Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Color Seduction

Bernice Abbot once said about photography that color gets in the way. The longer I work in photography the truer that statement becomes for me.

I'm periodically seduced by color, but more often than not color gets in the way of my seeing. I'm distracted by color and I miss the essence of a scene. The only color photography I make that I feel are successful are those in which color itself is the subject.

My natural tendency is to see through the color to find the substance of a thing. To me values of gray are more apparent than hues of color.

Photo: ©2011 David W Sumner

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Define the Space

There's a single light source, the sun, no artificial ambient light in the image. The drama of the image is formed by the lines of the structure against a dark sky as it is illuminated by the sun. Sunrise or sunset is irrelevant. It's the simplicity of elements and a single light source working together to isolate the dominate forms that define the space.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Beauty of a Simple Thing

Practice looking to increase your ability to see.

Be aware that details can tell a story often overlooked.

Photos: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Master Simplicity

Find the simplicity in what you do, in the way you work. Don't complicate things with what you don't know.

Experiment and learn new techniques, but look for the simplicity in each new thing.

Master the simplicity of a thing and its complexities can more easily be understood.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trying to Achieve a Zen Like State

"…mastery of a skill is followed by a sort of amnesia, resulting in a practice that is intuitive, even involuntary." - Corey Keller

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sometimes it Takes a Dog Story

Sometimes it's really difficult to tell a story in pictures. The story is there, but if the scene, the visual side of things, just doesn't convey the message, what do you do?

Sometimes you look for the "dog story." Everybody can relate to the image of a dog. No matter what the situation, include a dog in the scene and you transcend all language and a message, what ever it may be, gets through.

In the 1992 film, "The Public Eye," Joe Pesci's character, Leon Bernstein (loosely based on photographer Arthur Fellig , better known as Weegee) is about to photograph the corpse of gangster and tells one of the attending cops, "Put the hat in there. His hat, stick it in there! People like to see the dead guy's hat."

It makes sense.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The other day while shooting downtown during lunch hour I noticed a considerable variety of behavior among all the office workers taking advantage of the warm, sunny weather during their noon break.

Many congregated in popular places to talk and socialize over a brown bag lunch.

Others sought quiet solitude to make phone calls.

Still others chose to stroll along the sidewalks with their partner or close friends.

These varied situations, all in the context of the lunch hour, brings a certain element of contrast to the photographing of this common phenomena. It's a contrast of subject and intent as opposed to a contrast of highlight and shadow. It becomes an important aspect in the telling of the story and helps shape the photographic narrative.

Photos: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's About Style

I've always been fascinated with fashion photography. At one point early in my pursuit of a career in photography I seriously thought I'd like to be a fashion photographer. I just liked the style and beauty of fashion images.

I was drawn to the work of Norman Parkinson, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Gordon Parks. There was a simple elegance to their images that so appealed to me. Totally different from the fashion work being done in the 1980s and 90s.

A few photographers like Helmut Newton, maintained a similar elegance, but made provocative images higher in contrast with a certain in your face quality.

I think there is a bit of that "style" of the first half of the twentieth century creeping back into fashion, in part thanks to photographers like Scott Schuman and Bill Cunningham.

It will be interesting to see if fashion in the twenty-first century moves beyond retro-trends and toward a more original style of simple elegance.

©Norman Parkinson

©Norman Parkinson

©Louise Dahl-Wolfe

©Louise Dahl-Wolfe

©Gordon Parks

©Gordon Parks

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Best Light is the Light You Have...

Union Station, Los Angeles, California.

In the headlights, San Francisco, California.

Through the window of a wedding shop, San Francisco, California.

Reflection in a puddle on the sidewalk, San Francisco, California.

Portrait on Water Street, San Francisco, California.

Lily and fireplace, San Francisco, California.

All photos: © David W. Sumner

Friday, September 30, 2011

3 Essential Elements

"Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk."
- Edward Weston

There are three basic elements I consider essential to a good photograph. Having said that I must point out there are thousands of good, even great photographs that lack one or more of these elements.

