If we had to use a single word to describe the work of Brian Cummings, that word would be colorful. Most of his oeuvre is heavily influenced by pop-art, and it clearly shows in pieces as amazing as Breakfast of Champions or Little Pink Elephants. Of course, when we noticed such a drably colored yet intriguing project as Dog Daze, an outstanding project among many, we had to interview him about it.
My collaborator, Jake Houvenagel, came to me one day and said, “Portraits of sweaty people with as many uncooked hot dogs in their mouths as possible.” I said, “you had me at hot dogs.”
The essential photo gear used by Brian Cummings
Brian told us about his favorite equipment:
- Canon 1DXMii and Sony A7iii
- Capture One Pro
- Broncolor Move Kit
- Broncolor Grafit A4 packs
- Broncolor strobes
- Beauty dish, with grid/sock
- Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox Octa 53″
The Phoblographer: How did you get into photography?
Brian Cummings: I studied graphic design in college. As part of my BFA, I took two photography classes. It was black and white photography, SLR cameras, and dark rooms. I loved it but did not pursue it further.
The first half of my career was spent in advertising as a creative director. Working with photographers on set, I realized how much I wanted to actually make the images. In 2007, I switched careers and set out on my photography path.
The Phoblographer: Where did the inspiration for this series come from?
Brian Cummings: The idea originated with my collaborator, Jake Houvenagel. He came to me one day and said, “Portraits of sweaty people with as many uncooked hot dogs in their mouths as possible.” I said, “you had me at hot dogs.” Jake and I have similar tastes in humor and art. Hot dogs are just accessible pop culture to me. Everyone can relate to it.
The Phoblographer: One of the most noticeable things in this project is the models’ expressions. Except for one case, they look bored and apathetic. Why? What did you want to achieve with this?
Brian Cummings: The motivation behind this series is boredom. We have all experienced the dog days of summer, where you are hot, sweaty, miserable, and bored. I imagined that as a form of relief, they chose to stick as many uncooked hot dogs in their mouths as possible. Hence the series’ name, “Dog Daze – The Hot Dog Portraits.” The expressions reflect the subjects’ exasperation and melancholy.
Some people have interpreted the series to have sexual undertones. I say that’s just your dirty little minds at work. To me, it’s a WTF glance at the mundane.
The Phoblographer: Most of your work relies on bright, bold, contrasting colors, whereas this series is almost monochromatic. What made you go in this direction?
Brian Cummings: Pop art influences a lot of my work, and while I love exploring color, this series required a different approach. I followed the tone of the subject. The desaturated warm tones, to me, reflect the hot dog skin. It needed to be a bit off-putting, yet familiar, to succeed.
The Phoblographer: How much post-production do you usually do in your work?
Brian Cummings: I try to capture as much in camera as possible. I aim to limit the extent of retouching. I tend to rely on it as a tool to clean up and enhance rather than recreate. This series required very little post-production work. I created a look in Capture One as a starting point. Then from there, I push the color and the contrast.
About Brian Cummings
Brian is a commercial director, photographer, creative director, and candlestick maker specializing in narrative lifestyle storytelling. He has spent a career journeying through the world of advertising as a designer, creative director, photographer, and director.
“For 25+ years, I’ve worked in, for, and with agencies. Collaborating with clients and teams, I create the world as I see it. I tell stories that range from humorous, to the dramatic, to surreal. I am drawn to unique, conceptual ideas. I am a storyteller.
Originally from North Carolina, I’ve called St. Louis home for the past 20 years. I received a BFA in graphic design from Appalachian State and spent the first half of my career working in advertising. In 2007, I left the agency world and started my journey as a photographer and director.”