Propaganda, it was the perfect fusion of everything I love about coffee culture: A poet performing a spoken word piece + filmmaking + photography + a mutual respect for coffee. As well as, Prop approaches coffee—and his involvement in it—as just another extension of his craft. And, that’s exactly how I see the fusing of my commercial work and the work I do for Americano Mondays. At first I saw them as separate and spoke of this as a ‘side project’ but after some soul searching and personal growth, I’ve come to realize that Americano Mondays plays just as much of—and possibly even more of—a vital role in my continued existence as an artist. Not just a side role.
tLBCC: Your photo and vlog series #coffeeadventureswithdad which features you and your daughter exploring coffee shops around Los Angeles is absolutely delightful. How did that come about?
Jeff Newton: The whole Coffee Adventures With Dad videos came in a sort of round about way. Basically, it was through a mix of wanting to push myself to be creative in new and fast ways while also having fun with my daughter. Coming from a commercial mindset I'm used to everything having to look so polished and perfect, and I’ve sort of been fighting against that lately. Perfection is a freakin' killer of creativity. Trust me, I’ve seen it firsthand. So, choosing to just head out with a GoPro and document my coffee adventures with my daughter is another way to both push myself while also creating memories of my time with my daughter.
tLBCC: If you had to photograph a coffee shop with as little gear as possible, what would be your camera and/or equipment of choice?
Jeff Newton: My main workhorse cameras are Canon 5D Mark III cameras. But, for Americano Mondays, I love using my Fuji X Pro2. It’s just a beautiful camera that captures images that feel very organic/filmic and for me that is the look and feel that I want to attain with Americano Mondays.
tLBCC: Do you make coffee at home in the morning? If so, what is your morning ritual and go-to brew method?
Jeff Newton: Even though I go to coffee shops—almost daily—I still make a ton of coffee at home. Sometimes multiple times a day. My morning ritual as of late has been the Aeropress. (It was the Chemex but my coffee grinder is loud and I'm normally up long before my wife and daughter). With the Aeropress I can use my Porlex Mini hand grinder instead of my burr grinder. There’s also something to be said about the process of hand grinding coffee beans in the morning. It almost feels more ritualistic with the ‘work’ that goes into the single cup than say an espresso machine. That said, I do make my wife a honey latte’ every morning on our Breville Dual Boiler and then mid afternoon I’ll usually make myself an iced americano. So yes, I make at least 3-4 drinks a day between my wife’s latte in the morning and the coffee I’ll drink while working from home. And, my daughter loves to ‘help’ me make mommy’s coffee. She likes put the portafilter into the grinder and push the button. She also likes to ‘help’ me press down on the Aeropress when I'm making that. We recently bought her a toy espresso machine, so she likes to offer me coffee now all the time. It’s cute.
tLBCC: What advice would you give someone starting out as a photographer?
Jeff Newton: To constantly be shooting. As well as, to always be seeking out a voice that can give you honest critique. As well as, it’s very important to begin as early as possibly to find what it is that excites you about photography. It is portraiture? Still life? Landscape? Weddings? Begin to hone in on that as quickly as possible and in that process you’ll begin to find your voice. If you’re not 100% sure as to what direction you want to go then try every aspect of photography. As you progress you’ll begin to notice which shoots resonate with you and which ones didn’t. Begin to gravitate more towards the one you like and away from the ones you did and in that process that you’ll find your path.
tLBCC: Juggling a photography career, Americano Mondays features, and family life seems challenging. What are some tools or techniques that have helped you manage all three?
Jeff Newton: Drinking a good amount of coffee for one. Other than that, it is tough. Especially since Americano Mondays is a project that doesn’t bring in any income. So, sadly that also means it’s the first thing to get pushed to the back when paid or commercial work comes along. I do hope to change that balance one day but that’s still a ways away. But, I would say that it’s just about being smart with time, which is a serious struggle of mine. It's also about not allowing yourself to be easily distracted because the minute that my daughter is home or that I’m with her all work is pretty much shut down—partially by choice, but mainly because it’s almost impossible to be productive when a 2 year old is coming up to you every 5 seconds wanting you to play with them. And, that’s hard to pass up.
tLBCC: What excites you about specialty coffee culture right now?
Jeff Newton: That it’s become a far more accessible - viable alternative to crappy coffee.
tLBCC: What is your favorite coffee shop and why?
Jeff Newton: My favorite coffee shop is very subjective to that particular day. I would say that I’m drawn to smaller, intimate coffee shops. But also love visiting the big and busy coffee shops just to see them rocking out. It all depends on my mood that day.
tLBCC: What can we expect to see coming out of Americano Mondays in the future?
Jeff Newton: I actually have some really cool features in the mix ranging from coffee shop features, coffee crawl videos, a new video series, and a new AM Live Sessions video. So, yeah... I'm currently living in post production trying to get them all out.