Friday, December 28, 2007
Just Me and My Cameras
Being able to post my images on the web and to see how much wonderful work is being done by people all over the world is inspiring. I've connected with some new faces and old friends through Flickr, where I do most my photo posting now. I've met and become familiar with the work of photographers in Japan, Israel, Australia, Canada, The Republic of Moldova, England, France and right here in San Francisco. It's a great way to share work and explore our common creative pursuits.
Flickr also provides a means of publishing work that until recently was not available. I've been experimenting with creating short photo essays and posting them to Flickr. I put together a three part essay on our November trip to Los Angeles. Each part consists of five images with captions that create a running narrative chronicling our adventures there. I created another five image essay documenting a fire that broke out in a local cafe and the quick response of the SFFD.
I've had a tremendous amount of support from friends, near and far, and I greatly appreciate every bit of it. The support that we've received from my sister Susan and her family is truly above and beyond. Anna's brothers have helped in ways they can't imagine. But, I couldn't have managed this year at all without Anna. I owe her everything.
Right now I have a month long break from clinics, doctors and needles. Things are looking pretty good; the numbers could be better, but they don't tell the whole story. I'm a very, very lucky man. And I'm looking forward to a fresh year full of pictures.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Rain Tree Cafe on the corner of Irving and Eighth Avenue seemed be burning. I moved in close to the fire fighters as I had only a 35mm lens with me and Anna was able to stay back a bit with her wide to telephoto zoom. I managed to stay close but out of the way while shooting as the fire fighters broke through the front door of the cafe and put ladders up to the roof. Smoke began billowing out the front door as fire fighters moved into the cafe and attacked the source of the fire. We crossed the street a couple of times seeking different angles and views of the activity.
In no time I had run through the two rolls of film I had with me. While anna continued shooting I went half way up the block to Express Photo. Alan Dejecacion was still running the C41 processor despite the fact it was the day before Thanksgiving. The lab was closing in 30 minutes, but Alan took my film and said he'd have it ready in fifteen minutes. He quickly sold me another roll of film and I was back out shooting the mop up of what turned out to be a small grease fire. The cafe had closed early, but someone had left the grill on and in the course of a couple of hours a pot of grease sitting on the grill had begun to burn.
Thanks to Alan I was able to post a short photo essay on the fire to my Flickr page within a few hours of shooing the pictures. While we've seen the demise of most the photo labs in the City it's a relief to have Express Photo right in the neighborhood.
(Not only does Alan help keep Express Photo running, he's also a great photographer. You can see many of his documentary projects and photojournalism on his Flickr page.)
Photo: ©2007 David W. Sumner
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Bay Area Art Quake Launch
Image above: Notes for review of David Seymour
exhibition at the de Young Museum.
Recently I've taken some time away from posting here simply due to the stresses of the day job and the chemo treatments. All of that is settling out now. Anna and I are actually heading to LA for three days to scout out a few galleries.
I have been posting quite a few images to my Flickr page. There you can see some recent work and some older favorites. Next week I will be posting images from the LA trip.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Pick a Lens, Any Lens...
(Kathy Cruver, Nikon F3, 180mm lens ©2002 David W. Sumner)
Really it's not an issue of the best or right lens. What's important is what will work within the context of your shooting style, what are you comfortable with? James Nachtwey has been quoted as saying he never uses anything longer than 50mm. HCB used a 50mm almost exclusively. Josef Koudelka for many years shot almost all his images with wide angle lenses. Then he quit using wide lenses all together. Then later he started using a panoramic camera for much of his work. So what's right?
When I was shooting color landscapes in the 1980's I rarely shot with anything other than my 20mm and 180mm lenses. Today I hardly ever take my 180mm out of the closet. Currently in my bag is a 20mm, 28mm, 55mm, 135mm, and two camera bodies. Now days 95% of my images are made with the 28mm lens. I'm not fond of zoom lenses, I'd rather step closer or move to one side looking for a good perspective. But that's what works for me and I've experimented for many years to get to this point.
