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What We Learned This Week: Why Norman Jean Roy Traded Photography for Baking

By David Schonauer   Friday November 20, 2020


In 2014, Norman Jean Roy walked away from photography.

For almost 30 years, Roy made his name synonymous with beautiful portraits of beautiful people, from Rihanna to George Clooney.  He had an apartment in Manhattan, a bungalow in Hollywood — and, noted The New York Times recently, a place alongside Slim Aarons and Herb Ritts in the pantheon of artists who defined their respective eras of glamour. Then he decided to do something else.

Disenchanted with his routine and ruing the time he spent away from his family, he moved into a modern barn in town of Taghkanic, in New York’s Hudson Valley. There, he spent his days swimming and cycling, relaxing with his kids and having dinner parties with other New York expats. “I thought, ‘Well, we’re fit, we’re active in mind and body. So let’s just really maximize this now,’” Roy told The Times.  “Work is always there, but your body is not.”

He and his wife Joanna had often dreamed of opening a mom-and-pop cafe, so in 2018 they decided to do it.“We just couldn’t come up with any cons other than, well, what if it doesn’t work?” he said. “Which has never been something that’s deterred me.”

Over the next two years, Roy, who used to bake dinner bread with his grandmother while growing up outside Montreal, remade himself into a professional baker. “He’d made the transition from amateur to expert once before,” noted The Times. “When he was a 21-year-old graphic designer in Nashville, he bought a Minolta X-370 to shoot test images for his girlfriend, an aspiring model; three years later, he moved to Paris with $400 in his pocket and a dream of becoming the next Richard Avedon.”

Roy enrolled in a bread-making boot camp at the San Francisco Baking Institute, then rented a 7,000-square-foot red brick building in the town of Hudson to create a 50-seat bakery called Breadfolks. “My products have a patina feel to them,” Roy says. “I like texture.” The bakery, which opened in August, has been a hit, noted the Times. But, noted Roy, “I’m making a living two, three dollars at a time. There’s nothing more humbling than that after spending years in five-star hotels and private jets.”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlight this week:
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1. With Coming Sale, the World Looks to Ansel Adams For Relief

Can Ansel Adams save the world in 2020? "In a world where the president of the United States has been actively working to undermine established environmental regulations, and in a world where each passing year can be marked with ice caps gushing more water into the oceans," Adams's meticulous documentation of American landscapes and passionate stance for environmental conservation may be just what we need, noted a news site recently. Adams, we noted, is making headlines this month, ahead of a December 14 sale that will see a a massive collection of his work auctioned off. Above: Adams’s image “Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, 1942.”


2. The 2021 Deutsche Borse Prize Shortlist

“If the past year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize was underwhelming, its successor is unapologetically esoteric,” declared The Guardian. The four artists shortlisted for the nearly $40,000 prize are Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena, Cao Fei (above) and Zineb Sedira. The Deutsche Börse prize “recognizes artists and projects deemed to have made the most significant contribution to photography over the previous 12 months.” Within "that elastic remit, though, this shortlist is random, even by past standards,” added The Guardian.


3. The Cautionary Story of Paradise, California

In November 2018, the Northern California town of Paradise was hit by one of the deadliest wildfires to ever strike the state.Two years on, some of the residents have returned, hoping to rebuild their homes and lives. Documentary photographer and environmentalist Max Riché’s series “Paradise” combines portraiture, landscape, and infrared imagery to tell the cautionary story of the destruction. “What I wanted to do was have flashbacks into the fire,” he told the British Journal of Photography.


4. This Print Sale Supports Conservation Efforts

In October, the pandemic and election started to get to Ami Vitale. "I was feeling overwhelmed with everything," the photographer told us, "and I had to do something." Vitale began connecting with National Geographic colleagues, and the result is a one-of-a-kind print sale that is raising money for conservation efforts. The sale features work from 85 photographers, including Joel Sartore, Katie Orlinsky, Anand Varma, David Doubilet, Danielle Zalcman, and Jim Richardson. All proceeds go to Conservation International to support "the people and communities on the front lines of conservation efforts," notes Vitale.


5. A Modern History of Presidential Transitions

The election is over. Will we see a peaceful transition of presidential power? To remember what that looks like, Town & Country put together a portfolio of images capturing transitions of the recent past, including a photo of a young Sasha and Malia Obama being shown a sloped passageway at the White House residence by Jenna and Barbara Bush, with former First Lady Laura Bush in the background — an image that has gone viral in recent days, notes T&C, as the country finds itself groping through uncharted territory.
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At top: Ansel Adams’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”

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