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Life & Work with Sandrine Soman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandrine Soman. 

Hi Sandrine, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I began my food photography in Baltimore officially in the summer of 2018. I had lived in the city of Baltimore for 2 years prior to completing a master’s in cancer biology at University of MD, Baltimore. Living downtown and having the opportunity to explore a city with an incredible food scene inspired me to document the great food I tried. This also allowed me to feel more connected to my community and make friends outside of the university. I stayed in Baltimore after graduating until a recent job opportunity brought me to Bethesda, MD.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I’m a first-generation African-American, and my family and I are from la Côte d’Ivoire. In 2016 my grandmother, who was living with us at the time, was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. Our favorite thing to do was to cook together and unfortunately soon after she started chemo, the days where she had the energy to cook became few and far between. During her treatments, and on days where she didn’t have the energy or stomach to eat, we would continue to bond over our shared love of food; whether it was me trying to recreate her favorite dishes, sharing what new cuisines I had tried recently, or us watching her favorite cooking shows on television. My grandmother’s resilience and love for cooking inspired my decision to study cancer biology but to also try more foods and document my eats. It was difficult to take care of a family member suffering from cancer while going to school, but our time together made me appreciate the amazing ability of food to preserve a culture and to bring different generations of people together.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My research in cancer biology focused on personalized cancer treatments and combining different cancer therapies, whether it be chemo, radiation, immunotherapy, etc. to reduce the negative, often toxic effects of using a single therapy. In my free time I also loved doing community work related to my research. My personal favorites were volunteering to help distribute breakfast at charities such as Ronald McDonald House, and helping teach local kids about the sciences at community events hosted by the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS). Currently, I work as a biomedical govt. contractor outside DC, but experiences like this furthered my love for the city and make me miss living in Baltimore.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I was incredibly shy and spent most of my time in books, expressing myself by drawing or playing music. I was entirely convinced that career-wise I would be some form of creative. It wasn’t until a college biology class when I began to appreciate the overlap of art and science and became inspired to pursue a career as a research biologist. In an ever-changing field like cancer biology and at the graduate level, I was allowed some degree of freedom and creativity to explore how effective combining treatments were to fight cancers. However, I think food photography as a creative outlet has helped me find a community of food minded-people, expanded my tastes, and given me a sense of gratitude when it comes to our food and how diverse our options are.

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