Dakota Sumpter

Location: Auburn, Alabama  Website: dakotasumpter.wordpress.com  Instagram: @dakotawaynephoto


How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style? 

I tend to gravitate to conflict and documentary photography, so the idea of photographic storytelling really informs my work. My most recent work was primarily landscapes in the Tuskegee National Forest, but for me it was a way to document the landscape and human interaction with it. The two styles of documentary and landscape photography can overlap very nicely. As far as the medium, I delved into medium format mostly on my own accord and fell in love with it. Medium format is a great bridge between portability and versatility, but also quality. 

How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings? 

In the summer of 2011 I moved from Boston to Auburn, Alabama. It was quite a shock going from a large metropolitan region to a sleepy little college town. After the initial adjustment, Auburn has been one of the best and most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. Being in a rural area, I took to photographing the landscape since it was so fascinating to me.

How do you choose your subjects? 

For my most recent project in the Tuskegee National Forest, I spent a lot of time just driving the forest service roads until I found something that interested me. Other times I’d park the truck and just pack my gear and walk through the woods. Rarely did I go out with a specific scene in mind; I’d let myself stumble upon it.

Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers? 

There have been a lot of teachers and other photographers that have really helped me along the way. A close friend of mine and a fellow photographer, Henry Amistadi, is always there to critique work and bounce ideas off of. Victoria Smith, a rock 'n' roll photographer, gave me an incredible opportunity when I was in high school to assist her during South by Southwest. Stella Johnson, a professor when I was at Lesley University, was a no-nonsense woman who pushed me really hard. My most recent instructor, Charles Hemard, is both an incredible professor and photographer. He has shown me so many other artists to look at that have helped inform my style.

Where do you go to draw inspiration? 

I always check the work of some of the great photo agencies like Magnum, VII, and Noor, not only for the incredible photographs they make, but also to stay informed of current conflicts and issues across the globe. Of course one of the best sources for discovering new photographers is Instagram. There’s certain tags that I like to scroll through, mostly #photojournalism and #onassignment. Occasionally I check out tags of specific cameras and films to see what other are doing with those tools, like #mamiyarb67 or #kodakektar100, my favorite film for landscapes. 

Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?

I try to avoid the already done abandoned house thing. It’s been photographed countless times, and there’s nothing new that I could contribute to it. As far as an aesthetic that I embrace, it would probably be the woods. I’m always amazed at how thick some sections of forest can be here. Also kudzu. I know that it’s evil and invasive, but the kudzu forests are so beautiful. 

Do you feel creatively satisfied? 

Yes and no. Besides being a fine art photography student, I also work for a campus newspaper [Auburn University's Plainsman -ed.]. I have the AUsome (I’m sure someone will get it) opportunity to shoot NCAA Division I sports every week since my school is in the Southeastern Conference. I like the challenge of coming up with new shots and making them stand out. 

Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition. 

Over the summer I was in two pop-up exhibitions. One was The Future is Now which was in Brooklyn. Another was in Oslo, Norway, by a great group called Sans. The exhibition was entitled Foreboding, and it dealt with the role humans have in the landscape and natural world.

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