Graeme Kennedy Photography

Studio Updates —

Studio updates.

The Fruit
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So this what it’s all about. This is where your chocolate bar begins. It’s a fruit with a thick, almost pumpkin like exterior and a core of flesh covered seeds which, after harvesting, fermentation, drying, shipping, roasting, grinding down and mixing with cacao butter and milk and/or sugar and other fancy processing, it becomes the chocolate bar you know and love.  

Guatemala, with its range of climates, is home to a wide variety of high quality cacao, usually with a loveable nutty flavour, chocolate from this region is one sought after by craft chocolate makers. Some of the plantations we’ve visited were planted 200 years ago, passed down through Mayan generations, today these heirlooms plantations are a big interest to those, like Zotter, who are seeking fine cacao flavours.


Graeme Kennedy
Getting There

After a fantastic layover in Vancouver, seeing friends and family, picking up a new passport and enjoying some great meals, I’m taking off tomorrow morning to Guatemala with my friend Julia Zotter to capture another chocolate sourcing trip for Zotter Schokoladen (www.zotter.at). This time last year we were heading further south to Peru for the month where we checked in on dozens of cacao plantations across the country. One of the things that struck me from the last trip was just how far and how long getting to plantations took, at one point driving three days to get to one farmer. It made me realise how much of a factor distance is when it comes to products like chocolate, how far a bean has to travel before it gets to our mouths... or even just the port that will bring it to the Zotter factory in Austria, then onto wherever your mouth happens to be. Seeing this, combined with how hard and tough conditions are for many farmers, it made me realise how ridiculously under priced a product like chocolate actually is.

A $1 bar of chocolate is, simply put, a joke.

Organisations like the Fairtrade Foundation push producers to price fairly and the money flows back to communities that farm it, and Zotter goes even further to connect directly with cooperatives and farmers, but even knowing that, it wasn’t until I actually took the time to retrace the steps of my favourite chocolate bar that I realised how vast this system is, and how much impact can be made when you chose to purchase a more reasonably priced piece of chocolate.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting on Instagram about what I come across, hunting for cacao with Julia in Guatemala and Belize - find me at www.instagram.com/GraemeDYK

Graeme Kennedy
Crumbling Bagan
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Bagan; if you haven’t been there, you know someone who has, it’s quickly becoming a major stop on any South East Asian tour. Once the heart of the Pagan Kingdom in the 11th-13th centuries, the wealthy capital built 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. The fall of the Kingdom at the hands of repeated Mongol invasions reduced the city to a small town, with a surrounding landscape dotted with these crumbling monuments.

Today, their Archaeological Area is undergoing a controversial UNESCO World Heritage application due to the poor management and restoration attempts, but as tourists pouring in from all over the world that lack of resources to manage and restore the monuments has also led to continual damage as visitors carelessly scramble up the crumbling pagodas. Myanmar's economy has incredible potential - rich in oil, gas, minerals and of course cultural history, it is trying to push forward from its history of military corruption that held it back for so long. So what is the future of Bagan? Will it manage to use its economic growth and save this historic area from even more damage, or will the flood of tourists, eager to watch the famous sunsets and sunrises be the next destroying force this ancient wonder.

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Graeme Kennedy
Wealthy villages
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Trekking through Central Myanmar, you tend to pass through different tribal areas, different dialects, cultures, lifestyles, wardrobe choices, like most of Asia, political borders don't always do a great job of representing the incredible diversity of people who have been establishing themselves there over the past hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years.

One interesting aspect I've been fascinated with recently is wealth across these areas, Shan State (and many others) is going through a lot of change as Myanmar's economy has been rapidly growing over the past decade, with a large chunk of the counties industry being agriculture, farming villages are learning that their extra work is paying off. There are a lot of new houses in these rural towns, and although to you and me, they still are far removed from our image of wealth, this Taung Tu Tribe's village in central Myanmar is a good example of what a more wealthy town in the area looks like.

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Stinky Economies
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In December, I attended perhaps one of my more memorable parties of 2018, and more or less by accident.

Satkargone, a small Danu Tribe village, like many villages in Shan State grows rice, but they have also carved a niche out for themselves in the region growing flowers, and after the rice harvest, Garlic.

I arrived in Satkargone just after the rice harvest finished, and to get ready to plant their garlic, the young people in town would get together in the evenings around a fire to peel last year's garlic to put the cloves in the ground the following morning.

