An Austin SMUG event with Gary Gumanow

Gary Gumanow at Austin SMUG - Austin, Texas

Gary Gumanow at Austin SMUG – Austin, Texas

NOTE: This month I’m acting as a scribe for the Austin SMUG (Austin SmugMug User Group). This blog post will also be available on SmugMug’s SMUG blog.

The Austin SMUG held its August meeting on Thursday, August 23rd. This month’s topic, street photography with local Austin photographer, Gary Gumanow. We had a record number of RSVPs and a healthy group of enthusiastic photographers who met at the Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin. A couple of Gary’s friends even came down from Dallas.

Gary explained that the kind of photography tells us something about the nature of the medium. When Leica created the very portable 35mm film, the fast, documentary style of Street Photography became possible. The larger format cameras with their sturdy tripods were no longer necessary and changed how photography was done on the streets of Paris.

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

Gary himself started photography at the age of 8 with his Kodak Brownie. An Adreas Feininger book, a year later really sparked his creative curiosity. By age 10, Gary spent time in the dark room with his father, developing rolls of film. But sometime later, as life got busy, Gary stopped. After a 25 year hiatus, in 2004, he began again. Initially lured back in by digital Gary realized that it lacked the tactile feedback that he craved. Black and white film is his medium of choice. And although he owns a digital camera, it is his film based Leica, Rolleiflex or Hasselblad cameras that he shoots with. Receiving 100 rolls of 120 Neopan 400 film for his birthday, makes him happy. Today, he has his own dark room where he develops and prints all his film.

Master photographers such as Elliot Erwitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander are his influences. Gary learns by observing, studying the photographs of others and his own contact sheets. He likes and wants to create photographs that make you think “How did that happen?” He looks for images that suspend disbelief. He asks the question “Where’s the monkey?”. What is the catch, what is the hook or what makes the image interesting? He looks for irony.

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

While being an “old-fashioned” film photographer, Gary loves and has embraced social media, especially Flickr (here is Gary’s Flickr stream) . He has made friends and contacts from around the world and likes to meet them in person when he travels. And the images on Flickr have also influenced his artistic direction. Back in 2004, Gary was primary a Urban Landscape photographer, creating black and white, square images with this Rolleiflex. He likes to find and document artistry, irony and bad design in the urban, concrete jungle. However, Gary was frustrated by the people inevitably captured in his photographs that would impede on his urban composition. His pure aesthetic ruined by people in frame who draws the viewer’s eye and compete with his architectural forms.

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

In time and with influences from his Flickr artists and the masters, Gary came to realize that people in the urban fabric were not bad and actually made for great subjects. Initially, he approached street photography in a timid way by shooting from the hip. He admits to being really nervous. Over time and with practice he came to realize that you need to shoot from the viewfinder. You can’t be timid with street photography. You can’t shoot from afar with a telephoto. You need to have a wide-angle and get up close to your subjects.

Gary suggests using a small quick camera with a non-zooming wide-angle lens. He shoots with a Leica M6 and a 28mm f2.8. He does not like shooting from the back of people or shooting people with sunglasses. Seeing the person’s face and their expression is key. Shooting passing shots, shooting from far away or streets without people also don’t interest him.

Gary’s passion for photography and the street photography genre in particular was very enticing. The audience had a great time and they really appreciated learning about the history, the practical How-Tos and art of a well shot street scene. There was laughter and real sense of enjoyment exploring this art of capturing that perfect split second. Finding that often quoted “Decisive moment” attributed to perhaps that most famous street photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

Courtesy of Gary Gumanow

On a personal note, I’ve met Gary many times before and consider him one of my photographer friends. I first ran into to Gary back several years ago on 6th Street, Austin’s famous downtown night life district. I can personally report that any shyness he may have had when he started street photography appears to be gone. He confidently approaches people and takes their picture in a split second. I actually mentioned Gary and have a couple of photographs of him in my post Shooting the Olympus E-P3 in a sea of Leicas. In that post, I said that Gary shot so much with his film Leica, I thought he had a digital Leica M9.

Submitted by Austin SMUG Scribe: Andy Atmtx

While Andy enjoys different types of photography, he is the most passionate about urban landscapes and architecture, especially at dusk or at night. He shoots with an assortment of Olympus Digital Pen cameras, a Sony NEX-5 and a Canon 7D.

6 thoughts on “An Austin SMUG event with Gary Gumanow

  1. Your photowalks that you go on, is it a photo meet up group, can anyone Join, the reason I ask is when I get to Austin, I am looking for something to join, I want more experience in photo taking, right now even though I take lots of photos, I want to improve, so what groups out there would you reccommend. Anything you offer up would be appreciated.


  2. There is a group of people from Flickr that meet at Progress Coffee on E 5th Street every Sunday around noon. Open to all. Great group of beginners to more advanced. We share stories from the week, ideas for photo shoots, and everything in between. Come join us. You won’t have a problem meeting like minded photographers. About 5 to 10 people show up each week.

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