Friday, December 9, 2016

Inaugural Exhibition at BigCrow Studio Reno

Since moving to Reno we have been slowly but surely putting together our new Gallery space. Tomorrow, December 10th marks the opening of our first exhibition in our new location.

This inaugural show is a solo exhibition of my photography, both black & white sand color images: Recent Work: Photographs by David W. Sumner.

The opening reception is tomorrow, Saturday, December 10th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m
Check our web site for information on future exhibitions at BigCrow Studio Reno:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

To Zoom or Not to Zoom

We’ve all heard the famous quotes:

“If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough,” - Robert Capa

“The best zoom lens is your legs.”  - Ernst Haas

I’ve never been a big fan of zoom lenses, but I will on occasion use them. The first zoom lenses I experimented with had poor resolving power and contrast and rendered an image soft and flat. By the late 1980’s technology had advanced such that fast, sharp zoom lenses became a practical option.
Today zoom lenses are standard equipment for most working photographers.

I will use a zoom lens on those occasions I want to go out with only one camera but still have the option to chose different focal lengths without carrying more gear.

When I make a photograph I first compose the image in my mind then I determine the focal length that will make that composition possible. I then position myself so that the chosen focal length and envisioned composition come together to make the picture. I tend to use the zoom lens the same way I would use a fixed focal length lens. I don’t use the zoom to determine the composition. The composition comes first then the selection of the appropriate focal length to achieve the composition.

I’m primarily a 28mm shooter. But if I “see” an scene that calls for a 50mm lens, I choose my point of view, walk there and then select the 50mm setting on my zoom and make the picture. I certainly prefer to use fixed focal length lenses, but I will at times choose a zoom lens simply for its flexibility.

In the same way a photograph is made by the photographer and not the camera, the lens doesn’t make the composition. Your legs are still the best means of composing an image to match your vision, a zoom lens just makes the work a bit easier once you’re standing in the right spot.

Photo: ©2015 David W. Sumner

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Since Moving to Reno

Reno is a growing city with a small town culture and feel. Small town neighborhoods across a river from an active city center. 

Moving to the high desert east of the Sierra many would expect me to be interested in photographing the nature landscape. But I haven’t been interested in such subject matter for quite some time and leaving the San Francisco didn’t change that. Indeed, the landscape around Reno is beautiful and stimulating, but with regard to my photography I’m still focused on the patterns and artifacts of human activity. As I’ve said before, it’s the archaeologist in me.

Reno is an interesting blend of urban and rural and a place of seasonal living. Reno defies the stereotypical notions and images of both urban and rural culture. The essence of Reno is in the details of the interplay between its social and geographic environments. It’s images of these details I find most interesting and for now that is the focus of my photography; the details of Reno’s urbanization in an high desert environment of sun and snow.

Photos: ©2016 David W. Sumner

Friday, July 10, 2015

Busy, busy, busy...

If I stop to think about it I could easily become overwhelmed: 11 rolls of film to process, 6 rolls waiting to be edited and scanned, oops just bought another book before finishing the 5 I picked up last month, letters not yet written, 3 upcoming doctor appointments, sit the gallery for 6 hours, don't want to miss that poetry reading tomorrow night, dinner guests arriving in a half hour. But I don't think about it much. I just keep moving forward. Slowly of course, but forward. 

I don't watch TV or go to movies and that totally baffles many people. I'd rather read or sit in a cafe with a cappuccino and a good friend. I'd rather photograph on the streets of North Beach than spend a day in the woods experiencing nature. I'd rather write a letter by hand with a fountain pen on good paper than send an e-mail.

Sure some things pile up, tasks are put off, I fall behind. But I pursue what's important to me and I find I have little or no desire to seek out diversions. I enjoy what I do despite the underlying threat of becoming overwhelmed.

Keeping busy doing the things that are important and fulfilling, creative and enlightening, that's great motivation. No I can't read it all or learn it all, but I can dive in and spend the rest of my life swimming in that vast sea of wonder and possibility. 

It's a matter of perspective, sifting through all that human culture and society has heaped before us. Sure there's a lot of dreck out there, but there is no need to become mired in it.

Photographer Jay Maisel has had a long career honing his creative vision. He's never in a place or situation that leaves him unable to find a scene of visual harmony. He does a good job of sifting through that dreck. Maisel has talked a lot about the practice of being a photographer and once said, "Don't try to make diamonds out of crap." And he's right, there's no need.

Photo: ©2015 David W. Sumner

Sunday, May 17, 2015

For The Record

In recent months a few friends and I have been reading some collections of interviews with well known photographers. Our discussions have been interesting, with a variety of points of view making each of us think deeper and consider alternative approaches to thinking about our work and photography in general.

The process has been fun and has led me to seriously consider what I think of photography’s role in society and why I continue this particular creative pursuit.

I began working on a sort of essay, trying to get all my thoughts on paper in some coherent fashion. It turned out to be more of a chore than I was up to at the time, so I decided to mimic an interview style similar to the writings we had been reading, taking it one question at a time. So that’s what you will read in this series I call For The Record: answers to a number of questions that have come up during our discussions in response to our readings. Also I’ve included questions that I’m often asked by friends or students new to or not at all involved in photography.

