Brian Samuels Covid-19 Portrait Project

Brian Samuels Covid-19 Portrait Project

Brian Samuels’s food photography is EVERYWHERE. Pick up a local magazine and there is a very good chance you’ll find his name credited at least once. As the Director of Photography & Lead Photographer for The Food Lens, he’s been able to document the deliciousness in what seems like every New England Restaurant. When the photographs were taken, they were created to entice people to get people to restaurants. Now, those photographs serve as a reminder of what’s hopefully to come when chefs are able to start cooking again.

But not all establishments have closed, as I’m sure you know. Some chefs and owners have decided to remain “open,” providing takeout and other essential services to Boston diners. Recently on his website, Brian began sharing his ongoing project, Covid-19 Portrait Project, which features local chefs and owners while they are making the best of a very difficult scenario. His mission statement reads, “As a food photographer, I’ve seen first-hand the resilience, determination, and creativity of individuals working in the hospitality industry. Many are exploring new avenues for their businesses, packing up food in to-go containers, selling groceries, and serving meals to hospital workers.” It continues, “To document this moment, I spent time with a handful of local chefs and business owners to capture their experiences.”

This first round of photos include Andrew Brady from Field & Vine, Tracy Chang from Pagu, Jamie Bissonnette from Little Donkey (and several others!), Lauren Friel from Rebel Rebel, and Karen Akunowicz from Fox & The Knife. When I saw these portraits, I immediately wanted to share it with as many people as I could. Below is a short interview I conducted with Brian, as well some photos from the project. But I encourage you to see the rest on his website (, which will likely include more in the near future, so don’t forget to bookmark. Enjoy!

Drew: When did you start photographing food?

Brian: My passion for food photography grew out of my blog, A Thought For Food, which I started in 2009. At first, I was using a Canon PowerShot to photograph the meals I was making at home. It didn’t always produce the best results but it made me realize there’s a story to tell with food and that’s really what sparked my interest. I took my first restaurant photos at the beginning of 2010 (note: before Instagram) just to capture some of my favorite spots through photo essays. Ultimately, this led me to getting jobs photographing for restaurants and publications.

D: It seems like you’ve photographed food for every restaurant in the city. How long have you been shooting food professionally?

B: I didn’t really get my first paying gig until 2011, when one of the restaurants I featured on my blog asked me to take photos for them. That led to more collaborations with area restaurants and partnerships with brands capturing food and drinks.

Andrew Brady, Field & Vine

D: What gave you the idea to do portraits right now? Do you have a specific goal in mind, whether it’s number of chefs or message? 

B: Besides the occasional portrait for a client, I typically focus on food. But I was really moved by some essays on photography I was reading, as well as a MasterClass with portraitist Annie Leibovitz, and it motivated me to think about what story I could tell through photographs. As soon as the idea came to me to photograph chefs and other business owners within the food and beverage world, I got really excited. It felt personal for me as someone who has worked closely with so many of these individuals. But I also wanted to create some sort of documentation that we could look back on, especially when we get through this.

I haven’t figured out how many chefs I’ll be featuring in this project. I can’t photograph everyone… and I also want to make sure I’m telling stories from different perspectives. So, we’ll see.

D: What is the general attitude of the chefs and owners you’ve met with? Is there optimism?

B: There is a level of optimism, but I think some of that is because they’re actually operating and that just feels much better than being stuck at home. I can tell everyone is exhausted. It’s understandable… the hours are still long but they’re really just working their butts off to keep the lights on.

Karen Akunowicz, Fox & The Knife

D: What has been your best takeout experience? 

B: In the last few months, we’ve only ordered food a couple of times. One night when we were passing through Boston and picked up an order from Fox & the Knife, which was delightful. I will admit it’s weird eating this food at home as these are dishes that I’m used to eating in a dining room or bar surrounded by a lively crowd.

D: As a follower of your Instagram account, and frequent visitor to your blog, I know you enjoy cooking and baking. Have you tried to recreate any dishes from restaurants at home in the last few months?

B: I was thinking of busting out the Flour Bakery cookbook at some point to bake up some of Joanne Chang’s treats, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe that’ll be my next project.

I’ve been making cocktails from The Automatic, which they’ve generously posted the recipes for on their Instagram feed (they’re asking for people to donate “tips” to give their staff during this time). The Tommy Noble is a favorite drink from their menu and I’ve been mixing that up at home.

D: Are there any other creative projects that you’re working on?

B: Outside of the Covid-19 Portrait Project, I’ve been preparing some recipes for my blog, which I’ve neglected over the last year. For me, it’s important for me to stay creative during this time.

D: What aspect of your work are you looking forward to most when it’s safe to return to work?

B: Honestly, it’s the people. Collaborating with chefs and creative directors and marketing companies and publishers… I really just miss the experience of working with everyone. And, the food, of course.

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