In reality a nice portrait can be made with a 20mm lens or a 300mm lens. You just have to pay attention to what you're doing. When you're looking through the view finder, look critically. Move a little and keep looking. When it looks good, make the picture. Don't worry about right or wrong. The more you practice the more you become familiar with what makes a good portrait and will realize that a good portrait can be made with any focal length.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Chevron and Burma
Photos from a "brave Burmese living in Rangoon," who cannot be identified right now.
What's the Story with Burma?
BBC Profile of Burma
New York Times on Burma
Huffington Post on Burma
Independent Media looks at Burma
US Campaign for Burma
Human Rights Watch on Burma
Democracy Now on Burma
Amnesty International on Burma
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Should We Even Care?
The stencil image (above) of Billie Holiday is on Van Ness Avenue. The original image is a photo by the late William Gottlieb.
So what do we make of this? Is it an homage to Gottlieb? Is it fair use? Is it a copyright infringement? Given the context does it matter one way or another?
What if Gottlieb, were he alive, came along and signed his name to image on the sidewalk? Would that upset the person who made the stencil and painted the image on the concrete?
Should we even care?
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Shoot First, Crop Later?
I try try to do as much in-camera cropping as possible to make use of the full frame for every composition. But some times I'm faced with little time to get the shot: no time to get closer or switch lenses. My choice is always to get the shot regardless.
Recently I was roaming around the Ferry Building and I saw a girl feed some pigeons. The birds were actually sitting in her lap as she fed them. I stepped up and just as I was about to press the shutter release a little boy ran into the frame chasing the pigeons away. The boy's father reeled him and I backed off to let the pigeons come back. The girl was a little self conscious, but she went with it.
Most of the pigeons came back to be fed, but none hopped up onto the girls lap. I started closing in and heard the little boy running up behind me. I grabbed the shot from where I was, just before the pigeons took off once again. This all took place in less than a minute. I managed one frame. Not the image I had originally wanted, but a general depiction of the scene.
Now I'm not sure this image is even worth keeping, but it's a good example of need for and usefulness of cropping. Granted, I believe in the full frame and doing one's best to avoid cropping any image. But I also believe there are times when one must decide to shoot now and crop later or lose the shot.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Recent Work: Poetry Garden
at 190 Fremont Street,
Howard Street Entrance.
Sculpture and 190 Fremont.
Photos: ©2007 David W. Sumner
Sunday, August 12, 2007
What We See
It's interesting to contemplate what in our lives has shaped the way we look at our surroundings and exactly what we see.
Is this the last trace of a cave painting or simply the many layers of paint on the floor of the atrium in my house?
Twenty first century pictographs outside a pre-school in San Francisco. What of the pictographs across the South West? Are they the blackboard lessons of youth?
When we are looking are we really seeing?
Photos: ©2007 David W. Sumner
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
An Important Point, Often Overlooked
"The value of our work lies not in the fraction of a second that it takes to record an image but in the value that the client is getting from it. For example, a large-circulation magazine might charge more than $100,000 for a full-page ad. A smaller publication might charge only a fraction of that, but it's still going to be in the thousands of dollars. Since the magazine itself puts a high valuation on its pages, it makes sense that you do the same with the images that you're supplying to fill those pages."
No matter how much you charge for use rights, the publication that uses your image is always going to make more money from it than you are. So don't sell yourself short.
Photo: ©1991 David W. Sumner
Monday, August 6, 2007
The Poetry Garden
While its initial charm has worn a little thin (it has become a coffee break hang out complete with cigarette butts, stale coffee spills, and carelessly discarded paper cups) it's still a calm and inviting rest stop on a weekend walk South of Market.
The official word is that photography is forbidden, I guess because the garden is technically on private property, or maybe it's a copyright issue regarding the sculpture. Supposedly ever vigilant security guards hop to every time someone pulls out a camera. However, yesterday I spent about forty minutes hanging out in the garden photographing to my heart's content, never seeing a another soul. I'll be posting my B&W images of the Poetry Garden in the very near future.
