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  • R. M. Lunday

R. M. Lunday Jr: Beyond Documentation

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

Interview and Feature


Ford Trimotor



Porsche Museum



The Heavy Metal of Flight


Lexington, KY



Lady Liberty



Pedestrian Hollywood Noir



Orcas Island Ferry No. 1



Oia



Valley of Fire No. 1



Valley of Fire No. 2



Roosevelt Lake Bridge



Westbound Tracks



Railroad Tank Cars Westbound



Magdeburg Cathedral



Magdeburg Seated Statue



George on Mt. Rushmore


Interview


The use of film noir lends drama and dynamism to your pieces. What first attracted you to the monochrome?


My initial training in photography was in high school, beginning in the 1970s. During those years, and the many years that preceded them, the standard was to learn photography through black and white film shooting, processing, and darkroom printing.


In my high school classes, we learned - and in many ways, were forced - to follow the basic “rules” for composing and capturing photographic images, along with using the published formulas for processing and printing monochrome images. At that time, this was the most economical and accessible method for me to participate as a budding photographer.


For years beforehand, I had leafed through my father’s photo magazines, which was my first exposure to the many photographers and photographic styles that existed at the time. When first picking up a camera, I aspired to be an artist, not simply a documentarian. Photography classes in school gave me basic information and techniques, but I felt there was much I was missing.


Despite having had library access to the published teachings of renowned technical practitioners such as Ansel Adams, I was ignorant of the raw power that a photographer could have in creating a monochrome image— both in capturing and printing images in the darkroom. I was too young to glean the concept of previsualization and how that translated to a final darkroom print.


Despite the work I had seen by Monochrome Masters such as Edward Weston, Duane Michaels, Mary Ellen Mark and Bill Brant (among so many others), and my shooting and lab hours to date, I hadn’t yet reached - in my view - a satisfactory level of creative output. I was so inexperienced in life, and without any kind of meaningful mentorship, I felt lost within my efforts. With that, I gave up on black and white film, and my efforts to become an artist, and shot 35mm colour negative film for the next 25 years as a hobbyist documentarian.


It wasn’t until I began learning the technical side of digital photography - during its emergence in the latter 1990s some thirty years after I first picked up a camera - that my core education in photography truly began. With that, I rekindled my love for monochrome, and in looking back on my old black and white negatives, I realized that some of my seminal work was much better than I would have given myself credit for at the time.


What sort of camera do you use and why?


Put succinctly, a camera is but a tool. I often see questions from newbies asking which camera a particular photographer uses, as though that, in and of itself, is the key to the success of a particular photographer or photograph. In my opinion, a skillful artist should instead be able to achieve work worthy of their experience and expression while using the medium of their choosing—whether by opportunity or by design. As I’m fond of saying, anyone can use a pencil, but not everyone is capable of using a pencil to create a visual masterpiece.


For much of my life, I’ve collected both cameras and photographic ephemera. Within my small collection is one camera I prize most of all, my father’s Nikon F from the 1960s. I’d be happy to recount its story and influence on me, but that one camera has been responsible for my loyalty to the Nikon brand.

Though I shoot with a variety of cameras in a variety of formats, I’ve mainly shot with a succession of Nikon 35mm and digital cameras over the years. My current top camera of choice is the Nikon Z 7II, which is the most remarkable camera I’ve ever used.


I also rely on the iPhone camera as a backup when I’m not carrying a traditional camera; by always having it in my pocket, I will never miss a shot.


Do you have any special techniques?


For me, special techniques mostly come during digital postproduction. Regarding tools for post, I rely on Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic, along with Google Snapseed for mobile devices. Depending on the image, I could utilize one tool or any combination of the three to obtain a look that satisfies my aesthetic for a specific image.


I allow myself flexibility in approaching each image. Sometimes I’m working towards a specific look or tone; however, I’m always open to experimentation, which helps me achieve results that express my aesthetic. When working with scanned analog photos, whether from film or old prints, my postproduction/creative approach is similar.


Though I prefer to shoot in available light, I’ve used remote electronic flash and have developed a good skillset in this area. I developed the use of these techniques as an in-house corporate photographer, which I’ve been away from for a few years now. Learning to work with remote speedlight setups helped me become more adept at recognizing and visualizing good quality natural light, which has ultimately influenced how I now approach postproduction to finalize my vision for each image.


How do you know when to pause for a photograph? What is it you're looking for in a scene/object?


I approach shooting with the expectations of a magazine photo editor. Whenever I come upon a subject or scene that interests me, I will capture it using differing perspectives and angles, hoping I’ll get one that works. I try to do this objectively, as what seems good in the moment may not appear as strong upon later review. I feel that my strength as a photographer is making good editorial decisions— long after the moment of capture.


To answer the question more directly, I like to capture what I hope will be an unusual and unique scene in that moment. It all comes down to the feelings and instincts I’ve developed with time and practice, having shot tens of thousands of images across a span of many years.