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As any evening around a fire is, the conversation was carefree, a small handheld TV played Looney Tunes clips, the ground was covered in garlic stems and peels, and man, could these kids peel garlic. The town has been growing garlic for generations, beyond memory, their garlic is smaller, but a richer more fragrant flavour. The valleys around the town have been trying to replicate and grow their garlic strain for years but never seem to get the same result, leaving the Danu farmers in Satkargone a nice market… until recently.

Chinese grown garlic from a few hundred kilometres north is less fragrant but far larger, and often sells for cheaper as more of China's farms industrialise. In recent years it's been harder for these farmers to sell their products in markets next to this new competitor.

Ever since I've moved to Shanghai, my trips abroad have often revealed similar stories to me, as the country becomes a bigger economic player, globalisation often has 'made in China’ stamped on the bottom. For better or for worse, even little untouched areas like Satkargone are feeling the effects of this, so who knows how many more of these garlic peeling parties will be left. Will China's increasing production strength drown their little industry as it so often does, or will their unique garlic find a place in the region’s growing taste for quality ingredients?

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Nike Globalism
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So often when I travel to places like this, I long for that classic shot, one that’s filled with authenticity, culture, uniqueness. As a photographer, it used to bother me when a Nike swish or a pair of knock-off Adidas trousers wandered into the background of my photos. When I had my first experiences photographing hill tribes along the Thai-Myanmar border ten years ago, I remember shooting around all the Real Madrid and Manchester United jerseys that had made their way back to the tribes from some relative who had brought them back from their city life three days down the road.

Today, being back on the other side of that border, my mind has changed a bit. No matter where I’ve been, whether it’s Africa, Asia, Latin America, you name it, brands (or their replica ‘tributes’), have made their way into the wardrobes of all ages. Cloths are cloths. If they fit, they fit. This is one of the many subtle ways our incredible global economy has shown its face in these tucked away corners of our world. These moments are the authentic, sincere representation of life here, in this case, for the Danu Tribe.

Unfortunately, for this Danu village in central Myanmar, a global economy hasn’t been all good news and Nike Swishes for them… (Stay tuned…)

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Burning Coal
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Living in China, you learn to appreciate blue sky days like this, however as the winter months kick in, and energy demand skyrockets, China's enormous array of coal plants step up a gear, sending pollution levels up too.

Well over half of China's energy needs are still supplied by coal, even though air pollution is a rising concern here, and although Beijing has been sending messages of sustainability out on the world stage, there is an estimated 700 new coal plants in planning, or being built by Chinese companies - with a fifth of those projects outside of China - this is nearly half of all new coal plants that will be built over the next decade.

In the past 5 years that I've lived in Shanghai, the government's effort to clean up the air has literally had a visible impact, but some believe that as the economy slows and China pulls the levers to keep the fire burning, air quality might fall down the list of importance, so perhaps the chimney peaking over the tops of these buildings will, unlike the ancient town it neighbours, not be a relic of history anytime soon.


Graeme Kennedycoal, China, Energy, Deqing
Let's talk about chocolate.
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Over the past year, I've had the pleasure of doing some work for Zotter, the Austrian Bean to Bar chocolate makers. Documenting their cooperatives in Peru, then following the cacao beans to their factory outside of Graz. Coming from small-town Canada, where my taste of chocolate was limited to whatever Dairy Milk bars were stocked in the convenience store, spending time with Julia Zotter has opened my eyes not just to the world of agriculture and chocolate making, but to the incredible potential of what chocolate is.

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The world of wine has many parallels to chocolate, however, when buying a wine you make your choice based on the type of grape, the country and region it's from, and often the specific farm or estate it's been grown on, as well as the year it was produced. Unfortunately, unlike wine, chocolate is often an enormous mix of everything, companies like Hershey's or Mars will create a base chocolate from a mix of suppliers - so imagine for a moment that the wine you bought was just a massive blend of wine from thousands of farms, spread across dozens of countries, each year the flavour would hardly change, and the only way to make it unique would be to mix other flavours into it.

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Cacao, like grapes, have a several different varieties with differing tastes (think Pinot vs Chardonnay), and are subject to climate in the same way (A French Chardonnay vs an Australian Chardonnay), even the specific estate conditions, vine age, and fermentation conditions (this is why wine tasting in wine regions feature so many different flavours of the same grape), and of course the year (perhaps 2014 was much sunnier in Bordeaux than 2015).