In the meantime pay the garden a visit yourself. It's right in front of 199 Fremont Street, beside the Town Hall Restaurant. Accessible from either Fremont or Howard streets.
All photos: ©2007 David W. Sumner
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Visiting with a couple of friends yesterday our conversation on new photography equipment turned toward lenses. It's agreed that whatever camera you're using it's the lens that can make or break your picture.
Today there is a lot of "vintage glass" out there and people are hunting it down. In some cases prices are going up, but for the most part older, high quality optics can be had for reasonable to dirt cheap prices.
In the image above I have three of my favorites: On the left is a Nikkor - O 35mm f/2 from the 1960s. For some reason this lens did not mass produce well so quality from sample to sample may vary, but when they got it right they really got it right. This is a sharp, sturdy, reliable lens. I had mine AI modified so it couples with the meters on all my cameras, even my F4 and F100. I bought this lens in 1989 in a shop in Berkeley. The repairman in the shop tested the lens when it came in and said it was one of the sharpest 35mm Nikkors he had ever seen. I paid about $75.00 for it.
The center lens is a Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AIS, arguably the sharpest wide angle lens Nikon has ever made. This is my standard lens. I never go out without it on my F100 and it accounts for 90% of my images. In 2003 I paid $250.00 for it in fine condition. Shortly after I received it I noticed lubricant leaking onto the diaphragm blades. I took it to the camera tech I had been using for years and had him take a look. He took it apart, cleaned it and repacked it with a new heavy duty lube. It cost me an additional $165.00, but when I picked it up he told me that it was one of the finest optics to come across his work bench and guaranteed that I wouldn't have any problem with it in the next twenty years.
The last lens in the line up is a gem. A Nikon E-series 135mm f/2.8. Nikon first made the E-series lenses in response to the popularity of third party lenses that increased in the 1970s and 1980s. E-series lenses typically had fewer elements than their Nikkor counterparts and some plastic parts. They were usually considered less rugged, light weight and optically inferior. In reality, in most cases, the E-series lenses were solid and optically sound. I've owned several Nikkor 135s and this compact E-series is every bit as sharp the Nikkor models. It's small and fast. Compared to the light weight, plastic AF lenses, made today, this E-series 135mm is a hefty work horse. I bought this one earlier this year for $76.00. It's a great telephoto for carrying around everyday and makes a nice portrait lens.
If you shoot film and aren't freaked out by manual focus lenses, you can find some very inexpensive suepurb optics that will out perform some of the newer, expensive lenses currently on the market. Happy hunting.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Rediscovering Bert Stern
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Good Books, Part 1
The three books I'll be reviewing are:
Page After Page: Memoirs of a War-Torn Photographer by Tim Page
Dispatches by Michael Herr Lost Over Laos: A true Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship by Richard Pyle and Horst Faas
First up is Tim Page's autobiography, Page After Page.
Tim Page is one of the best known war photographers who made his mark in Vietnam during the latter half of the 1960's. It's been said that the character of the photographer played by Dennis Hopper in the film, Apocalypse Now, was modeled after Page. It's also been said by some that Page was out there, always "beyond the edge." He was wounded at least three times. On the last occasion he was pronounced DOA three times, but was resuscitated and survived subsequent brain surgery.
Page After Page is, as the name implies, a page turner. Tim Page was one of Sean Flynn's best friends; shared rooms with him and went out on assignment together. (Flynn later disappeared, along with fellow photographer Dana Stone, in Cambodia. It is now believed that the Kamer Rouge executed both Flynn and Stone.)
For me the most interesting part of Page's story is the chain of events that landed him in Laos and then Vietnam in the first place. Page, at age 17, left England on a typical VW van type trip around Asia. He spent a long time in India and ended up in Laos, broke and looking for work. Eventually he accepted a job as a stringerer with UPI having virtually no experience using a camera and found his way to Vietnam. Before he was 30 years old he had seen more combat than some foot soldiers and made his name as one of the most colorful war photographers ever to pick up a Nikon F.