I don't like to think in terms of the "rules" of photography or composition. I think more in terms of guidelines. It's good to know and understand the "rules," but adhering to them can be stifling. Rules and guidelines should not restrict you. They should free you to experiment. Use them creatively. Explore their limits and push and break through this boundaries.

So here are the three basic elements to a good photograph that I keep in mind and use to guide me in making my photographs.

1. Good Light

Light doesn't have to be dramatic, bright, diffused or anything else but present. I must, however, define your subject. Light will convey your interpretation of the subject to the viewer.

Usually you have to make the most of the light available, so it's important to keep in mind how best to use the light you have to define your subject.

2. Tension

Tension attracts the viewer and draws attention to the subject and its context. You can create tension many ways: use of negative space, off center placement of the subject in the frame, motion, selective focus, uneven ratio of context to subject are all ways to achieve tension in a still image.

Tension is also a major factor in achieving the third basic element.

3. Visual Harmony

From the Greek Harmonia and Harmozo meaning agreement, to fit together, to join.

Visual harmony is a complementary balance of visual elements. The balance of elements does not necessarily have to be even or symmetrical. An uneven balance of elements can achieve visual harmony and the necessary tension to hold the viewer's attention.

Define your subject with good light, compose your image with a visual harmony that achieves the necessary visual tension and you'll have a better than good chance of consistently making good photographs.

All photos: © David W. Sumner

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Bad Old Days of Shooting Stock Revisited...Again.

Based on what I witnessed here's my take on the business of shooting stock

There is certainly nothing truly "bad" about shooting images for stock.

Back in the days when we (we being me and the small group of photographers I hung out with) were trying to build up editorial clients shooting for our stock files was often a distraction or at the least additional work, of a different mind set than the focus of the job.

We were scrambling in a dramatically changing industry. In the late 1980s - 90s editors and art directors were having their budgets slashed, many photo editors were having to work on multiple publications at a time. Publishers were consolidating their staffs so individual magazines no longer had dedicated editors and directors, as a result the demand for stock images greatly increased.

Some editorial photographers saw this as a bad thing because assignments paid more and stock was cutting into assignment work. Some photographers jumped right in and started building their stock files by actually shooting stock images while on assignment. Others invested in a strategy of self-assignments to generate large numbers of stock images that anticipated the trends and needs of editorial and advertising clients. Shooting stock became a business in itself. Other photographers maintained the mindset that stock was nothing more that the seconds left over from their assignments and that if anyone wanted a look they could call.

As soon as stock became an accepted business practice, ie: as ADs and PEs began relying on it, the few stock agencies that existed at the time started aggressive campaigns to expand their representation of photographers. Agencies started getting the majority of the calls making it tougher for the independent photographer to market his/her own work.

At this point we saw the rise of the broker. Brokers served as the "middle man" between ADs and the stock agencies and independent photographers. As a result photographers would have little or no contact with the "client," the company or publication actually using the images. The broker was the new client.

Then agencies started buying up each other, anticipating a tremendous growth in the demand for stock imagery. They supported the shooters who were making a business out of shooting stock images and created teams to analyze markets, anticipate trends and tell the photographers what to shoot.

And then...a couple of billionaires took notice. Getty and Corbis gobbled up the stock business like a couple of great white sharks at an all-you-can-eat sea lion buffet. They totally gutted the business. They climbed into their own coffin when they introduced the royalty free model. When photographers aren't paid they don't shoot. Many went out of business. Amateurs love seeing their images in print and will give away images and be totally thrilled when they are offered $30 for a magazine cover. Kodak figured there were so many Kodak Moments floating around out there they would suck them all in and sell them for $0.10 each. But they lacked infrastructure so they bought The Image Bank, and in typical fashion totally ran it into the ground.

Enter the Web and the .com boom. The big boys watch as their six figure MBAs try to figure out what an FTP is and how to charge for it, the whole while publishers and Web designers were grabbing images off the internet. Lawyers were hired, they were stumped, they were fired. Sonny Bono started hacking away at the Copyright laws and poof...the stock business goes up in smoke.

