Anne Day on the Olympus Pen-F, Enjoying Life and the Nostalgia of Summer

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday September 22, 2016

The Hissing of Summer Lawns

He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns

    —Joni Mitchell

Name: Olympus Pen-F
Format: Micro Four Thirds
Sensor effective resolution/type: 20.3 Megapixel Live MOS
Viewfinder: 2.36M dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
Rear monitor: 3.0” Vari-Angle Touch LCD
Image stabilization: 5-Axis In Body Image Stabilization
Sequential shooting modes: 10fps [H] mode 5fps [L] mode, mechanical shutter
Weight (body only, no battery): Approx. 373g/13.2(0.83lbs)
Complete specs: Here

Anne Day

The very first time that I saw Anne Day’s photographs I was captivated by them. Here were these images of summer that were mysterious, ethereal and that seemed to capture, very beautifully, that indescribable freedom and timelessness of summer. Her pictures reminded me of every summer day I’d ever spent as a kid in Connecticut, and it was no surprise then to find out that she also lived and did much of her photography in Connecticut. Small world.

Day’s career in photography includes many years a photojournalist, a large body of work in architectural photography, as well as work as a successful portrait and wedding photographer. She was an official photographer at the last four presidential inaugurations (some of her inauguration photos were featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.). She also covered the release of Nelson Mandela for Reuters in 1990 in South Africa. Day was also the primary photographic contributor to a series of books on architecture published by WW Norton featuring photos of the Library of Congress, the United States Capitol and the New York Public Library. She also worked on nine A Day in the Life books. Her photos have been published in published in Time, the New York Times, Le Monde, Washington Post, Newsweek and Vogue and many other publications.

As we talked about in an interview that I did with her earlier this year, in October of 2013 Day’s Connecticut home burned to the ground and a dear friend lost her life in the fire. She also lost much of her photographic past. As she said in that interview: “I lost every single book, every single item of clothing, every single camera—every possession that we had and more. And I lost all of my hard drives from 2009 to 2013.” Today she and her family continue to recover from that horrible night.

Recently I had the chance to talk with Day again and we talked about, among other things, her travels, her photojournalism work, her post-fire recovery process, and, of course, her beautiful summer photos. Day also works as an Olympus Visionary and she shared some of her experiences with the new Olympus Pen-F camera as well as the latest Olympus lenses.

ST: Summer is an important theme in your work and in looking at your photos on your site and on Facebook, it seems like you traveled and shot a lot this summer, where did you go?

AD:  I was in Paris, then England, then Brittany, then back to Paris. My husband had a conference to go to so I got to tag along. I was also in Louisiana in the spring and I got bitten by fire ants so my foot was all swollen up, but I survived. In England I found all of these great surfing beaches in Cornwall and I think my best pictures were from surfing and those beaches.

ST: You also went to the Democratic National Convention to shoot in July. How did that happen and why did you want to be there?

AD:  I just decided that I wanted to go and I got a press pass at the very last minute. I had no idea if I was going to get one or not. At the last minute somebody gave me one. I just had to go, it was history. I feel like I’ve been to so many things in the world as a photojournalist that were history. I was at Obama’s first inauguration, I was there when Nelson Mandela came out of prison, I was in Haiti when the Duvalier’s left. I just knew that if I got to the DNC that I would get in and I did. I don’t know how I knew that I would get in, but I knew. I ended up on the floor shooting, I had a floor pass, it was amazing.

ST: Was it interesting to be on the floor of the convention shooting?

AD: Yeah, it was great. My favorite were all of the Wisconsin people who all wear cheese on their heads—those big wedges of cheese. I knew they wore them at football games but I didn’t know they wore them on the convention floor. They were great. Everybody is wearing crazy costumes. It was fun, but I just feel that if there’s history that is happening and there is any way that I can be there that I have to go.

During 9/11, even though I was glad that I was home safe with my kids, that was one of those things where it was just such an amazing moment in time I wish that somehow I had been able to participate in some of the image making. The night before 9/11 was the big Magnum annual meeting so all of the great Magnum photographers were in town. The meeting was September 10th on Monday and they had all flown in that weekend so every Magnum photographer was able to make pictures there.

So while I’m glad I wasn’t in New York that day, when history is happening and I can be there to me it’s very important. I wasn’t going to miss the first woman being nominated for President.

ST: Did you do any assignment work this summer or was most of it personal work?

