Evan Sung

Food Photographer Evan Sung discusses how he went from studying for his PhD to traveling Europe and pursuing his career in Photography

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Evan Sung is photographer in the areas of food, beverage, travel, and culture. He has been shooting for over 15 years now and in that time has worked with a variety of celebrities, world renowned chefs, and has been published in over 40 cookbooks. Evan was born and raised in Manhattan and I was lucky enough to sit down with him in his Brooklyn apartment to talk about his career and plans for the new year.

A Scholar at Heart

  • Evan studied at NYU and got his bachelor's in physchology. After graduating he was really interested in literature and pursued his PhD at a program in Irvine, California. Irvine was a very funny place for Evan and it was only after six months or so before Evan realized it ultimately wasn't what he wanted to do with his life.
  • During Evan's senior year of NYU he had worked at a bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. The book store attracted a very diverse array of people including writers, musicians, artists, actors and it was there that Evan met an artists by the name of Shelton Walsmith. They both became friends and eventually Shelton taught Evan how to use a camera. They would go out on the weekends and take photos and critique each others images. It started off as a hobby for Evan but quickly grew into something he really enjoyed.
  • When Evan moved to Irvine for his PhD program photography really became an avenue for him to process his relationship with California. He was unsure what he wanted to do with his life and photography really helped him understand what he enjoyed. During this time he created a self-portrait series that consisted of him being run over by his car. The series was a symbol of how tethered he was to transportation in California and how life was so different in New York.

Back to the Big Apple

  • Eventually Evan decided to move back to New York. Most people would feel excited to move back but for Evan there was a moment where he felt like he was taking a step back. Ultimately literature was not his passion and photography became one of the things Evan enjoyed the most. Before moving back to New York, Evan applied to any photo jobs he could find through craigslist and eventually lined up an interview with a stock photography agency. He was hired right away and started working at the agency in January of 2000.
  • Evan became friends with the manager of the studio who was Brett Freedman and learned a ton during his time there. In a way it was his graduate school except he was getting paid to learn. Brett was very much a mentor to Evan as he had worked previously in the film and production industry.
Evan Sung for Wellfed Creative Podcast
Evan paging through his photographs in The Noma Guide to Fermentation.

The City of Love and Light

  • Evan eventually moved on from his role at the stock agency and decided to move to Paris. He had studied abroad there during his time in school and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a shot. Evan stayed at a hostel outside of Paris commuting and knocking on doors to try and find a photography job. It was really tough for him, so much so that he tried getting a job as a server which didn't really work either. Eventually through a family friend he was put in contact with a photographer by the name of Giacomo Bretzel.
  • Evan worked alongside Giacomo for about a year and a half and had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects for fashion, food, and culture. He shot portraits for the magazine Madame Figaro and traveled around to Germany, Spain, and Italy. It was an eye-opening experience for Evan to see how a career in photography could lead you to all of these wonderful places. It was truly a special moment for Evan that made him realize this was what he wanted to continue doing.

Back to the Big Apple Again

  • After moving back home from Paris, Evan began working as a photo assistant for any job he could find. He worked with a Michael Lisnet for Vogue and also Scott Chaney on some architecture shoots. At the same time he was also photographing artists that he admired to build his portfolio. He was learning about their experiences and how they were navigating the creative landscape to figure out how he was going to himself. It helped Evan to hear their stories of how they were able to stay above water while also staying inspired and creative.
  • Eventually Evan built up his portfolio and took it to a newspaper called The Sun. At the time they had needed a food photographer since their regular photographer called out sick. Although Evan imagined he would be shooting portraits he knew that he could step into the situation from his experience while working with Giacomo. After that Evan pretty much became a regular for the newspaper. He was there for a few months gathering his work to send out to potential employers including the New York Times and not too long after he got the call.

111-1111

  • After sending out his work to potential employers Evan received a call on his phone and the number had shown up as 111-1111. This was in fact The New York Times and at first Evan thought it might be a scam but thankfully he picked it up. He was thrilled as they called him for an opportunity that popped up. While there a Evan worked closely with the restaurant critic Frank Bruni on reviews and feature stories.
  • During his campaign at The Times he also had the opportunity to work with other departments like fashion, style, real-estate and local news. It was a great experience for him to experiment with different kinds of photography and for that he is grateful.
Evan Sung on Wellfed Creative Podcast
A portrait of Evan right before closing out our episode of the podcast

A Very Full Portfolio

  • Evan eventually had a portfolio that was filled with work from his restaurant reviews and food imagery. From this he was able to start making connections in the already small restaurant community to build his network and get more work.
  • The first cookbook Evan worked on was with his friend Lauren Deen who is a producer and at the time was working on a TV show. After that Evan became friends with the very talented chef Paul Liebrandt, whose book he also worked on. Evan continued to work on a number of cookbooks through ways of friends and his network (I will create a list of all the mentioned books and post it here and instagram).

Honing His Craft

Before parting ways I asked Evan about what he was looking to improve on in the New Year. Although he may not believe in resolutions, he is constantly trying to grow in his career and skills. Since we are constantly being fed information via screens and devices, Evan would like to step away from that and visit more museums for inspiration and learn more.

"I think it's all these small incremental things that do this a little bit better do a little more this a little less of that."

I want to thank Evan for taking the time to chat with me for this episode of Wellfed.

Footnotes

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