I remember sitting in cooperative collection centres across Peru tasting farm after farm of 100% cacao mass, each with completely different profiles. Unfortunately, all that uniqueness, those beautiful flavours, they are just lost in the blend of thousands that coat your Ferrero Rocher.

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Zotter is set on elevating our relationship to chocolate, with their Labooko range you can sample your way through hundreds of different bars, each featuring specific regions, bean, or blend. Last week I pulled out two bars of chocolate, both 72%, both from Peru, but different genetics, and the flavours where night and day. Many craft chocolate makers around the world are moving in the direction, such as Canada's Hummingbird Chocolate which is just down the road from the Hershey's factory was in Peru the same time we were, exploring different regions and flavours.

It has been exciting (and delicious) discovering these new depths, and as the number of craft chocolate makers grow, it won't be long before you'll find yourself debating some connoisseur about whether 2020 was a better year than 2022 for Peruvian, Piuran, Chuncho beans.

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Shanghai's Original Foodie Community
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This is the original foodie network of Shanghai, either hidden down an alley or behind a set of subtle doors, these Fresh markets are dotted along almost every road in the city. Early in the morning, they are bustling with Shanghai’s older generations collecting the food they need that day, greeting shop owners by name, having a few extra freebies tossed into their bags and haggling over a couple cents.

Everyone has their go-to stands where they would swap recipes, ask the shop keeper what things are, how to cook it, what goes well with something else. Until the ’90s, few homes in Shanghai had refrigerators, so the Fresh Market is where you started every day, it really is a ‘see you tomorrow’ type of establishment, a central part of any neighbourhood.

There is an obsession with food in China, with the local TV show 风味人间 (Once Upon a Bite) hitting a sizzling 600 million views for its first episode. Many young people are passionate about exploring food as well, queueing up for the new restaurant and constantly checking their social media to see where their friends are dining. However, if you visit one of these fresh markets today, it will be clear the impact that online shopping, restaurant culture, and delivery meals have made, as very few from the younger generation have adopted the age-old market routine.

The ‘foodie culture’ in Shanghai goes back generations, but with countless new restaurants, culinary events, TV shows and Social Media Influencers whetting modern appetites in Shanghai, what will happen to these original food communities in the city?


The Jing-Hang Canal
A small local branch of the Jing-Hang Canal as it flows through Deqing, China.

A small local branch of the Jing-Hang Canal as it flows through Deqing, China.

Often when we think of the incredible historical wonders of China, the Great Wall comes to mind; the 21 000 km long northern border defence which started it’s construction as early as the 7th century BC, and still today cuts across China, snaking over countless ridges and mountaintops.

However, a lesser known, but staggeringly impressive feat began happening in 5th century BC, the Jing-Hang Canal, a 1776 km long, series of canals that connect Hangzhou (just south of Shanghai) to Beijing in the north. Featuring lock systems, connecting rivers, and supplying networks of waterways that serve entire cities (pictured above is the Ancient quarter of Deqing city) the waterway system was the lifeline of the country for centuries.

Although the system has been altered, expanded, reduced and changed over the past 2000 years, it is still an active waterway seeing ships moving freight up and down, and even with China’s rapid infrastructure expansion in rail and highways, it’s still possible to sail from Hangzhou, all the way to Beijing.

Baibiao recycled wood market
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Fueled by the growth of more modern interior design in the area, ranging from the growing coffee shop and restaurant market to the rise of the Minsu (old farmhouse turned upscale Bed and Breakfast) the Baibiao recycled wood market has been expanding steadily over the last twenty years. Salvaging wood from abandoned or demolished towns and neighbourhoods, the 312 families working and in some cases living in the market sell it on to new projects. Beyond wood, the market is also a treasure trove of furniture and knick-knacks spanning decades if not centuries of Chinese history. The more than 300 warehouses span 266 000 sq metres making it the largest recycled wood markets in Zhejiang province.  

Unfortunately, as many of these stories go, the industrial city of Deqing is quickly expanding, swallowing up the neighbouring rice fields, the Baibiao recycled wood market is set to be bulldozed next week so the land can be resold to developers, leaving the business owners scrambling to find storage and new locations for their businesses.