It was an exciting time, full of potential and a great many creative people were working hard to create a viable industry. But ultimately those efforts were totally undermined by the short sighted greedmisters of " big business."

So when I say "The Bad Old Days of Shooting Stock," I don't mean that creating stock images, or making a business out of shooting stock is at all bad. I simply mean there was a time when it was like the "Wild West" all over again. We even had a real life Billy the Kid.

Photo: ©1990 David W. Sumner

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Putting Lyrics to Pictures

Seeing only dark shapes
Waving in the rain
The streetcar pulls away
I'm alone
The street lamp has burned out

Poem: ©2011 David W. Sumner
: ©2010 David W. Sumner

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Back to Basics

Expose for the highlights, compose for the shadows.

I'm still in my back-to-the-basics mode. I've been shooting with my all manual cameras and avoiding my auto focus/auto exposure gear. It's been nice: slow and meditative.

I've been thinking of the basic elements of composition, or at least the elements I favor and consider vital to a good photograph. I'll talk more about that later. But what I'm finding, and of course this is going to sound utterly obvious, is that photography is a lot like cooking: With a few choice ingredients you can create one of the most delicious and satisfying dishes you have ever tasted.

It doesn't take much to make a really good photograph: A few choice elements and a certain amount of visual balance and you have makings of a most satisfying image.

Photo: ©1987 David W. Sumner

Thursday, September 15, 2011

With Liberty and Justice for All...

Natalie Morace

"The American flag makes me think of the past, and the changing meaning it has for people through the decades."

"I wanted to have it in my room, for I found it to hold a nostalgic feeling of a previous US."

"In a way the flag is everywhere around us, but on a wall it is less of a representation of our country and more of a work of art and a representation of the people in the country!"

Photos: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Never a Truer Statement

"It is essential for the photographer to know the effect of his lenses. The lens is his eye, and it makes or ruins his pictures. A feeling for composition is a great asset. I think it is very much a matter of instinct. It can perhaps be developed, but I doubt it can be learned. However, to achieve his best work, the young photographer must discover what really excites him visually. He must discover his own world."

- Bill Brandt

Photo: ©2009 David W. Sumner

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Seeking Stillness

When I go out shooting it is most often by myself. I like the solitude I find in working a scene into an image. Even if I'm on a crowded street I can find myself so completely focused on my subject that I'm unaware of the chaos around me. In those situations I make my image and quickly move on. I don't want to get wrapped up in the social frenzy. I want to get to that next scene that seems to communicate only to me.

One day while shooting in the Financial District on a weekday, I was about to release the shutter when I heard a voice that seemed far away calling "What are you taking a picture of?" It repeated over and over. But I was fixed on my subject and never made the connection between the voice and what I was doing.

After I made the image I lowered the camera, looked over my shoulder and there was a woman in business dress with a brief case looking off in the direction I had been focused on still loudly asking "What are you taking a picture of?" She was right in my face. While I was working I had no sense of her being there except for that little far off voice.

I had no response. I was dazed. I was not at all in her world. I was working my craft as a solitary pursuit much the same way a writer does. I simply turned and walked away. I was shaken and rattled into someone else's reality and I didn't want to be there.

When I'm out on the street working I'm seeking a stillness, an opportunity to find a connection with some interesting aspect of my environment. I'm patient and wait for people or cars to move out of the scene. I'm focused. Sometimes patience and focus aren't enough and I don't make the image. It's something for another day. But persistence in this approach to working usually pays off.

People have said about some of my images that they possess a "timeless quality." I suppose those that do, appear that way because of my efforts to eliminate certain elements that may place the scene in a very specific time. What ever the case may be you can be sure that my images are definitely of the here and now. Maybe it's the stillness that seems to freeze time even more solidly than the fraction of a second it takes to commit the image to film.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Monday, August 1, 2011

Go After it...

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
- Jack London

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Slowly Moving at a Frantic Pace

As I move through this most recent transition from a full time job to cobbling together a living I often find myself exhausted from the juggling of schedules and resources and the navigating of various bureaucracies. But I still manage to get in a little shooting here and there. In fact I'm actually behind in my scanning of negs, and the number of rolls of film to be processed increases each week.

