Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Connecting the Dots


Lockheed Jet Propulsion Company rocket engine test at the Potrero Ranch site near Beaumont, California. 
Photo Courtesy of Banning Library District

In 1966, when I was eight years old, my family moved to a small agricultural town just s few miles from the Mexican border. Holtville was a small community, a mix of old buildings, civic offices, small businesses, a movie theater and a few tracts of new homes. All this was surrounded by farms. This was the Imperial Valley, Imperial County, California.

The crops on the farm at the end of our street were regularly dusted with chemicals. Many Saturday mornings I woke to the buzz of a biplane as it pulled up to make another pass over the fields, spraying what I now assume was DDT.

After eighteen months we moved again, this time to the San Bernardino Valley, specifically Redlands, the heart of California’s citrus industry. Our new home was in a tract of houses built on the ground of a cleared orange grove.The groves were giving way to housing, but many citrus ranchers were hanging on. Redlands boasted five operating citrus packing houses which employed many of our neighbors, the parents of many of my friends and eventually my mother.

To combat the winter frost citrus ranchers routinely burned crude oil and kerosene in smudge pots creating a thick black smog that would warm the air and insulate the trees and fruit from the cold and descending frost. Many mornings friends would arrive late to school with singed eyebrows and missing eye lashes. They had been out from midnight to 4:00am helping their parents light smudge pots. We’d listen to the radio for the frost warning so we could make sure windows were closed on nights we knew they would “smudge.”

A few miles away in the village of Mentone was the Lockheed Martin plant, another employer of many of my classmates’ parents. Lockheed Martin had a government contract with NASA to manufacture solid rocket fuel. Growing up in Redlands we were used to drawing water from the tap and having to let the glass sit a few minutes while the bubbly, milky cloud dissipated.It was air in the city’s water lines, we were told. The water in the glass would slowly clear and we would drink the water.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the California Department of Health Services found trichloroethylene, a solvent, in four out of twelve groundwater wells supplying drinking water to the population of Redlands. In 1997, ammonium perchlorate was discovered in a number of the wells. Drinking water as far away as Loma Linda was contaminated. For years Lockheed dumped spent rocket fuel and other byproducts into unlined dirt pits to be burned at some point as allowed by federal policies. In 2003 the California Supreme Court ruled that the citizens of Redlands had no grounds for filing a class action “toxic tort lawsuit” against the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, a blood cancer. It’s time to start connecting the dots.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Photography & Society

 “The importance of photography does not rest primarily in its potential as an art form, but rather in its ability to shape our ideas, to influence our behavior, and to define our society.”  

-Gisele Freund

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Keeping Up

If you want to keep up with what photographers are doing, their latest work and on-going projects, like it or not, you have to follow their threads and posts on various social media. And I mean follow any given photographer on all their “feeds,” seriously!

The lack of print media and the trend toward news video have made it almost impossible for a photographer to get his or her imagery in front of viewers. Much like authors today photographers have to promote their own work and the only way to reach a wide and ever global audience is via social media.

Photographers must use Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to in effect “self-publish” in a hope that they will attract a following of potential clients, art buyers and collectors. It takes a certain critical mass of “followers” to cultivate a single sale and the size of that critical mass will vary, but that sale becomes part of a “thread” that will run common through the all social media and hopefully initiate some forward momentum.

Unlike the days of LIFE Magazine, Time and Newsweek when anyone could pick up the latest issue and see dramatic and informative images accompanied by photo credits of names they recognized and even trusted, today the place to find that continuity and consistence of quality is through social media.


Photo: ©2013 David W. Sumner

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Weaver


A friend of mine recently quite her salaried job for a part time position and to pursue her creative passion. She’s a weaver.

She’s going through the usual adjustments. The biggest of which is getting used to the idea that most of her waking hours are not devoted to making money.

It takes a while to get used to the notion that you can spend much less time making money and still keep yourself sheltered, clothed and fed. It is very difficult for most people when they decide their creative life is more important than money to adjust to the idea that the time they devote to their art is every bit as important if not more important than the time they devote to making money. And the completely debilitating idea that your creative work must earn money in order to be justified can completely kill your art.

The world needs creative people to be creative. Art and creativity nourishes the human soul and keeps cultures alive. Artists and creative work are vital to the survival of any society, the preservation of every culture and the existence of human kind.

It is a good thing to be a weaver, a painter, a poet, a musician, a story teller. One can always find a way to make a “living.” But a “living” at the expense of your art is not living at all.


Photo: ©2013 David W. Sumner

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Question of Expression


Since I started using the iPhone to take daily color snaps while I'm out & about I've been looking closely at how I compose in color and process the final image.

The in-camera image is always the raw material, placing colors in appropriate physical relation to each other. Knowing I will process the image in one or more of the apps on the phone I often leave space around the edges of the image to allow vignetting and exposure tools to shape the image. I also consider color saturation and usually prefer higher contrast and a muted palette.

I've found that I want to express a mood through the color image which is more pronounced and obvious than I have tried to achieve in my black & white film work, at least up until now.

It's possible the use of the iPhone in making these color images is effecting how I process my black & white film imagery. I'm liking more contrast and texture in my monochrome work these days. Certainly I'm influenced by recent studies of Japanese and Czech photographers.

But I still have issues with color and limit my use of it. I still believe, that for me. color often gets in the way of the image. Like Antonin Kratochvil has said, "The pain is in the eyes," not in the color of blood.

I disagree that color is more "raw" than black & white, as suggested by Gabriel Bauret in his book Color Photography. I strip away color to get at the essence of a thing, the essential expression. I'm looking for the tear drop on the cheek of the clown. That tear drop is often lost in the cacophony of the clown's colorful costume.


Photo: ©2013 David W. Sumner

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

With Liberty and Justice for All


The "Flag Project" is finally finished. The title is "With Liberty and Justice for All." The monograph was designed and put together at BigCrow Studio and will be available through MagCloud later this month. 

The monograph features 40 images selected from several hundred photographs I made over a period of seven years and includes a afterward by photographer Alyson Belcher. 

Below is the text from the forward of the monograph:

"Public display of the U.S flag is not uncommon. We expect to see it in a variety public settings. But what compels individuals, ordinary citizens, to display the flag: in a window, in front of a house, on clothing, on a car? Are these really private displays that just happen to share spaces that are at times public?

"There are of course obvious motivations for these displays of the flag: patriotism, nationalism, solidarity. But over the past decade the flag has come to represent many different things to different people. For some it provides a buffer of protection, for others it represents a different time lost to history, or an over abundance of false promises and for yet others it serves as a warning."

David W. Sumner
San Francisco, 2013


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sometimes It All Just Comes Together

The bridge in fog, Crissy Field, San Francisco, California.
©2013 David W. Sumner