(20070507 Update: I was listening to a LensWork podcast today title Posterity Chooses from The Known and it reminded me of this Sammy Davis’ photography. In the podcast, Brooks Jensen talks about photographs who say “they do photography just for themselves” but will be more than happy to share or sell their work if they can. I found it funny that Sammy Davis Jr. truly did his photography just for himself. He wasn’t really planning on sharing these photos with the entire world, just his close circle of (famous) friends.)
Last night, around midnight, I was driving home from San Francisco International Airport, returning from what has been essentially two full weeks on the road for training sessions and projects, when News & Notes came on NPR talking about a new book titled Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. I almost hit the car in front of me from shock. What? Sammy Davis Junior was a photographer?!
Apparently, Sammy Davis Jr. always had a camera with him and took thousands of photos documenting his times and life. His close friends knew about his photography habit and, with no surprise, are features in many of them. Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and many others are features in his photos. They didn’t mind Sammy taking their photos because they knew that those photos would never be published.
And they almost weren’t, until biographer Burt Boyar found them while doing some research for a documentary. This wonderful collection of images documenting a world as seen from someone who walked right down the racial divide of the 50’s and 60’s is now available in a book. (I have already ordered my copy). You can listen to a short interview with the discovering of these photos, Burt Boyar, as well as see a dozen of the images on the NPR website.
Listening to the interview and thinking about this treasure trove made me think about how different the photographic community is today. If someone were to take those pictures today, they would be on the internet within hours…and since they feature celebrities, they would most likely be on the website of some tabloid. One of the great things about photography (as well as one of the most painful for some) is that some images increase in value only with time. Sammy wasn’t a professional photographer…meaning he didn’t make a living doing it. He did it because he enjoyed the creative nature of it and saw it as a creative extension to his life. Sometimes, letting a photograph age with time is the most important post processing step we can take.