To all appearances it seems that my creative out-put has dropped dramatically and the hours devoted each week to my photography are indeed fewer, yet I am creating new images.

While the day to day business of making a living has become a most time consuming struggle the mill of my creative work keeps grinding away, slowly, persistently moving me forward.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Consider the Percentages

A while ago I told a friend of mine that I was averaging 7 good frames per every role of film I was shooting. He was surprised and said that was high. It didn't seem high to me.

Back when I was shooting with the intention of having editorial pieces published, I figured that if I didn't get 20 good "keepers" out of a roll of 36 frames I wasn't getting the job done.

I don't know what other photographers consider a good "take," but if I'm not walking away with at least 5 good frames per roll I'm doing something wrong.

I don't shoot the same way I did when I was trying to consistently get published. I rarely shoot transparencies and I seldom bracket and I have the time to let the story develop, if there is one.

I went on a shoot today. I had a very specific objective, to document a single scene for my Flag project. I knew I wouldn't need a lot of film to get what I wanted. I started shooting with an FM2 that had about 25 frames left on the roll. When I finished I knew I had what I wanted. I knew I had 5 good shots.

The whole time I was shooting I was thinking of another possible angle or point of view from which to approach the subject. Then I turned my back to the subject and saw a mirror across the room. I went to work on the reflection in the mirror. Then back at my original shooting position, I put my busted up 20mm lens on the FM2 and started over.

I got what I wanted because I was thinking the whole time, moving, considering every corner of the room. When I saw the shot I settled in, concentrating on making the image.

I used a couple other cameras to get a few close ups and some color images of the entire room. In all, I shot about 35 frames and I know I walked away with at least 8 good images. That's all I need. So, considering the percentages it was a good day's work.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sad But Not Necessarily Bad News

One month ago I was laid off from a job I had held for ten years. Sad, but not necessarily bad news.

I've been here before. I know the routine. It's a bit tougher being 52. It all seemed easier when I was younger. Rather than bouncing back these days it's more like a steep climb. But I do it. I made some decisions a long time ago that made this sort of thing a regular part of the equation.

To be able to make a living working at those types of jobs that allow me the time and energy to pursue my personal and creative work I have to realize that those are not the most stable of positions and be able to roll with the punches.

I've created a life style that I consider very rich and satisfying. The concessions I made twenty years ago have long since been forgotten and never seemed like sacrifices. Some people still wonder why I don't own a car, have credit cards, have cable TV, or want to own a house. Imagine the fix I'd be in today if I had all those obligations at 52 having just lost my job?

I live in a city in which a car isn't necessary, I rent a house I can move out of with a 30 day notice, I have no debt, I spend my free time pursuing my photography and enjoying my huge network of friends most of whom are painters, writers, photographers, actors, musicians.

Low stress jobs that allow flexible hours and make no demands beyond the normal 8 hour day are often not the best paying jobs and often not the most secure. But they do allow one to maintain a certain degree of control over one's own life.

Since moving to the Bay Area 23 years ago to practice the art and craft of photography I've held 7 different jobs. I worked for a couple of well known photographers, I worked at a photo lab, at a stock photo agency, at an art store, at a little museum and now I'm starting a new "little" job at a big museum. It was time for a change of venue. I know from past experience that the white water ahead will soon yield to a gently flowing current that will take me farther along my journey.

The photo above shows my desk at Mountain Light Photography. I worked there for almost two years. It was the first job I had after moving here from Southern California. I was a photo researcher and I loved the work. That was over 20 years ago. I've come a long way since then. There's been some white water but for the most part it's been smooth sailing.

Photo: ©1989 David W. Sumner

Friday, July 1, 2011

With Liberty and Justice for All

I've been shooting images of the flag for a few years now. This has become a project which is beginning to take on some sort of shape. Where it will end or what I will learn from it is still a big unknown.

Public display of the US flag is not uncommon. We expect to see it in a variety of public settings. But what is it that compels some individuals, ordinary citizens, to display the flag in a window, on a pole in front of their houses or on their cars?

