Palindrome Creative Co.
Palindrome Creative Co.
By Shannon O’Neill
Palindrome Creative Co. has a spirit of collectivity, from the unique skills we each bring to the group, to the knowledge we share with one another. Hatched in 2017 when sisters Kate and Anna Thompson decided to bring their photography and design sensibilities under one roof, Isabel Eckrosh of The Dog and Pig Show added her interior design and styling skills to the mix, and by the time I joined the team as resident copywriter, the spirit of the studio was alive and kicking.
For Kate, food photography started as an extension of living in Church Hill, where new restaurants were springing up. “I must have just gotten into that circuit a little bit… some of it was through partnering with Ledbury. They hired me for a bit to shoot a cocktail recipe at Saison for their catalog, and they had a feature in Garden & Gun on L'Opossum. I also did some photos for Heritage.”
What began as food-lover curiosity led to shoots with The Dog and Pig Show and Sub Rosa, as well as features in Travel + Leisure and Bon Appétit for Metzger and the pop-up, Longoven. “Most people who work in food are very passionate about food,” says Kate. “There’s so much motion involved, and I think that’s why I like shooting people with food, rather than just food by itself.”
As a former restaurant owner and stylist, the lively experience of being in the kitchen inspires Isabel. “I love the attitude and the energy—tense and hurried—plus, the perfectionism and drive that come out of a really dynamic kitchen for presenting good food. With all of us working together, I’ve enjoyed getting to execute our vision from the plated presentation to the final image.”
Because animated discussion defines the spirit of Palindrome, I sat down with the team to capture reflections on the journey into the world of food and beverage, advice for others, and what’s next.
What advice can you offer small business owners and folks with aspirations in food and beverage?
Kate: In Richmond and pretty much anywhere else, it’s about relationships. Sometimes you have to do a little bit of work for trade or as an in-kind donation, or perhaps style a shoot on your own to demonstrate what you want to do. Sometimes it takes a bit of that before you can break in.
Anna: If no one is handing you the opportunity to show what you can do, then you can create that opportunity. Once you’ve proven yourself, you can get so much work. Why would a client go anywhere else if they know that you understand their vision and can bring it to life?
Kate: At the end of the day it’s about doing good work, and if you’re passionate about what you do, and you do it thoroughly and you do it well, you’ll be able to keep doing it.
Anna: That’s what’s going to stick. It’s not just the relationships. Having a relationship is extremely important, but if you don’t have really good work to back that up...
Isabel: For a lot of restaurant owners, it’s their baby; it’s everything. And you wouldn’t just ask someone off the street to watch your kid. “Yeah, I’ve watched kids in the park…”
Anna: It should be treated with care.
What clients have surprised and excited you?
Kate: I think one of our most exciting clients lately has been Chez Foushee. They approached us for a very specific reason.
Anna: I think they saw something in us that didn’t exist in Richmond prior — that’s ideal.
Kate: It’s nice to be hired for what you do, not just because of the services you offer.
Anna: Branding is something we’re just starting to do here in town, so it’s exciting to be doing it for a restaurant with a legacy and so much history. They now have an opportunity to refresh who they want to be in the city. I think the creative opportunity with food and hospitality is what’s exciting to me because you’re creating something experiential. People go to a restaurant to have an experience. You might create a memory for a person with a matchbook, or maybe they notice a design element on the menu.
What excites you the most about working together and within the local food and beverage industry?
Kate: I think our favorite clients have all been creative businesses, and food and beverage falls into that category.
Anna: People who really care about details and see how important they are — that’s an ideal client for us. And within Palindrome, it’s great to be able to work with creative people who come to it from different perspectives. I feel like I’m learning more about design from watching you all work together or separately. I sort of prefer that to working just with other designers.
Can you give us an idea of the highs and lows? What are some frustrations of running a small business?
Kate: I think we’re living in a city that’s still coming to understand the value of good design and photography.
Isabel: And how that translates for them as a business.
Kate: It’s easy to go into a restaurant and sit down, pick up a menu, order food, and it comes and you walk out. But the detail of cohesive and harmonious visuals...
Isabel: An experience is not two-dimensional; it’s a lot of moving pieces, and it doesn’t stop when you leave the restaurant. That’s where the matchbooks come into play and when images on social media remind you of that experience and bring you back. That’s just what you want from a customer; you want someone to have something that’s continuing to pull them back to you.
Where do you see things going next? Are you moving toward longer-term relationships?
Kate: It’s always good to have new things come into the mix, but I won’t feel like I’ve done a good job unless I have a handful of return, regular clients who are working with us on a contractual basis to keep revisiting and building up what they have.
Isabel: I think having return clients affirms what we’re doing. Any good relationship is based on communication and learning. That’s what we want to do; we want to communicate, and we want to learn and continue to do that throughout the process.
Kate: You get so much out of repetitive work with people. I think of Navy Hill. Every time we do a shoot with them, we learn something new about what they want, and we implement that in the next shoot we do, and then they like it even more. It makes everyone more open about a certain shot not being a fit, and then we know we’ll steer away from that and do something different.
Anna: The longevity of those projects lets you get to know the client better. If you can evolve together, you can build on a relationship together.
Kate: On the client’s end, you get what you give. The more you put into it and the more you share about your passions and your brand and your story, the better.
Illustration by Emily Herr