Jim Sullivan by Claire Gunn 2018

A Portrait of Photographer Jim Sullivan

Posted In: Art | Photography

I’ve been a fan of Life & Thyme for a long time. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to contribute to a few articles there. Not only is Life & Thyme a fantastic source for great stories about food, it is a treasure trove of information and inspiration. I regularly take a look at what’s on offer, and I am always rewarded with new perspectives or approaches. Often this delving uncovers photographers who create work that I find intriguing or enticing, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to get into contact with some of them. Connecting with other creatives is a deeply rewarding experience, because it gives one the chance of discussing matters which often feel difficult to share with others who are not in the industry. There is a camaraderie between photographers that results in a free exchange of information that can be, to put it mildly, enlightening.

One such connection I have been blessed to make through Life & Thyme is Jim Sullivan, a food photographer and videographer from Southern California in the US. Jim has a gift for portrait photography – specifically photographing chef portraits.

Jim Sullivan by Claire Gunn
Jim Sullivan

During one of my browsing sessions, I came across an article for which Jim had done the photography, and one of his images immediately grabbed my attention. As a photographer, chef portraits can be a static experience (mostly chefs like to fold their arms and be done with it), but I had been changing my posing and during this search found inspiration in Jim’s wonderful work:

Jim Sullivan

Inspired, I made a mental note that when the opportunity next presented itself, I would emulate what I’d seen and so admired in Jim’s photo with my own personal interpretation, of course. I don’t advocate copying, but inspiration is a true wonder and so readily available in the age of technology. Luckily for me, this opportunity did not take long to arrive:

Graham Oldfield at Chefs Warehouse & Canteen Bree street

When Jim and I started chatting, it soon became clear that we were both on a quest for new stories that hadn’t been told yet. We’re both former chefs, and I started my career as a sculler and Jim as a busboy, and so we have a passion for and connection to stories about the culinary world. We both photograph chefs and finished dishes as our main work and sometimes we need a break from the norm. One of the untold stories we had both begun to consider is to document the often unseen but essential members of any successful kitchen team: the scullers / kitchen cleaners. Without the tireless dedication of these individuals, a kitchen cannot run smoothly. They are the backbone and yet they are often left out of the spotlight because of the nature of their work. Even restaurants with kitchens that are open do not have their scullery visible – it’s just not a pretty job.

This was what intrigued both of us. The challenge here is to champion these individuals in our portraiture of restaurants to make sure that the whole story is told. We eagerly shared our favourite portraits of the scullers with each other – a niche passion I’m sure. What had once seemed obscure in each of our experiences now became somehow validated and deserved further exploration as story tellers of this exciting industry.

Jim Sullivan by Claire Gunn
Chefs Warehouse Bree Nov 2017 Claire Gunn
Scullery staff at Chefs’ Warehouse & Canteen by Claire Gunn
Jim Sullivan
Chefs Warehouse Bree Nov 2017 Claire Gunn
Scullery staff at Chefs’ Warehouse & Canteen Bree street by Claire Gunn

One day, Jim asked me if I would be willing to paint a portrait of him in a style that I had just begun experimenting with – digital painting. I was simultaneously excited and terrified, because it was the first time I’d been commissioned to paint a portrait.


Painting a portrait of a portrait photographer… how wonderful!
Even though Jim himself says he does not consider himself to be a portrait photographer, I do. I’m not one who lets a challenge prevent me from making progress, so I gratefully accepted the commission.

I’m pleased to say that the end product is something that both Jim and I are delighted with. 

Jim Sullivan by Claire Gunn 2018

For more of Jim’s work with Life & Thyme

For more of my work with Life & Thyme

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