AD: A lot of it was personal work, but I just did an amazing story for a new magazine that is coming out. It’s a story about cancer patients who are in a writing workshop. I did 12 portraits of different writers who survived cancer. I shot a lot of that with the Pen-F. The people who are in this writing workshop are all people who have either survived cancer or beaten cancer or people who still have cancer. They are not necessarily writing about cancer but it’s a workshop that was started at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and it’s funded by private money, it’s called Visible Ink. It will all be one story and one of my portraits will run with the text of each particular writer’s piece. The magazine is called Citizen and it’s being published by CBS EcoMedia. I also did another story for them about the man that started the website Upworthy.

ST:  You’ve been shooting summer-themed photos for years, are they part of a project, do you have a goal for them?

AD: Yes, it is an ongoing project and I’m thinking that I’d like to do a book of these summer pictures.

ST: Your summer photographs seem to have a romanticized look, at least to me, is that something that you try to create? Do you try to evoke a kind of Norman Rockwell view of life?
AD: Truthfully that’s part what I look for, you know I love freckles and baseball hats and stuff like that is a little retro. I think that’s what attracts me, but it’s there, I’m not making it up. Those faces exist. It’s hard to explain what is attractive to me about the scenes but it’s a kind of nostalgic idea. I think maybe there is a little bit of Norman Rockwell in my vision, but it’s also a little bit more mysterious. I think it’s not as friendly as Norman Rockwell maybe.

ST: The last time that we spoke you were just rebuilding from a fire that destroyed your home, took the life of a close friend and destroyed much of your life’s photography. How is the recovery process going?

AD:  We have a new house now which is great, and we’re just trying to put stuff in it. I still haven’t started the photo-recovery process. I have boxes and boxes of slides that I recovered but I need to sort through them and edit them. A gallery owner wanted to have a show of some of the images that were recovered from the fire and he came and helped me but I just wasn’t ready for it. I’m going to have to scan a lot of slides, but I’m going to have to look at them first, so I just hired who that is going to help me with that. We are going to start that project in a few weeks and I’ll probably put five to ten hours a week on it and that’s really more than I can deal with. It’s upsetting looking back though, I like to keep moving forward.

ST: How has the experience of the fire changed the way the way that you look at your life?

AD: It’s changed my life completely. My whole philosophy now is to have fun and not worry because life so fleeting and I really want to enjoy the time that I have here on the planet. And when I say have fun, I really enjoy my work, I just did a job last week at a high school/college and I said to the woman there that I really didn’t want to do classroom shots, I just wanted to do portraits and she said, “Great! Do portraits.” So that was fun.

ST: How do you describe your style of photography? Are you someone who primarily reacts to the world around you?

AD: Yes. I’d say my style is photojournalistic. If you look at some of my summer photos and my portraits, it’s a little bit more fine art, but my instincts are photojournalistic. I’d say it’s really for other people to judge my style and to say what it is.

When I’m photographing for myself I kind of slip into this different mind than when I’m shooting a job. I don’t even like to move anything around, I hate even taking a paper cup off of the kitchen table. Sometimes I will, because as you know we’re all editing our life for the picture. Even if you’re doing an Instagram shot of your dinner you’re moving the ugly salt and pepper shaker. We’re all editing. But I try not to when I’m shooting those summer pictures, I try to include everything that’s actually there. It’s almost like journalism, but I’m really framing it the way that I see it.

ST: How long have you been shooting with Olympus mirrorless cameras?

AD:  I’ve been shooting with Olympus cameras since I worked on the book One Day in the Life of Africa in 2002. Olympus was a sponsor and after that project Olympus asked me to be a part of their Visionary program.  Some of the other photographers that were in the program were Jay Dickman, John Isaac and Eli Reed. And so because I was in that program I’ve been shooting with Olympus micro four thirds since the day that they invented it which was in 2008. The first MFT camera I had, I think, was the Pen EP-1, which looked a lot like the old-fashioned film Pen from the 1960s.

What is it that you like about the Pen-F?

AD: The thing that I really like about the camera is the size. I just love the design of the camera and I like the way it handles. And I love that I’m getting a 20 megapixel file. I won’t carry a regular DSLR camera anymore. I’m so used to having two bodies and four lenses in one little bag. It’s significantly lighter and it’s really a beautiful camera. Also the kit lens that comes with the body, the 14-42 is a really great lens, it folds down like a pancake. There’s also a prime lens, a 17 f/1.8 that I love for street shooting. It reminds of the days when I was shooting with my old Leica M4 body with a 35mm f/1.4 lens, the same look and the same feel. So I have all the convenience of digital but I get the same look that I was getting back in the day when I was out street shooting journalistic shooting.

ST: How long have you been shooting with it?

AD: I got it about six months ago right when it came out.

ST: Did you have the Pen-F at the DNC?