Wandering through the market was a stunning reminder of China’s history of exquisite craftsmanship. Almost everything you see is meticulously hand-carved; warehouse after warehouse of intricately widdled window shutters or doors serving as a reminder that for thousands of years the term ‘Made in China’ was not at all synonyms with ‘cheap’, but rather served as the gold standard for created product, fit, literally, for kings and queens all over the globe.

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Graeme Kennedy
The Qingdao Beer Festival
Qingdao Beer Festival 2019

China loves beer, and with the largest population in the world, it isn’t surprising that they consume more of it than anyone else - more than twice as much as the US in fact. In Qingdao, home to China’s second largest, but perhaps most known beer @tsingtao, over a million people will flock to the city to partake in the annual beer festival, with over 1,300 types of beer, food and performances. 


Last year, during the 17 day festival, the 1 million attendees drank 680 tons of beer.

Beer consumption in China is quickly becoming more premium, whether it’s local craft beers, or imported beers, there is a real thirst for the beverage. Even the beloved American classic Budweiser is, as announced last week, is now consumed more in China than in it’s homeland. 


With all that being said, can you guess what the most consumed beer in the world is? - because it is not what you think.

Graeme Kennedy
Maomao Table Artist
Maomao Table Artist

One thing you notice a lot when traveling in China, interestingly, are premium door advertisement. Literally. Fancy doors. Billboards everywhere. This speaks to the trend of premiumisation you can see all over China. From beer, to holidays, to hair salons. 


This is an incredible opportunity, opening doors (pun totally intended) not just for brands, but also artists. 


This week I met Maomao a young successful artist coming from a family of interior designers who took a different path and is now creating fine art in the form of table decorations. With an impressive resume which includes brands like Mercedes Benz, she has done dozens of pieces this year. Her commentary is often a reflection of cultural intersections or our relationship with our environment. This particular piece, done for naked Retreats called 'nest’ was a statement of our carelessness and wasteful consumption. A thoughtful reminder as China's consumption booms of what is at stake.

Cooking with Water
Conrad Chef

Cape Town has only just begun to ease water restrictions from what could be one of the first of many major water crises we will face as a planet. There is always so much we could do to reduce our water consumption - shorter showers, dripping taps, water saving appliances - however those items are barely a drop in the bucket when you begin to look into the water footprint of what we consume. Whether it is plastic, cotton, meat, or petrol, there is so much water used in the production, the feed, or the transportation of almost everything we come in contact with. 


I met the new chef at kikaboni, the fine dining restaurant at naked Stables in Moganshan, China during a sustainability event celebrating the launch of a new analytics system to make guests more aware of their energy and water use at the resort. We started talking about meat and the tens of thousands of litres required to produce it, a few ‘give-or-take’ calculations started to reveal that all the water savings that could be achieved by this new system could be beaten simply by taking beef off the menu for a week, or not serving cashews at the resort.

Coming from South Africa, and having worked in kitchens in Cape Town during the water crisis, Conrad’s perspective gives a fresh angle on sustainability in some of the world's top restaurants. From zero water kitchens to using the whole animal, over the flair and noise of kikaboni’s kitchen, I got to hear about the meaningful impact a chef can make through their dishes. ‘You have to innovate if you want to boil an egg without water’. Every day, water scarcity is becoming more common and the pioneering done, not just in kitchens but in every aspect of consumption, is becoming more relevant. 


It’s just damn good to be assured that it will taste delicious as well.

Graeme Kennedy
This is Mr. Yong’s bamboo
Mr Yongs Bamboo

As the heat of the summer fades in Moganshan, bamboo harvesting season approaches and landowners mark their trees to avoid confusion or foragers accidentally cutting their shoots. Fetching between 30-40rmb (about $5) each, bamboo is a widely used material, whether it's construction, basket weaving, carved into tools or even eaten.

Graeme Kennedy
Yip Qi Lai

This is Yip Qi Lai, from Songzhuang, China, a town of less than a 100 people, originally more than 600, it is one of the many examples of these county-side towns slowly disappearing as more young and able-bodied people move to the cities for work, leaving only the old and aging population in the villages. Yip is one of the younger men in the communities, at 66 years old, he makes his living mostly harvesting bamboo shoots and, at the ripe old age of 66, he will chop and collect about 1000kg of bamboo a day. 

Graeme Kennedy