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Art people: Sarah Platanitis, Easthampton | photographer, writer

  • Sarah Platanitis<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Sarah Platanitis<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Sarah Platanitis<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Sarah Platanitis<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Sarah Platanitis<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Sarah Platanitis has vivid memories of the food her mother and grandmother cooked at the home where she grew up in Feeding Hills. The food — both the cooking and the eating — were often accompanied by the telling of stories, what she remembers as the family lore.

“My family are all immigrants and I love hearing stories about what life was like back then,” Platanitis said in a recent interview.

Her other distinct memory from her childhood is learning to take photographs, and loving it. Her father taught her how to use his Nikon, and her grandmother let her play around with her camera, too (although, in retrospect, Platanitis says, she’s not sure there was film in it).

“I’d look at things from different angles — photographing grass, whatever kids photograph,” she said.

Platanitis, 35, who splits her time between Easthampton and Feeding Hills, has combined those two lifelong passions in the “Women & Food Project,” a developing enterprise that begins this month with a photo exhibit at the ECA+ Gallery in Easthampton. The interactive show combines photographs and interviews about food with 12 local women, with an accompanying website that expands on their stories.

Platanitis was an English teacher, first in Japan and later in the Holyoke public school system. But after a decade in the classroom, she says, she left in 2010 “to dust off a dream of being a writer and a photographer.” She started a food blog, “Sarah in the Kitchen,” and took photography classes at Holyoke Community College.

For her blog, Platanitis has interviewed chefs and bakers, gardening experts, cookbook aficionados and restaurant owners about the food they prepare, often including their recipes. Along the way, she became fascinated with what she calls the side stories — the kitchen-talk that didn’t fit in the blog, but was too good to ignore.

“I’ve always found that there’s this nice connection that happens in the kitchen,” she said. “We were talking about something that these women are passionate about.”

Those stories became the seed for the “Women & Food Project.”

“Food is the great connector for all of us. ... It’s more than stuff on a plate, more than something I eat at lunch,” Platanitis said. “Everyone has a relationship to food, good bad or ugly. The idea of this project is that it highlights all of those things.”

Using a digital Nikon, she photographed a dozen women, mostly in their kitchens, using natural light.

“My thing as a photographer is: be invisible and just have the person feel comfortable so you can take photographs and document them in the most genuine way,” she said. “The best thing is just knowing that these women are out there and knowing that they’ve done all these things with food.”

— Kathleen Mellen

There will be an artist’s reception Sept. 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the ECA+ Gallery in the Old Town Hall, 43 Main St. in Easthampton. For information about the “Women & Food Project,” visit womenandfoodproject.com.

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