Words & Photographs by Janie Killips
“I’m very boring when it comes to what I want to drink. I know how to make all these fancy drinks but I still always gravitate towards just black coffee.” Lauren Zallo speaks with me in her Lakeview apartment, serving me coffee brewed in a tiny Black & Decker drip. It may be surprising to some that one of their favorite baristas doesn’t crave a cortado or shaken latte, but Lauren’s coffee order speaks perfectly to her aesthetic: simple, no-nonsense, present.
“It’s a big art day today.” I catch Lauren on a very special day, the very day that her new photography book How To Hear Your Heartbeat is released. She is giddy and indecisive when I ask her to show me some of the art books that influenced her as she worked on her own. She pulls the works of photographers I had never heard of – Robert Adams, John Gossage, Raymond Meeks – and I instantly wonder why? We often, in this age of technology, experience photography on our computers or phones. I had never thought of the reasoning a photographer would choose to present their work in a book instead of a gallery. I have wrongly assumed my whole life that photography is presented in galleries and then made into books later. Lauren set me straight.
“It’s a very solitary experience when you’re looking at a book. [Galleries are] a fraction of the intimacy you get while holding it as an object.” She thumbs through Summer Nights,
Walking by Adams. “Things make sense sequentially. It doesn’t need to be a story it doesn’t need to have any narrative. You just flow through this sequence. I want people to have an experience where it is just them and the book. It’s not being influenced by anybody. I think towards the page now and not the gallery.” I cannot help but notice that the photos Lauren pulls the most inspiration from are photos that speak to the core of her book. They are intricate, calm, and mindful of time and space. How To Hear Your Heartbeat pursues the daily relics that remind us how to stay present.
“My head is on straight when I’m surrounded by nature. Finding things that resemble nature in cities has become a reminder that nature is still there.” She adventures through the city, armed with her favorite Fuji X-100 (she named him Lincoln), and collects those natural relics that the city offers – shadows, stars, little plants and big trees.
I am in awe of her pursuit of presence. We sit in comfortable silence, both of our minds drifting. She grips her bear mug with dark black coffee and smiles.
“There are rules in making coffee.” Coffee can get very technical very quickly. You can jump into the rabbit hole of espresso theory and alternate brewing methods but with Lauren, we don’t talk technicalities. “When you learn those rules and use them as a base it’s easier to finesse the flavors the way you want to. It’s cool, I can make something taste how I want it to taste. I like to pull shots that are really chocolatey and dark and heavy.” She doesn’t care for fruity and frilly coffees. Once again I am facing the core of Lauren’s spirit: simplicity.
Latte art wasn’t as simple for Lauren, not feeling like art at first, more like “why is this even necessary, it doesn’t even make the coffee taste good.” She laughs. Those first few weeks of latte art can be difficult. But eventually, like riding a bike, something clicks, and you figure it out and the “art” part of latte art seems to make more sense. “It’s like painting – you have different techniques. Some people only pour hearts and some people only pour rosettas. I’m finally getting to the point where I have control over it and I can pour it the way I want to.” She pours delicate leaves reminiscent of the tattoos on her arm and late afternoon macchiatos that are a staple at BT1.
Her introduction to coffee was similar to many of our own stories: coffee shops provided a place to gather, talk, and recharge. She grew up frequenting diners looking for pancakes. “Diners are comforting and you always eat at them either really late at night or while you’re traveling or on trips with good people.” She’ll recommend Stella’s if you’re in Chicago and Bella’s if you’re in her home town of Sleepy Hollow, NY. And now she spends the majority of her coffee time in the flagship store on Broadway, preferring batch coffee over espresso, and she’ll always recommend the Costa Rica El Roble for any brewing method (“Costa kills it on the Black & Decker”).
“It feels good to be in a coffee shop. It smells good all the time especially if the roaster is in the building. They offer a nice place to recharge if you need to, your phone and your mind.”
Where can you find Lauren?
Bow Truss on Broadway or Brown Owl Press & www.laurenzallo.com