AD: Yes, I had the Pen-F so I was shooting with that and I also had the OM-D EM-1, so I was shooting with both. The Pen-F is great because it’s so lightweight and it has 20 megapixels and it’s cool looking. It also has a black and white mode which is not an art filter, it’s an actual monochromatic mode that’s great for photojournalism. It looks like Tri-X. A lot of photographers are raving about that mode.

ST: What do you think of the improved EVF finder in the Pen-F?

AD: The Pen-F has a great viewfinder, it’s just crisper, it doesn’t have that video look. The LCD also has a touch screen now which is very convenient for focusing or for zooming in to check on a picture to see if it was sharp.

ST: Have you found any new lenses that you’re enjoying?

AD:  I have the new M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f4.0 PRO and it’s unbelievably sharp and beautiful. It’s like half the size of any other 300mm lens. It’s very portable and it’s absolutely beautiful glass, I mean truly beautiful. It’s very sharp and it’s very light. It has a tripod mount on it but I haven’t even used it on a tripod yet, it’s truly a handheld lens. I’m going to try the lens with some portraits next week, too, because I kind of like the flatness that long lenses give you and because of the crop factor, this is really a 600mm lens. It's a great lens for bird photography and I took it to the zoo in Cape May this summer and shot with there.

ST: Is most of your work now assignment work or self-assigned work?

AD: I do a lot of editorial work and I do a lot of work for schools up here, annual reports and stuff like that. I’m also doing family portraits. I’m doing a gay wedding this Saturday. The other thing that I do a lot of is architecture and what I love about the Olympus lenses is that I can photograph a whole building using the range of Olympus lenses. There’s also a keystone correcting feature built into the newer cameras and the Pen-F has it, that’s a very important feature for shooting architecture. It also has focus stacking which is another really great feature.

ST: You have quite an extensive background in shooting architecture, correct?

ST: Yes, in fact, in May won a very important award for my architectural photographer. It was the 35th Annual Arthur Ross Award from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. They asked me to submit my portfolio because I’ve done five books on architecture for WW Norton. I had to give a speech to 400 people at the University Club in New York. There were five honorees and one was the Dean of Architecture at Yale, one was the president of the Savannah College of Art and Design, another was a professor at the University of Notre Dame, a couple who designed a city in Guatemala and then I won it for fine art photography. I’m the first photographer to ever get the award.

ST: What are you working on now and do you have any future projects?

AD:  The main thing I want to do now is to rescue the fire pictures and figure out if there is a book there. These are career-spanning photos, slides, negatives, prints, it’s all film based. It’s going to take a long time, I can’t tell by looking at the negatives what was a good picture and what wasn’t unless we scan them. My assistant is going to scan them and make contact sheets.

In terms of short-term projects a publisher wants me to come talk to them and I really want to do a book about gardens. But I want the pictures to be more my style of shooting, I want the pictures to be more mysterious.

New Product News

Panasonic LUMIX G85. In the ever-evolving world of interchangeable-lens cameras, Panasonic is introducing the SLR-style LUMIX G85, a mirrorless micro four thirds body with 4K video (30p/24p 100 Mbps) capability that accepts over 27 LUMIX compact lens options. The 16 megapixel camera (with no low-pass filter) offers a lighter, more compact camera body and features include cutting-edge video, audio, creative controls, wireless capability and a fully articulating touchscreen. The 5-axis gyro sensor control in-body image stabilization when mated with LUMIX 2-axis optically stabilized lenses provides a "Dual IS" effect. It’s also weather sealed, splash proof and dustproof.

Profoto D2 Monolight. If you’re looking for a fast and efficient monolight check out Profoto’s new D2 Monolight, Profoto describes it as the fastest monolight in the world. The six-pound unit offers 500Ws of power and a 300W modeling lamp. It also has a built-in AirTTL (radio) receiver, recycles in to full power in just 0.6 seconds and has a 1/63,000 second freeze-mode flash duration for special effects or sports shooting that Profoto says outperforms most studio pack systems. And it can fire up to 20 flashes per second—think of the stop-action frog-jumping sequences you could do! The light also features a 10-stop power range and supports high-speed syncing up to 1/8000 second.

Epson FastFoto FF-640 High-Speed Scanner. Speaking of fun high-speed tools, I can’t wait to get my hands on the new Epson FastFoto FF-640 High-Speed scanner. The scanner lets you scan “thousands” of photos as fast as one print per second, will scan images from wallet-size up to long panoramic prints, scans both sides simultaneously (in case you have notes on the back), and even has an auto-enhancement mode to bring new life to older prints. Just think, those shoe boxes of photos under the bed can now be digitized for all the world to see. I’m predicting this is one of the hottest gifts of the holiday season.


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