John Street book

John Street is a man with history and talent…and plenty of it.

His schtick? Food photography, in fact some would say he pioneered it, bringing European standards with him from London when he moved to Australia in the seventies. We met by chance at a market, which lead to another more planned meeting. Over a wonderful gluten free coconut raspberry cake made by his wife  (below), and some delicious black tea sprinkled with cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper; we talked about food, his life and his incredible photography career.

coconut and raspberry slice

(The gorgeous gluten free coconut and raspberry cake homemade by John’s wife)

During our meeting, we were privileged enough to have John take us through his food photography portfolio (an incredible experience). It took us through the life of his work’s journey and enabled us too see through his eyes and lens.

John Street fruit bowl lady(The model’s ‘accessories’ are all ‘naturally’ made and hand crafted of course)

Throughout John’s entire career he worked in analog, not digital. Photoshop and Paint didn’t exist, everything he photographed was physically constructed first and enhanced naturally using light. We have peppered our interview with some of our favourite shots of John’s work, you will soon see the man has a unique style, and that his work was literal art. Throughout some of his Australian career he worked alongside the highly talented stylist Sue Tilley who he cannot speak of more highly. One of their shots together (not featured) amongst many was for an ice-cream company, using their combined talents they managed to hand carve ice-cream into actual flowers for the ad. Once the ‘subject’ had been constructed they kept in a freezer overnight and the next day when it was used for the shoot, John had only minutes to photograph the ice-cream before it literally melted. You can admire his talents and some combined with Sue Tilley’s below (we have provided notations about the images where possible), but in the meantime here is just a snippet of our afternoon chat together.

John Street and Absolut(John Street with some of his work for Absolut ‘Candy’ Vodka)

1. When did you buy your first camera?

In 1956, it was my dream. As a child I used to lay in fields looking at the light. Light was my friend and I had such of love of it. I never knew what kind of role it would play in my life.

Ilford camera

2. How did your photographic career start?

In the late fifties. I worked with Neil Nimmo and Zoltan Glass, soon I became Glass’ assistant, he was my mentor. Nimmo had the Ilford Camera (pictured above) account and gave me my first break with this brand. In 10 days I did 10 subject matters, Ilford loved them and bought them all from Nimmo for 1000 pounds a picture (this was 1959). At this point Nimmo said there was nothing more he could do for me and said to “go and study Rembrandt’s lighting”.

I started working for John Donaldson (Vogue Magazine) and on occasion filled in for him. It was then that I worked with some of the UK’s greatest models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. After this my agent David Putman decided to pigeonhole me into still life and food, and I became a specialist.

John Street Yoghurt slopes(This shot was a joint effort by Street and Sue Tilley for the Australian Dairy Board, the slopes you see have been hand made with real vegetables and the slopes lathered with real yoghurt)

3.When did you arrive in Australia?

I came to Australia in 1972, and decided to run a lettuce farm. I did this for about a year and then decided to move to Sydney. I had an appointment with Clemenger and within half an hour I had three weeks worth of work and never stopped working. Some of my clients were Mercedes Benz, BMW, Spring Valley, the Dairy Board, Benson and Hedges, and Lipton Tea.

John Street fruit on glass table

(Another classic shot by Street and Tilley, everything you see has been hand carved from real fruit and vegetables and layered by glass to create this incredible effect)

4. What tips can you give to people wanting to improve their food photography?

Take a picture with a love of light, watch what the light does, fall still and allow the senses to work. Taste your food, appreciation of nature, love of presentation, experiment and most importantly have a love of food – be in touch with it. Food is cooked from the heart, made with love and received with gratitude. 

John Street arsen photo

(This is our favourite shot, it was taken by Street around the corner from his then Carlton based studio. A Greek restaurant in the area had been hit by an arson attack, John spectacularly captured the scene)

5. Where is your favourite meal in Melbourne?

The best restaurant in Melbourne is my house, or even those of my neighbours. Socialising in people’s homes is still the best restaurant in the world, time consuming but worth it. Food is for entertainment and good company.

6. What’s next for you?

Zen, and telling stories through pictures. Unless an image lives and dances I don’t want to know it.

John Street and camera (John in his studio with his camera)

Some of John’s accolades:

Clio award 1978 & 1982 Silver

Clio award international TV / cinema 1987 Gold

Melbourne art directors silver award 1984

Melbourne art directors award 1990

Best 15 sec TV commercial 1990

Melbourne art directors award silver 1980 & 82

Australian writers and art directors award 1982 & 1985

Facts TV award 1981

Cannes 1981 Lion d’argent.

For more about John’s life, work and current art for sale, visit