Monday, January 31, 2011

Burn Out: Not an Option

Recently some friends and I have been talking about those times, and they are usually rare, when one seems burned out, or taking photos just gets stale. It can happen, as it can with anything. I think the key to avoiding it is to put the activity of shooting pictures into the broader perspective of what it is to be a photographer. It's important to take time to practice the many other skills essential to photography.

I have a little sign on my desk, it says: "Pictures Every Day." Often that means working on my negs: editing, scanning, printing, or simply sitting down with a photo book. Sometimes it's reading a page out of Weston's Day Books. Sometimes it's taking a walk and forcing myself not to take pictures so I can simply practice seeing. Or it's just thinking of some new place I'd like to photograph, and never touching a camera that day. It all works, it's all part of the process, part of being a photographer.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Practice of Habit

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I feel it's worth repeating now and then. I carry a camera with me every time I walk out the door. Even if I'm only walking the three blocks to the corner market and back.

I'm not expecting anything spectacular to happen in that short period of time, but I'm always looking. I'm looking at the light, the shadows, the reflections, approaching things at a different angle to see how they look despite the fact I've walked by them a million times. Sometimes I notice a house freshly painted a totally different color than the week before. Sometimes a crowd has gathered to board the arriving streetcar and their arrangement creates a most interest tableaux. Most often I see little things: a momentary stillness in a patch of warm sunlight or a shadow intersecting the corner of a building forming an interesting angle.

This habit is part of my practice as a photographer. It is "a practice" not simply practice, though it is that too. It is my life as a photographer.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Monday, January 17, 2011

Color Required

On my recent trip to LA, I quickly realized that the Southern California winter light would make shooting color a necessity.

The clear skies and low angle of the sun made for several absolutely Mediterranean days. With temps in the 70s, no smog, and the sun low to the horizon the colors of LA were rich and vibrant. It was a sharp contrast to the overcast and softly diffused light I experienced on my previous visit.

It was a welcome and refreshing exercise to be shooting color in a situation that demanded it. I shot plenty of black and white, but as I process my digital files and edit my film I know I will find that color ruled the day on this trip.

Photo: ©2011 David W. Sumner

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Photograph as Fossil

Recently I've mentioned how I believe my education in anthropology and training in archaeology has greatly influenced my work in photography. I'm still analyzing and working out this relationship, if in fact one exists.

A discussion at yesterday's Artists' Roundtable set me to thinking about geologic time and how so often I refer to it in terms of putting the human situation into perspective. It occurred to me that as much as I rely on geologic time to help keep sight of the overall "picture," I practice a craft that is measured in fractions of seconds. The phrase "frozen in time" is often used to describe both the physical evidence defining geologic time and the image made at the instant a camera's shutter is released. Naturally the notion of the photograph as fossil began running through my mind.

Considering that a fossil is the impression of an object and exists separate from the object itself, makes it very much akin to a photograph. We talk of the "geologic record," and of a "photographic record." It seems there is little or no difference between the two. And there is no doubt that over millennia they will become parts of one even more extraordinary record of time on Earth.

Photo: ©1990 David W. Sumner

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Now You See Them...

For most of my photographic career I've avoided photographing people or grudgingly included them in an image now and then. But recently more and more people have been creeping into my photographs.

I believe this is happening due to the influence of a number of street photographers and photojournalists with whom I've been hanging out over the past few years. By some form of creative osmosis that seems to take place while we walk along the streets of the City, I'm finding people becoming more and more interesting as critical elements in, if not the primary subjects of many of my photographs.

I find myself less often waiting for a person to move out of the frame and instead including them in at least one variation of the image. Sometimes they are no more than a barely distinguishable blur or a silhouette off to the side or a face in the shadows and sometimes that makes the image stronger.

My basic approach of photography as a form of archaeology hasn't changed. I'm still primarily interested in interpreting our social environment by examining and documenting those things people have created and placed in the natural environment. But as happens in field archaeology we do chance upon fragments of the individuals themselves: those who built and shaped the artifacts we now find so important to the telling and understanding of our social and cultural history.

Photo: ©2010 David W. Sumner