It’s always a treat to chat with professional photographers, a resilient group of folks who have seen their craft undergo an incredible evolution in the last 15 years with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram broadening the audiences of many photographers 10-fold. We recently caught up with New York-based photographer Jim Cummins and talked about the great profession of photography, how it’s changed and where it’s headed. But first, a bit about Mr. Cummins…
Jim Cummins is an award-winning American photojournalist whose work is well-known from the many photographs he has taken of legendary rock, rhythm and blues, soul, jazz, country/western and gospel performers of the 1960s through the early 1980s. Over 900 music albums from that era, many of which went Gold, Platinum and Diamond, used Jim’s photographs as their album covers.
Many of his photographs of legendary performers from that era were also published as magazine covers and accompanied feature articles in magazines such as Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Life. Two of Jim’s album covers won Album Cover of The Year awards, and Jim’s photograph for the cover of the groundbreaking November, 1967 issue of Newsweek Magazine, devoted to the civil rights issues confronting America during the 1960s, won the National Magazine Award. Esteemed seems like an understatement when describing the career and success of Mr. Cummins.
TOGGLE: What are your thoughts about how wildly the profession of photography has changed and the reasons why?
Cummins: The landscape has changed tremendously. Everyone has a camera or a smartphone today, and I do mean everyone, which essentially makes everyone a journalist. More newspapers and networks are relying less on assigning and more on pictures and video that are sent in or picked up from the Internet. I think it’s great because it allows people to express themselves and see the expressions and opinions of others.
TOGGLE: How have you yourself adjusted to these changes?
Cummins: Right now there is a lot of mediocre material on the Internet. Things are up and out there that are very poorly done or shouldn’t have been done at all. This makes the Professional Image Maker (Photographer/Videographer – that’s what we really are now, Image Makers) have to work much harder at being more creative with the tools he/she has at hand and be more creative with tools and techniques that are continually coming along. We also have to promote our work in as many areas as we can find. There is no sitting still on that front anymore.
TOGGLE: Tell us about the “album cover” period of your career.
Cummins: Album Cover photography is a lost art. Before the advent of CD’s and DVD’s, it was the largest display in media. Not just in size, but in units sold and places seen. An album cover was 12 3/8″ X 12 3/8″ and was in the homes of millions of people all over the world. So your work was seen by a massive audience.What could be more exciting than photographing many of the artists I grew up with as well as upcoming artists about to make their mark in the music industry? Record companies spared no expense in getting pictures for album covers, promotions, posters, etc. It was nothing to take a limo to Philly or Hartford to photograph an artist or cover a concert. To me, covering a concert was most challenging. In a one hour show you have to capture that moment that best expressed the excitement of the show.
TOGGLE: What film did you shoot with?
Cummins: At some shows, I’d have more light in my pocket than there was onstage. The only film at the time that could handle concert work was High Speed Ektachrome Daylight ASA (ISO) 160 pushed to ASA 400. Not all High Speed Ektachrome reacted the same. The result would be Maximum Density Failure, failure of the film to hold together giving it an ashy look. What I would do is ask Kodak to send film from a few of their latest batches and test them. When I found the best batch, I’d ask Kodak to send me a mile of it – that’s right, 5,280 feet.
TOGGLE: Which musicians of that period did you shoot?
Cummins: I was very fortunate to have photographed some of the greatest acts during the greatest time in Rock & Roll (late 60’s until the early 80’s) including Rolling Stones, Led Zepellin, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Sam & Dave, Dr. John, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, James Brown, B.B. King, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
TOGGLE: That had to be perhaps the coolest time of your career.
Cummins: Quick story. So I’m at a party, sitting off by myself, minding my business and the hostess is going around asking everyone “What do they do?” She finally gets to me and I told her I’m a photographer. She asks, “So you do baby pictures, wedding pictures?” I said “No, I do album covers.” By this time, all eyes are on me. She asks sarcastically, “Well, what album covers might you have done?” Without a word being said, I went to the wall where she had all of her albums and pulled out ten covers I’d recently done and walked out of the party. Got a lot of phone calls over the next couple of days.
TOGGLE: Tell us about how you feel the smartphone has changed the world of photography. Talk about how you are using the device in your day-to-day now.
Cummins: The smartphone allows you to take images anywhere, anytime and to edit and transmit these images to anywhere you want in an instant – on-the-fly so to speak. I’ve been using the Sony NEX series of cameras since they first came out several years ago. The quality is as good or better than many of the current cameras. Love the Zeiss lenses. They are also very unobtrusive, which is the direction higher end cameras are taking today.
For the last year-and-a-half, I’ve also been using the Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone a lot for everything including concerts, news events, portraits, group portraits, street imaging, etc. The results have been outstanding. This is a 41-megapixel camera. Need I say more?
TOGGLE: What do you see coming down the road in the world of photography in the next few years?
Cummins: The things I see coming down the road include Liquid Lens technology and all the new and interesting directions this will take the profession in, [as well as] Aluminum Glass and a much longer battery life in both cameras and smartphones. In the next four or five months, you’re going to see websites that will be devoted to only the highest quality and creative images. That’s something I’m really looking forward to. We’re heading into yet another new era in imaging.
Check out more of Jim Cummins’ work at here.