Locals Only: Brian Cummings - Photographer
We'd like to welcome you back to our fourth installment of the popular "Locals Only" series that we've been meaning to revisit for some time now. This time around, our questions fall upon local photographer Brian Cummings and his very popular photography series'.
Who Are You?
What is Your Creative Discipline?
Where Are You From?
Originally, Greensboro, NC
What Brought You to STL?
The great advertising migration of 1999. I was working in advertising and moved here for an opportunity at was then the Zipatoni Co.
In What Part of St. Louis do You Create?
Explain to us a little bit about your shows and the themes you've explored.
In my former life as an art director, I was always drawn to the work of photographers who explored a concept or technique through several pieces. I love story telling, especially satire. The shows I've done all started with a "what if" statement, ie. "what would tattooed bodies look like if painted by baroque masters?" or "what would yearbook photos look like before and after a zombie outbreak?". The series usually starts with one visual idea and then I the challenge is to see if it can be explored through a complete series. It's easy to come up with the initial thought. Executing it over 20-30 images is the challenge.
I love pop culture and film. The series that I've done have a sense of fantasy and a bit of whimsy. I can be dry with my humor and I think it comes across in the images. I love contrast, whether dark/light, hot/cold, serious/comical. I like creating a world and then tweaking something just a bit to make the viewer take a second look. As a designer, I was never good at design for design sake. The same is true as a photographer. I like to work from a concept. No matter how loose that concept is, it's still a launching point.
Any background on your upcoming show this weekend?
The new series, Fairy Fatales is three years in the making. We started it as a riff on the stories everyone knew, but with a modern twist. Because most everyone is familar with the narrative, it's an easy visual reference. But, after shooting the first piece, Frog Prince, I realized that there was a different story here. History is written by the victors, so what if the stories we were told were exaggerations of the real story? What if the innocent heroine, wasn't so innocent? Suddenly, the series had it's cohesiveness tone. It became a slightly cynical re-imaging.
You mentioned that you were previously an Art Director. Can you give us some insight as to how this has helped your current career as a photographer?
As an a art director, your job is to solve visual problems. How do communicate in 3 seconds or less a complete thought? This goes into my editing process when concepting and working with crew. I start with storyboards or inspiration boards for each shot. I pull together all of my inspiration for lighting, hair & make-up, wardrobe, props, location, etc. and then assemble a team of experts in each department to build the story. When I was an art director, we rarely worked with a photographer without having everything mapped out. Sure, there is room to improvise, but it's the planning that allows us the freedom to mix it up.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or success to date?
That's a tough one. I still don't feel like I've scratched the surface yet. If I had to pick something, I would say it's been my first series on tattooing. That series was nearly four years ago, but it has taken on a life of it's own. Currently, it's being published by three different publishers in the US, England and Germany, Popular Photography is running a story on it next month and I've been hired for several commercial projects because of it. I have been surprised at it's popularity.
Who Do You Admire in Your Field?
When I was working in advertising, I was a fan of Gilliano Bekor, Jill Greenberg and Jim Fiscus. I was fortunate enough to work with each of them. Fiscus is a shooter I've known since the mid-nineties (age showing). He was kind enough to give me advice as I got started. I have a lot respect for him
I've always been inspired by film directors like Mark Romanek, Steven Soderbergh or David Fincher. Fincher is another one that started in advertising first. I just like how all of them tell great stories, but also capture stunning visuals.
Anyone else in STL that you think is doing great work in your field?
There is immense talent in St. Louis. It's one of our hidden little secrets. In the world of lifestyle photography, of course people like Brandon Voges and Jay Baker are known for great work. Mark Katzman has a great, natural style.
What are your top 3 STL Influences, inspirations or spots?
Food - Kevin Nashan (Sidney Street) and Gerard Craft (Niche/Brasserie/Taste) are doing things with food that are on a whole other level. Fortunate to live near both.
Drink - Civil Life Brewing Co. is one of several local micro-brewing companies that are making a product that can compete on the world stage.
Art - Brian Yap is a local illustrator who is finally getting some national recognition. He's doing some amazing stuff for Adobe.
Of all the places you could be creating, why STL? Why/How is STL a great place to create?
I was only suppose to be here for a year, that was 13 years ago. STL is my home now. I feel like you can experiment and tweak your craft here. The world is changing. It's not where you are, but what you are doing that matters.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Fairy Fatales opens at the Mad Art Gallery, this Friday, Sept 07 - 7pm-11pm. It will be on display till Sept 24. You will find it online starting Sep10th on my site.
Where can we find you online?