There are of course the obvious motivations: patriotism, nationalism, solidarity. But over the past decade the flag has come to represent many different things to different people. For some it is a buffer of protection, for others it represents an over abundance of false promises and still for others it serves as a warning.

It has become more acceptable to include the flag in the design of products, packaging and apparel. The meaning, the symbolism present in the image of the US flag has become more complicated and much harder to define than at any time in the past.

Is the flag something people, as a nation, can stand behind or is it becoming a symbol they prefer to hide behind?

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Little Travel

We're back from Seattle. It was a good trip and a nice break from the regular routine. As I planned I took the opportunity to approach photographing a bit differently.

I used only manual cameras and a hand held light meter. But I did document a bit of each day with a digital point and shoot to be able to post to the internet while on the road and to have a few images to discuss while waiting for my film to be processed.

It was refreshing and fun. I noticed that I spent more time considering a scene before making a photograph. I composed more carefully and I spent more time watching the light. Of course using electronic auto-exposure equipment doesn't mean one necessarily stops doing these things, but the tendency to rely on the camera's computer does give one the opportunity to pay less attention.

I enjoyed spending more time with a subject as the process was slowed down. For me that has allowed better personal memories of special places and moments. One spot in particular was the gate to August Wilson Way at Seattle Center. It's a wonderful spot of quiet contemplation and taking the time to think through making pictures of this unique spot added to the experience and my memory of it.

The trip was a nice exercise and I plan to repeat it often here at home. It's really nice to have all these options and to be able to pick and choose the appropriate one for the occasion.

Photo: Hotel room kitchen, ©2011 David W. Sumner

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All You Need to Know...

"All you need to know about photography is
what's written on the box of film."
- Elliott Erwitt

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Packing Light

A few weeks ago I wrote about taking it easy, slowing down, making pictures the old fashioned way, the all manual, mechanical way. Well I've been practicing quite a bit, no auto focus or auto exposure, no auto advance, and I have to say I've really been enjoying myself.

There's a rhythm I'm back into that I hadn't realized I really missed. This is the way I was shooting in the 80s: small, light, manual and completely mechanical SLRs. There's a distinct rhythm to advancing the film, turning the focusing ring, checking the exposure, framing the image and squeezing the shutter release that isn't quite the same when working with the electronic, auto everything camera bodies.

Make no mistake, I love my F100 and will never give it up. But I work differently with it and I think I make a different kind of photograph with it than I do with my F2 and FM2 bodies. There's not a huge difference between the images I make with the different cameras, it's a subtle difference I can see and feel.

I'll be heading up to Seattle in a couple of weeks and I'm packing light. As you can see I'm taking an F2 and an FM2. I may add a 24mm lens to the bag but basically this is it: the two manual/mechanical bodies, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses, the hand-held light meter and about ten rolls of film. That will be my working kit for about ten days.

I'm going to try to pay close attention to how I work, to see if I'm more careful and a little more discriminating. I think I have been so far, I see it in my most recent images. But this will be a good test, being in a totally different environment, seeing new things with a fresh perspective. It will be exciting. It will be what photography should be, fun. I'm looking forward to that.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's "the Way" You See.

Rodchenko's House by David W. Sumner ©2011

I was thinking about this drawing today when I was out walking and stopped to photograph the front of a little cottage on 46th avenue.

Last January I was in LA at LACMA and saw, for the first time, a painting by Alexander Rodchenko. Familiar with his photography and design work I had never seen any of his paintings. I was very impressed and I immediately saw the connection to the rest of his work. It was after my visit to LACMA that I made this little drawing.

I think what has always impressed me most about Rodchenko's work is the persistent presence of his unique vision, his eye, his way of seeing. It has, at various times, inspired me to change my perspective, or alter my angle of view toward the subject in my view finder.

Seeing must be practiced and taking opportunities to see in different ways is always good practice.

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place.... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." - Elliot Erwitt

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And When I'm Gone?

We all, and I mean me and most photographers I know, wonder what will happen to our life's work when we are gone.