This isn’t a record of a specific interview but rather an essay written in the interview format. This format makes writing about certain issues easier and more interesting for me and allowed me to cut to the chase and speak in frank and simple terms.

So far I’ve had fun with this writing. It’s been interesting to give serious thought to these questions and it’s helped me form a clearer notion of what I do and why. The reading and now my writing have also allowed me to be much more comfortable with my point of view and have even more fun doing my work.

I hope you to find this fun and interesting and as always I am writing to promote and encourage discussion, so please feel free to leave comments or send email. I am always interested in other perspectives.

“For The Record”

Q: Do you remember the first picture you took?

DWS: No. I remember my first roll of film. But my first picture, no. No one since roll film came available truly remembers the first photo they snapped. The first snap of the shutter is usually just practice to see if everything works: is the film loaded properly, is it transporting smoothly, that kind of thing.

The first picture on your first roll or even the first snap with your new DSLR, it’s all just to see if everything is working. That’s  sort of a silly question when you really think about it but it’s one that’s often asked.

Q: Why black and white?

DWS: Black and white gets you to the essence of a thing. It presents the information you need to contemplate, to ask questions, to consider the nature and circumstances of the subject. I mean this is true for the photographer making the image and the viewer looking at a print.

Color is distracting. Because we see in color we make assumptions. Our brains process color information based on a lifetime of visual programing. Like a computer program it interprets that information, categorizes it according to the limitations of the programing. It does all that work for us. So we spend less time looking and see less.

Black and white forces us to “do the math” so to speak. We have to think about what we are looking at, slow down and figure it out.

Q: You call yourself a documentary photographer?

DWS: Yes. While “documentary photography” as a term covers a wide variety of imagery it’s often thought of as “news” or “events” coverage.

I document my social environment. I really look at my social surroundings with the eye of an archaeologist, that’s how I was trained and that carries over into my photography. I document my environment in a way similar to an archaeologist cataloging the artifacts recovered in an excavation. The subjects I photograph are the artifacts, the composition of the photograph is the context, the provenience in which the subject/artifact was discovered.

The interpretation of this documented evidence, meaning my image, is left to the viewer. I don’t care how my images are interpreted. I have no specific message I’m trying to convey. If the viewer is moved to consider the subject and its context in an image then the photograph is doing its job and I’ve done my job.

My job as a photographer is to evoke thoughtful consideration and increased awareness, not just of our social environment, but also of our place in it. The photograph is a simile of its subject. It is the photographer’s job to interpret the subject in in a way that transcends the physical limitations of the photograph itself.

Ultimately the photograph is the document, the document of a moment, a specific thing or place in time. It doesn’t matter if the subject is news worthy, historically significant or a rose in a glass of water on a windowsill. The photograph of that situation, circumstance or thing is a document of something specific in a space in time. No matter how mundane it is, it’s a unique fragment of an existence. It also reflects a fragment of time in the photographer’s existence, so actually every photograph documents more than is apparent in the image, and that’s why the viewer’s interpretation becomes so important.

(More to come...)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lockheed, Leukemia, TCE & PCE

“Lockheed Propulsion Company (LPC) began operations in 1961, after acquiring the site from Grand Central Rocket Company (GCRC), which began operations in 1954. The site consisted of approximately 400 acres which were leased from the City of Redlands…In the 1980's trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent, was detected in groundwater wells in the Redlands area.“

“In April 1997, the San Bernardino District field staff of the DDW began testing public water supply wells in areas where perchlorate contamination was suspected to exist. Because Lockheed used solid rocket fuel, the DDW field staff in the San Bernardino office sampled wells located to the west, downgradient of the Lockheed facility, including two wells of the Victoria Farms system. The well samples were processed by the CDHS Sanitation and Radiation Laboratory located in Los Angeles, with a quantification limit of 4ppb. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) provisional action level for perchlorate in drinking Water is 18 ppb, at which the water purveyor would have to notify their water customers.”

FEBRUARY 11, 1999

“Since the mid-1970s, several epidemiological studies have suggested an association between organic drinking water contaminants, especially chlorinated volatile compounds, and an increased cancer incidence. In Woburn, Massachusetts, exposure to the solvents trichloroethylene  (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) were linked to a leukemia cluster, primarily acute lymphocytic leukemia among children, while another recent study in Massachusetts observed an association between leukemia and PCE.”

Drinking Water Contamination and the Incidence of Leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Perry Cohn, Judith Klotz, Frank Bove, Marian Berkowitz, and
Jerald Fagliano

New Jersey Department of Health, Environmental Health Services, Trenton, New Jersey 08625


Friday, March 6, 2015

Listing the Facts

The little red dot on the map above marks the house I lived in when I was eight years old on Holtville CA.

The town is, as it was then, surrounded by farms. The single source of water to irrigate all the fields is the All American Canal.

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