Personally I think Page After Page is a great book, not a great piece of literature, but a great book. Page tells his story with a lot of humor and stark candor. The book has a copyright of 1988 and was published in the US by Macmillan Publishing, New York. I picked up my first US printing in the mid 1990's and have read it a couple of times. It may be out of print, but I saw it available on Amazon not too long ago. I definitely recommend getting a copy for yourself.
Other books by Tim Page:
* Tim Page's Nam (1983)
* Sri Lanka (1984)
* Ten Years After: Vietnam Today (1987)
* Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden (1995)
* Mid Term Report (1995)
* Requiem (1997)
* The Mindful Moment (2001)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The GGNRA Photography Project
My good friend John W. Wall and I have been working on a project shooting images of the various sites included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Sometimes John and I go out shooting together and other times we go solo. While John has covered much more territory than I, we have put together a sizable collection of images.
John has just published a portion of that collection in a new Lulu book which is available through his Lulu Storefront.
John has combined his color images and my black & white images to create a nice survey of some of the greatest natural and man made features of the San Francisco Bay Area. Something tells me there's a sequel in the works.
Recent Work, Multiple Projects
Friday, May 25, 2007
Still Kicking And Clicking!
I want to let you know that I'm doing fine and still photographing and looking forward to getting serious about some new projects. Thanks for all the warm wishes you have been sending in, they are greatly appreciated.
So here are some recent images I have been having fun with. I'd love to hear your comments. More to come...
The de Young Museum, early morning,
Golden Gate Park.
©2007 David W. Sumner
Homeless man sleeping at the Band Shell, Golden Gate Park. ©2007 David W. Sumner
Old riding stables, Golden Gate Park.
©2007 David W. Sumner
Anna's reading glasses in her studio.
©2007 David W. Sumner
Plant in a bottle in Anna's studio.
©2007 David W. Sumner
Fun shooting one of Phylis Diller's costumes,
now on display at the San Francisco Performing Arts
Library & Museum. ©2007 David W. Sumner
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Urban Wilderness?
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
"One World, One Lens"
"To look at a photograph by James Whitlow Delano is to peer inside a meticulously crafted poem. Viewing a gallery of his images, each one as concise as haiku, is like traveling through scenes from Marco Polo's dream-world. But the eye and the art are Delano's – and only his. The Tokyo-based American-born photographer once told an interviewer, '"I don't change anything for anyone.… I have a point of view and a reason for each undertaking."'
Knowing this, one might find it hard to believe that he shoots everything, regardless of what it is, with one – and only one – lens.
"Much as a poet finds and polishes his voice, Delano has found and polished his singular lens. '"I have two Leica M-2s and two 35mm f2 lenses. They are likely older than me," he told News Photographer. "One lens means speed. Very simple operations. That is critical. If you miss the moment, you cannot get it back. I shoot exclusively with Leica. On the few occasions that I have used a Hasselblad, which is a wonderful camera, I feel like I am driving a Mack truck. But the Leica makes the work possible. You can suggest the energy rippling just below the surface."'
"The absence of an overstuffed camera bag filled with the latest, greatest gadgets is not only evidence of an artist with a clear vision who has found and mastered his essential tools, it's also a reflection of his intent. "
Read the full article here.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
The First Person
The first photograph of a person. Boulevard du Temple, by Louis Daguerre, 1838.
(A 10 minute exposure.)
Food For Thought
"I can remember the very moment that marked the beginning of art-photography’s demise. It was in March of 1975 and Ansel Adams was asked to give a presentation at a national conference of photographic educators. His opening sentence affirmed that fine photography was inseparable from craftsmanship – and the audience of young academic “artists” erupted into boos! What unmitigated gall! The hubris . . . Still, Ansel was right, and it is significant that you have heard of Ansel Adams but everyone of the booers never rose above oblivion so were incapable of sinking back into it.