What will happen to all our negatives, transparencies, digital files and prints when we are no longer here to care for and preserve and print or publish our images? What, if any value will those images be to anyone but ourselves?

Well, I believe that what we are doing as photographers is important in that we are documenting the times and conditions of the society in which we live. We are creating an important visual document in a very specific place, of a specific point in time in the history of the human condition. That document may not look impressive or important or insightful right now. But twenty-five, thirty, maybe fifty years from now another generation will look at those images and be informed by a unique vision of the past that has become part of the history of their lives. They may find some answers to some haunting questions that would otherwise remain unresolved.

We are seeing examples of this happening today as the work of many dedicated photographers who made their livings as dentists, insurance brokers, nannies and the like, is being discovered by relatives and flea market hunters. Thousands of negatives and prints hidden away in shoe boxes, suitcases, trunks and drawers are being found everyday. And much of this rediscovered work is providing insights and detailed information into some of the forgotten or ignored facets of our cultural and social evolution.

Most recently you may have heard of the rediscovery of the work of Vivian Maier and Frank Larson. Just two names among hundreds if not thousands of photographers who spent a lifetime documenting the places they lived in and traveled to. This is important work. Take a look, what do you see? What do you recognize? What don't you recognize? What's changed? What's the same? That's our society and culture in another time. What we are looking at is the vehicle that carried us to the present day.

As photographers we are aware of this and grateful that such bodies of work have not been lost. We also realize that much has been lost and we need to plan for the safekeeping and preservation of our own work. We understand that today, for us, there is a value to the images we make, but it's often hard to imagine who in the future will see them in the same way. And that's where we make our biggest mistake. Our images won't be seen in the same way we see them today. They will be seen by different eyes in another time, by people with vastly different knowledge than we possess and who will value those images in ways we will never imagine.

What we photograph today is the very foundation of tomorrow. It's what will someday be called history.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Life in Cafes

I love cafes. I consider myself a seasoned cafe sitter. There is a long and colorful history of cafe sitting. It has been celebrated in literature and film. Paris is probably the most famous city for cafe sitting.

There is a serious cafe culture here in San Francisco. Coffee houses and roasteries and crepe houses form the foundation of this social necessity.

In the 1990's the laptop computer gave the SF cafe culture an infusion of fresh blood introducing a new generation to this simple luxury so thoroughly romanticized by Hemingway in the 1920s.

I've been photographing cafes from both inside and outside for some time and I'm seeing some shape to the culture of the cafe in San Francisco. I'll be working to distill all of this into a coherent project in the near future. In the meantime here's a link to my May 2011 Flickr gallery featuring a taste of the cafe in San Francisco.

Photo: ©2010 David W. Sumner

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Do Not Try This At Home!

After 22 years of taking exceptionally good care of my Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 ultra wide lens, babying it like it was a solid gold egg, I got very careless and swung a Nikon F2 over my shoulder, forgetting I had another camera hanging there, and the F2 smacked my 20mm lens pretty hard.

Nothing broke, but it was soon apparent something was very wrong. The focusing ring was very tight and hard to turn as it approached the infinity mark. Taking a look through the view finder the only area in focus was absolute dead center, every edge moving inward was glaringly out of focus. In the back of my mind all I could hear was that famous line delivered so well by Charlie Brown, "I'm doomed."

It was a little sad after all the years to do something so dumb and damage one of my prize pieces of equipment, one of the few pieces of camera gear I ever bought brand new. But hey, 22 years is a good run.

It turns out that the over all effect achieved when shooting with the now totally messed up lens isn't all that unpleasing. When I scanned some recent negs I realized the images look something like one would expect from shooting with a Lens Baby. One of my Flickr contacts in Paris suggested that process of bashing the lens with the F2 created an instant Holga. One of my friends here in San Francisco briefly contemplated giving his M6 and Summicron 35mm a good whack with his F4.

I have to say I find the images I'm making with the 20mm in its present condition interesting, and until I can afford to have the lens repaired I think I may explore the creative potential of this not so unfortunate mishap.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

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