Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Old Thing?

I was out shooting a bit this afternoon, finishing off a roll in my Nikon F. The weather was f/16 at 1/500 so I headed down to Java Beach for some coffee and people watching.

I was sitting outside, camera in hand, when a fellow in his mid 20's came out of the cafe talking with his girl friend. When the couple passed in front of me the fellow interrupted his conversation and quietly said, almost to himself, "Cool camera." He immediately resumed his discussion with his girlfriend and they walked on down the street.

It took a second for me to register what he had said and that he was referring to my beat up, 40 year old F with it's equally beat up, mold infested, 24mm lens. I looked down at my camera and I thought, "This old thing?" I mean, I know why a Nikon F is cool. I know it's history, I know what it's capable of, I appreciate the fact that after 40 years and who knows how many owners, that my F may be beat all to hell but it still works almost perfectly. But what did this kid know? I'm guessing he just saw an "old" camera, and old stuff, stuff one might consider "vintage," is in style, is cool, is even hip, as it were.

It's odd, there was a time when I would have been almost embarrassed to show up certain places with my old F hanging on my shoulder. Photographers I knew were ragging each other for still using the F3 and not popping for an F4s. But today, here I am lugging around an ancient film camera and I'm the hippest old dude on my block. Now that's cool.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Monday, April 18, 2011

This is Where I Work

When I'm not at my day job or out shooting, this is where I live. I have to admit that I'm here at this desk more often than I'm out shooting.

This is my "dark room," where I take my film, edit my images and make them ready for printing. This is where I scan my negs and prepare digital files for flickr and this Blog. This is where I write and do most of my communicating with the rest of the world.

Through this Blog, my flickr page, my facebook page and my Twitter stream and my MagCloud publishing, more people, and I mean people around the world, are seeing my images on a daily basis than ever saw my work in the years I worked at digging up editorial assignments and selling stock images.

There are people in London, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv, Manila and Sydney who are familiar with my work and know me only as a photographer in the US. I find that amazing. And it all happens right here at this desk.

We won't know what will be possible tomorrow until we make it happen, and the truly amazing thing about that is…we can.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Early Hints of an Evolving Style

It takes years to develop a style. Often one's style only becomes apparent after taking the time to step back, look at an entire body of work and identify the commonality and persistent themes present in individual images as they float to the top.

On those occasions people have commented on my "style" of photography, I usually walk away wondering what "style" do they mean, what are they seeing and is it something I'm not seeing?

Lately I've been digging through a lot of old negs, some almost 30 years old. There's a tremendous amount of crap in those files, some really bad pictures. But they have value in that they are providing a context for the evolution of my photography. Amongst all that swirling debris something occasionally pops to the surface giving me a hint of what was deep down there, struggling to find a place in the forefront of my consciousness. Hints of a style that would come to dominate my creative work.

Recently a friend of mine commented on the image above made 23 years ago, saying, "You've been doing this for quite a while." He's right. But when I made this image I didn't realize I was making something that would eventually be recognized as my "style." It was there all along, I just had to spend a lot of years coaxing it out of it's hiding place. I'm not sure I've been entirely successful, but at least I now know for sure where it lives.

Photo: ©1988 David W.Sumner

Saturday, April 2, 2011


The idea of telling a story or conveying a concept of any sort in the confines of 36 frames of 35mm film has always intrigued me. I've read dozens of stories by photojournalists who made it their practice to work every assignment as if the had only 36 exposures with which to nail down the essence, the heart and soul of a story. Some newspaper photographers used to try to get six assignments a day on one roll of film.

It's not easy. It's a skill to be developed. I've never actually tried it, but recently I've approached the idea from a slightly different perspective. Imagine you're a photographer and an editor tells you, "OK, you've been to Pakistan three times, you've made images all over the country. Now show me Pakistan, show me your vision of Pakistan and do it with 36 images or fewer. Better yet do it with no more than 10." Could you do it?

That's the challenge I and a few friends have set before us. We've formed a little group and put together a "print on demand" quarterly, the first issue of which is available today. It's called "36exp." The concept is simple: with as few images as possible get to the heart of the subject. Make us understand it and see through your vision of it's very essence.

Future issues will feature individual photographers and their personal projects, and others will feature a single subject explored by group of photographers presenting a variety of unique perspectives on a single topic.

There is no profit in the publishing of this journal. The price of an issue covers only printing and shipping and stays with the printer. There is no mark up. There is a free download version available for mobile devices such as the iPad.

I hope you have a chance to take a look. there is a lot of good work being done by talented and dedicated photographers you have never heard of. I hope we can bring some of that work to a broader public, share some important stories and see our world through different eyes from time to time.

Photo: Cover of issue 1 of 36exp. Cover image, ©Marianna Whang