Photographer and Buffalo native Aaron Ingrao has always been fascinated with passion.
His work explores the spirit behind artisans of all crafts: Cobblers whose boots are imbued with more care than machine-stamped leather, bicycle-makers who bend better frames than Huffy, woodworkers whose tables are functional artwork. It doesn’t matter to Ingrao whether these craftsmen are professionals or hobbyists; what interests him is why.
“What makes these people so passionate?” He asks himself. “These people are doing it because they love their work, and it’s that dedication that draws me.”
On Jan. 19 at Buffalo Proper, Ingrao will launch a new passion-focused project, “Keepers of the Craft: Cocktails Across America,” a book of environmental portraits which explore the passion behind craft cocktail creators across the country.
A cocktail enthusiast himself, Ingrao plans to drive across the map with his Australian Shepherd Luke, documenting and discovering what makes these cocktail chefs tick.
For Ingrao, his love of craft cocktails all started when he visited Ballyhoo owner Tim Stevens in 2009, who was living and managing Prohibition in San Diego. A longtime friend of Stevens’, Ingrao said he credits the bar owner and bartender for introducing him to the passion of cocktails in one memorable evening.
“To this day, I consider that the greatest night out of my life,” Ingrao said. “Every place he took me was serving these fantastic, carefully crafted drinks and my mind was just blown. I came back to Buffalo and at the time, we didn’t have anything like that and I was like, ‘why not?’”
Cameron Rector, a friend of Ingrao’s, opened Vera Pizzeria a few years later, to some murmurs about whether Buffalo was ready for $10 drinks, even with artisanal ingredients. As Ingrao put it, “He opened and immediately shut their mouths, shamelessly proving everyone wrong.”
A former bartender, Ingrao said he had a love for cocktails from the beginning, which only deepened once Stevens and Rector introduced him to the elevated form so popular today. “Keepers of the Craft” will combine his fascination with passion and craft cocktails, focusing on the creators behind those celebrated drinks.
“One of the things I’ve struggled with is how to capture how engaged [bartenders] are with their craft,” Ingrao said, of his upcoming adventure. “What are their tools, why it is they’re passionate about it, those are the details that are important to me, because you cannot shoot 100 people the same way and expect to hold [readers’] interest.”
The main struggle the photographer faces now is funding. Dan Giganti of 19 Ideas public relations firm suggested a Kickstarter, which will launch at the kickoff party on Jan. 19. Ingrao plans to barter environmental portraits of 19 Ideas’ staff for help with layout and design, once his book comes to fruition. But first, he has to get himself – and Luke – on the road.
“I worry that people won’t find it interesting, that the bartenders won’t want to be in the moment with me, that they won’t have time to commit to it,” Ingrao confessed. “But mostly, I want to generate excitement and show people what it’s going to be about, to hopefully get that support.”
Buffalo Proper owner and bar manager Jon Karel, a friend of Ingrao’s, will put out a complimentary spread and allow Ingrao to set up a slideshow of portraits he’s already taken, as a sneak peek into the project.
A computer will be available for Kickstarter supporters to buy in, and raffle items will include art prints of Ingrao’s work, bottles of Tommyrotter and Lockhouse, as well as a playdate with Luke. Ingrao hopes to garner 30 percent of his $35,000 goal with the party, but said he is grateful for any support he can get.
As for the trip, he and Luke are busy planning their route the old-fashioned way: A paper map tacked to Ingrao’s office wall with red pushpins in the cities he plans to hit. His furry best friend will be co-piloting and starring in a few shots, Ingrao said, as well as acting as his unofficial photo assistant.
“I fell in love with the guy as soon as I got him,” he said of the Australian Shepherd, a local rescue dog he adopted nine months ago. “He’s kind of the mascot of the project, so I’m sure he’ll be popping up here and there.”
It’s a story as old as the American dream: A man, his dog and the open road. With the addition of craft cocktails, a hot topic for hipsters and longtime aficionados alike, Ingrao hopes to appeal to anyone who resonates with passion. “It’s about people who love what they do, when you get right down to it,” the photographer concluded. “At its basis, that’s what my work is all about.”
Ingrao’s Kickstarter page goes live on Jan. 19, and updates will be posted on his website. The launch party runs from 6 to 10 p.m. with complimentary food and a cash bar. Buffalo Proper is located at 333 Franklin St.