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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Life through a camera lens

Sam Zomer

For Sam Zomer, photography is a means for preserving history. You will rarely find him without a camera as he makes his way through his day. 

Whether to capture a street image in town, a dilapidated barn in the Michigan countryside, a protester marching for George Floyd in downtown Kalamazoo, or an event at Kalamazoo Valley Community College where he captures images for the college archives – Sam Zomer sees the world most clearly when he is looking at it through a camera lens.

Credit Sam Zomer
Remains of a barn structure

“I was always fascinated with photography,” Zomer says. “One of our big pleasures, for my brother and me—you’d have to beg Mom to look at the photos. Just in the last few years, I’ve realized someone in the family, and I think it was mostly my mother, was a pretty decent photographer. Every family had a camera, and you kept a roll of film in it pretty much all year. You got it out at Christmas or maybe Easter or somebody’s birthday. You took a few shots and put the camera away until the next event.”

Those were Zomer’s boyhood years. By the time he was an adult, cameras had come a long way—and so had his interest in photography.

Among the several series of photography projects Zomer has taken on, a favorite is the barn project.

“The barn project—it’s much larger than I thought,” he says. “I used to work on farms as a kid. Friends had barns. We’d play basketball [in them] or hide and seek, so barns are really cool. I didn’t really shoot barns when I was out and about—if I saw one, I saw one and shot it.”

An interview with Sam Zomer.

One photograph turned into a dozen; a dozen turned into a collection. Through his photography, Zomer learned more about Michigan barns—for one, that there were far more dotting the countryside than he had realized, and that many have been disappearing, replaced by pole barns or simply razed.

Credit Sam Zomer
Protestor in downtown Kalamazoo in 2020.

Photography became a way of preserving history for Zomer, whether of barns or city streets, events such as the George Floyd protests in Kalamazoo, or academic events at KVCC. Having himself lived through the evolution of the art and its tools, Zomer nevertheless encourages anyone interested in photography to at some point return first to the basics and take a class in black and white photography and work in a dark room.

“I wish everyone with an interest in photography would take a course and use the dark room,” he says. “Know what the dark room is. Know what the basis of PhotoShop is.”

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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