||James Sullivan began working in Photo Labs processing film and doing custom color, Ciba Chrome and B&W printing in 1986. He then Started working as a Photo Assistant in 1989 in Boston For all of the top photographers shooting there at the time. In Jan. 1994 James moved to NYC. and 5 days later began working for many of the old school photographers whose works he'd followed over the years such as: Bert Stern, Marco Glaviano, Gosta Peterson, Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon. With that breath of experience James went on to work with: Mark Seliger, Antoine Verglas, Christopher Michaud, Michel Comte, Warwick Saint, Dah len, Steven Klein, Kelly Klein, Andrew Eccles, Norman Jean Roy, Henry Luetwyler, Frank Ockenfels, and more than 400 others during his time as a Photo Assistant and Lighting technician and later as producer.
- The Long Story -
James grew up in the South & Northern suburbs of Chicago Il, and right after high school moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College in Chicago.He had some great teachers, one of whom was a renowned pin-hole photographer, Ruth Thorn-Thompson.
Another was a studio lighting teacher (Who's name he can't remember) who, after working as a nuclear scientist for the department of energy, just decided one day to become a photographer. This nuclear scientist-photographer showed up only three times during the whole semester. He showed up the first day and said: "There's only one rule you need to remember in lighting, there's only one sun!" and then left the room. The next time he showed up was for the viewing of a Helmut Newton documentary.
The last time was to review portfolios and get drunk with the class.
Just 3 credits away from graduating Columbia college, James quit photography school to become a "Rock Star".This started off with his joining a "Rush" cover band in Chicago, taking classical voice lessons twice a week for the next 5 years, and finally ending up at Berklee College of Music in Boston.To support his music habit there, James worked in photo labs mainly running B&W film, E-6, C-41 processes. He also did B&W printing, C-Prints, and after hours when the boss wasn't looking taught himself Ciba-Chrome printing.
Soon the photo lab got boring and so he started building pinhole cameras from garbage around the photo lab and shooting long exposures with E-6 duplicating film, B&W Ortho film, and anything else that wasn't nailed down. Soon 5 other lab workers with too much time on there hands also started shooting pinhole, resulting in a clandestine art exhibit in the mural room behind an hold 11"x14" copy camera.The next step was this thing James had heard about called photo assisting. Seems that there were photo assistants working on fashion and catalog shoots 3 times a week, and partying and taking pictures the rest of the week. This sounded like a really good deal, so James asked people "How do you get to be a photo assistant?", but no one had any answers or was willing to talk about it, so one day James just picked up the Boston Yellow Pages, opened up to commercial photographers and called the first guy listed.That number had been disconnected. The next guy was in his studio; "Hi my name is James and I'm looking to be a photo assistant. Do you have any work coming up that you could use an assistant on? I could intern and work for free?" "NO, NO, NO, James never ever work for free!", said the photographer (Gregg) "Why don't you stop by in two days at 9:00am. You can hang out, see how things work, and if we click we can talk about showing you what's involved in photo assisting.""Hey thanks, I'll be there!". James was so excited, he showed up 15 minutes early.
"Rule #1, early is not always best!"So this was his entry into the very secretive world of commercial photography. This led to James working with some great photographers in Boston, including on old school photographer that was a one time First Assistant to Horst P. Horst.This photographer taught James more about lighting, metering, color temperature, and shooting in six hours than any combination of photographers could have in six years.
Next was the still life photographer who would sit on his leather couch with his clients reading Playboy and Penthouse, while the 3 photo assistants set up and shot the jobs on 4x5. This was another learning experience since both of the more experienced assistants wanted to light the set differently or shoot from a different angle.
The end result was that they would shoot it both ways and the choice would be made in the edit by the photographer.James finally ended up working with a legitimate fashion & advertising photographer on a full-time/freelance basis who treated him very well, paid on time, and let him use the studio and darkroom whenever he wanted. (That was back when photographers actually had their own big studios and darkrooms.) Finally this really cool photographer (Rob) said: "James, if you want to shoot fashion you really need to move to New York. There's nothing more I or anyone else in Boston can teach you."So three months later on January 1st. James moved to New York with two backpacks and $1800.00.
He subleased a models apartment in the East Village for 30 days. The second day in NYC he sent out 150 resumes. Three days
later he made phone calls for work, and started assisting on fashion shoots on his 5th day in New York City. Within the next 18 months James was able to work with many of the photographers whose work he had been following for years.
He was even lucky enough to work on several Victoria's Secret photo shoots; and then during a solid 4 month period he worked in Milan, Costa Rica, and finally spent a month in South Africa for the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue.
(James is very fond of the Kalahari desert)To date James has worked with over 400 photographers including....Mark Seliger, Antoine Verglas, Christopher Michaud, Bert Stern, Marco Glaviano, Gosta Peterson,Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon, Michel Comte, Warwick Saint, Dah len, Steven Klein, Kelly Klein, Andrew Eccles, Norman Jean Roy, Brian Lanker, and many others.James' goal was to come to New York and work with the best photographers in the world.
The reality is, that James found that he was and has been working with the best photo assistants in the world.James prefers to work with large format film cameras and gets hired primarily as a lighting technician, or by photographers who
want an experienced assistant who knows what he's doing.
James' goal when working with a photographer is to make sure that the photographer gets the best possible shot he can every time.James' goal when working with a young assistant is to impart the knowledge that has been past along to him.James can still play a mean air-guitar and will not show up anywhere unless he has been well caffeinated.James believes that his daughter is the most beautiful and brilliant child in the world.
(She has been shooting 4x5 since age 5 but these days she really likes the Canon 5DMKIII)James does not usually refer to himself in the third person, but it seemed to add an interesting bit of comic relief here.
James/NYC. April, 1998