"How refreshing, then, in this era of vapid posturing, that Michael Kenna reaffirms the truth that revelation of the subject is achieved through careful craftsmanship which can only be reached through painstaking attention to detail."
I like that.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Spread the Word
When I added the usual sis rolls of Kodak BW400CN to my order he launched into a passionate plea for help in getting the word out that film is alive and well and for sale at B&H.
He said I couldn't imagine how many calls he's received from people all over the country who have been told by the people in their local camera shops that no one is manufacturing film any more. He said it's ridiculous, but it's happening: there are a lot of people who are being told and believe that Kodak and Fuji are no longer manufacturing film.
The sales rep implored me to spread the word, and insisted that a "grass-roots" movement is needed to counter this misinformation. He said half of every dollar Kodak makes is from the sale of film and that people need to know that.
I'm not certain of the actual figures, considering the diversity of Kodak's business, but I do know that film is still a profitable item for Kodak. Here's a quote from an e-mail I received from Kodak's PR department last February:
' A January 31, 2007 Kodak press release noted, "Film and Photofinishing Group earnings from operations were $77 million, compared with $51 million a year ago..." '
Another thing to consider is that both Kodak and Fuji recognize China and India as being two of the biggest markets for film products. There is still a considerable demand for film around the world. We sometimes lose sight of that here in the US.
I told the B&H guy I'd do my best to spread the word. Of course, when it comes to film, I tend to do just that every chance I get.
By the way, if you have never heard of Freestyle Photographic Supplies in Hollywood, CA. check them out www.freestylephoto.biz . They're really committed to silver.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Bang Bang Club
The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots From a Hidden War
by Greg Marinovich & Joao Silva
2000, Basic Books
The Bang Bang Club is more than a book about photographers addicted to the rush of covering conflict. It's a revealing account of the social and political turmoil of South Africa in the early 1990's.
Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Ken Oosterbroek, Kevin Carter and Gary Bernard were five photographers, five friends covering the final years of South Africa's bloody struggle to establish democracy and majority rule. They formed the core of a group of photojournalists that became known as "The Bang Bang Club."
Authors Marinovich and Silva, give us an up-close look at what it takes to be an effective photojournalist in the midst of the grossest brutality of which humankind is capable. They dispel the myth of objective journalism and testify to the reality that no one survives war and conflict unaffected: not combatant, civilian, journalist or photographer. To a large degree the book is about, "paying the price."
Although this group of photographers may be little known in the U.S., they are are held in the highest esteem in the international community of photojournalists. You may not recognize their names, but you know their Pulitzer Prize and Ilford Award winning images.
I would certainly recommend reading The Bang Bang Club. It is at times a bit self indulgent and the book's photo reproductions are disappointing. However it provides a unique perspective on a most troubled period of our most recent past,s and it really is an eyes-wide-opened look at an often too glamorized profession.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
It's Been Busy
Work at the Performing Arts Library has been in high gear in preparation for the new exhibition on the history of the hungry i nightclub, and the Arts Medallion award presentation coming up on April 19th.
Anna's solo show "Red Sparrow" at Newmark Gallery opened March 1st and has been great success. You can check out pics from the opening here.
I've also managed to do some shooting on the weekends and I've opened a Flickr account so I can do quick posts of a few images I'd like to share. Check it out and post some comments.
I'm planning to post some book reviews soon. For the past year I've been reading almost nothing but books on photography and I want to start working over some of the thoughts I've had about what I've read and I'd be interested to hear your comments. So stay tuned.
For now here are a few images from recent outings:
Golden Gate Park
Pam & Anna at Fort Point
Monday, February 19, 2007
The ubiquitous white plastic chair. ©2007 David W. Sumner
The Promenade along the Great Highway. ©2007 David W. Sumner
Promenade, Ocean Beach. ©2007 David W. Sumner
Golden Gate Park. ©2007 David W. Sumner