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Summit LA 17: The world's preeminent ideas festival
Los Angeles is a town which owes the vast amount of its notoriety to the film industry of Hollywood. Of course, all of the creative siblings come attached: television, theater, music, the visual arts, etc.

Not as recognized but quickly becoming a member of this family is the culinary reputation of LA. Rather than fixate on one medium, the city revels amidst integration. Los Angeles is a truly international city and its eclectic cuisine reflects this.

Summit’s LA 17 presents itself as “The world’s preeminent ideas festival.” This three-day gathering (November 3-6) of 3,500 leaders across an array of disciplines assembled for talks, performances, experiences, and of course gourmet food in the hope of fostering relationships and setting the spark to ignite new ideas and perspectives. At the center of all these gatherings were art, wellness, and food. Notables such as Jeff Bezos, Michael Jordan, Jessica Alba, Malcolm Gladwell, and a plethora of others shared their insight and thoughts in downtown LA.

As much as any other aspect of success, LA understands promotion. Continuation of any event is built just as much upon the enjoyment of those attending as it is in conveying that this was not an experience you’d want to miss the next time it occurs. Summit wanted to give the public a sense of what it felt like to be amongst these notable and inspiring individuals while also obtaining a sense of what the environment felt like. 

Food was a vital part of this. Restaurants such as the Peking Tavern, Fundamental DTLA, Broken Spanish, BS Taqueria, JW Marriott, Inter Continental, and a plethora of others featured celebrity chefs like Amanda Saab (blogger, founder of Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor), Ray Garcia (owner of Broken Spanish & BS Taqueria), Robert Egger (Founder and President of the LA Kitchen), and many more.

Summit carefully chose some of the most talented photographers to capture these “happenings” and the culinary atmosphere. Natalie Chen is highly regarded for her still life photography and has acclaim for her work in particular with photographing food. Specifically, it is Chen’s vision of food as art rather than simply an image to elicit a pavlovian response that led to her enlistment for this star-studded event.

As a guerilla food photographer, Natalie restaurant hopped from venue to venue amidst these acclaimed leaders of varied mediums, focusing more on what was on their table and in the kitchen than the celebrities themselves. The images she captured were provocative at times and soothing at others; if art was the goal, Chen more than exceeded every expectation. 

She describes, “I like to look at paintings for inspiration. Illustrators look at things differently than photographers do. They start from mixing the colors. They paint the shadow blue because they are aware that the sky is basically a giant blue soft box; this isn’t something photographers notice all the time, probably because we like to control the light. I’m obsessed with the blue shadow that painters display. It’s a new element I’ve been adding to my style. I was so pleased that I was hired to bring my own style to photographing this event.”

Los Angeles and Hollywood have the highest concentration of celebrities in the world, which is both a good and bad trait for an event such as Summit LA. This characteristic allows for many notable individuals to be involved but the chances of getting to be oblivious to cameras was unlikely. While Natalie Chen was brought aboard for her exceptional photography skills and artistic style, she also possessed one unexpected yet highly beneficial quality.

She reveals, “Because I’m not from this culture, I really had no idea who was famous and who wasn’t. While this led to some embarrassment on my part when celebrities realized I had no idea who they were, it also seemed to put them at ease and made my job easier.” This very statement is so LA and so very much not LA.

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