What sparked your interest in photography?


When I first began my high school photography education, I used my father’s hand-me-down Minolta SR-7 35mm single-lens-reflex camera. Once I began to show initiative after my first year as a photographer, I was given an opportunity that still amazes me to this day.


During the Vietnam War, my mother’s younger and only brother was drafted to serve in the United States Army. After completing basic training, he was given the assignment to train as a photographer, and he served in that capacity throughout his tour of duty. Among his tools was a Nikon F single-lens-reflex, which was considered at the time to be the best 35mm camera for professional photojournalists.


Though, to this day, I’m unaware of the arrangement the two of them made, while on leave during a trip to Tokyo, Japan, my uncle purchased and shipped a Nikon F system to my father at our Southern California home. The system consisted of the camera and case, a set of Nikkor lenses including the coveted 55mm f1.2 standard lens and two telephoto lens, along with a bellows 35mm slide copy setup, and an array of lens filters. For me, seeing all this gear was astounding and piqued my interest, setting me on a trajectory (and a Nikon brand loyalty) that I’ve continue to follow throughout my life.


The opportunity I mentioned came when my father allowed me to use his Nikon F system to practice my photography in high school classes. I took this prospect a step further by serving as student yearbook staff photographer in my junior year, then lead photographer in my senior year. I didn’t think much of it at that time; however, consider the uncommon idea of a 17-year-old carting around an expensive, professional-grade camera during the 1970s.


As a side interest, I became fascinated with motor racing and captured now historic 1970s and 80s road course events at Riverside International Raceway, about an hour’s drive from my family’s home near Los Angeles.


I handled that Nikon intensely for two years straight and never put a scratch on it. At the time, I hadn’t considered the amount of trust that my father placed in me to protect his remarkable investment.


When he passed away a few years back, all I wanted for my inheritance was his Nikon F system. Though it holds little relative value in today’s photo gear market, aside the likes of its contemporary Leica or Hasselblad cameras, you can imagine the value it holds with me in sentiment.


If you could travel anywhere in the world, photograph anything in the world - even something in the most inaccessible of places - where would you go?


Many of my favorite creations in life come from Japan. It’s a place for which I have held a special fascination for much of my life.


Between Japan’s ancient and popular culture, the people, technology, food, and the countryside, I imagine if I got lost there, with unlimited funds and mobility, I might feel perfectly at home, despite being in a land so far removed from my present home.


My fantasy assignment would be to roam freely across the country, travelling and capturing images at will, applying my personal vision and a story to each one. The possibilities, as they say, would be endless.


Do you adopt any of the principles of art - balance, contrast, unity, movement? What do you think the artist and the photographer have in common?


Along with photography, I’ve studied drawing and illustration, and have long been a fan of published art, art museums, and galleries. Aside from photography, my favorite type of work from other artists is oil painting. I can become mesmerized by viewing a painting, and I receive a great deal of enjoyment from paintings at the brush-stroke level.


In my own work, I try hard to not be influenced by the works of others; however, on a subconscious level, there’s no way that I cannot have been influenced by the countless works I’ve enjoyed viewing in my life. Yes, the principles of art are ingrained into my soul, though I often seek ways to surpass them in my own efforts. When learning photography, I often “broke the rules” through the application of my personal aesthetics and through ignorance. I hope that I’m continuing to do so.


Do you find inspiration in the landscape around you, namely in Arizona?


Yes. Arizona’s history and geographical diversity make for a very inspirational environment in which to photograph. Aside from Grand Canyon, many people think of Arizona as one big desert, but it’s much more than that—the reason the magazine, Arizona Highways has been in continuous publication since 1925.


How do you decide on a title for a given photograph?


My titles for photos can range from factual to whimsical. I don’t spend much time creating them, as they often come to me spontaneously.


What are your plans for the future?


For me, photography has been a life-long interest and avocation, aside from that decade or so during which I practiced professionally.


One project that I’ve procrastinating about is assembling and publishing a monograph of my black and white works. An artist friend of mine suggested that I consider first publishing a zine, which would be a simple start, but I’m uncertain if that would satisfy me. Whether a full photo book or a zine, I’d like to publish. Secondarily, I hope to find the energy and motivation (in between my day job commitments as a corporate video producer) to create a gallery exhibition, which I feel is long overdue, considering the lengthy course of my photographic journey.


Nevertheless, I plan to continue to nurture my passion for photography by pursuing areas within photography which have been outside my comport zone, such as portraiture with strangers. I’m also interested in reacquainting myself with large format film, and I’m especially interested in exploring alternative processes such as tintype collodion and platinum printing.


My university degree is in English, where I focused primarily on writing: expository composition, rhetoric, and creative writing. I can easily say that writing is my “gift,” though I have yet to make full use of that innate capability. I hope one day to be able to combine writing and photography.



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