‘I want to inspire people to travel,” says photographer David Simchock in a phone interview from the Bay Area in California, where he just finished teaching at a summer camp for kids near Redwood City. “I want people who see my work to want to leave home and see some of these places. The world would be a different place if more Americans traveled.”
Fifty of Simchock’s photographs from his globe-trotting travels are part of a group show at the Straube Center in Pennington opening with a reception on Saturday, September 9.
Simchock’s photographs tend toward elegant, close-cropped, simple compositions. Often the images seem almost too good to be true due to the astounding brilliance of the colors. Viewers may be surprised to learn that Simchock has only been photographing professionally since early 2003.
He grew up in Ewing, where his father, Frederick, worked for AT&T, and his mother, Carole, was a homemaker. After graduating with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Rutgers in 1986 he worked for Con Edison in New York for about eight years. During this time he pursued a masters degree in technology management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, conferred in 1994. He then accepted an offer with a company in England and worked there for five and a half years.
But Simchock found himself growing tired of the corporate world and decided to take a break and travel for three years. He told the Ewing Observer in January, 2004, “Once I got through the initial change in my life, of leaving my comfort zone, moving to a foreign country — that all made going off for three years easier. Also, some of the people I’d met in England, particularly the Australians, the Kiwis, and the South Africans I met, they have a different mindset. They traveled constantly, all over the world, and I thought, maybe they have it right.”
His travels led him to five continents over those three years. In early 2003, when he returned, he founded his freelance photography business, Vagabond Vistas Photography. In his artist’s statement, Simchock says: “My art is an extension of my insatiable wanderlust. Through my work I am sharing my passion on a creative and, ultimately experiential level.”
Once a hobby, Simchock’s photography soon became his career, landing him several awards and an impressive front page spot in the travel section of the New York Times with his photograph of the stone heads on Easter Island (see photo above).
The story of how Simchock got the New York Times gig is illustrative of his targeted marketing and publicity efforts, which he says stem from the latter part of his corporate career in business development. “My goal is to be published,” Simchock says. “I want to work for the likes of National Geographic, but realistically speaking, I started out with no resume in the business, just my travel images. The plan was always to build up the resume before I started marketing to the big players in the industry.” But because Simchock had so many stock images from his travels he put together “a polished press kit,” which he sent to the New York Times and Washington Post’s travel editors, among other publications.
“Eventually the (New York Times) travel photo editor called me, a couple of months later. Just before that the Washington Post travel photo editor called me. They were doing a special travel section, World Fare, about foods around the world, and I had a neat market photo of a woman in a boat with lemongrass around her. The New York Times was doing a story on unusual places that included Easter Island. I had four images in my press kit, and they asked if I had anything else. I put together a link to Easter Island photos on my website and sent them the link but I didn’t hear anything.
“Fate was in my favor because one day I planned a trip to New York and took in a CD of high-resolution Easter Island images, with the intent of dropping it off at the Times. I was somewhere on Broadway and the photo editor called. Then there I was in the offices of the New York Times.”
In his travels, Simchock became particularly fond of South America. “I spend a lot of time in South America. I am very interested in the culture and music, and I’m learning Spanish. It adds another dimension to traveling when you speak the language. I’m not fluent, but far past basic. I’m conversational on many topics.”
Stylistically, Simchock is particularly is fond of candid portraiture. On his website, vagabondvistas.com, he groups his images into three categories: people, places and things. “I like my ‘people’ work the most, especially the kids from Asia and South America,” he says. Though he started shooting with film, he has switched to fully digital. “I shoot digitally but traditionally.” He does very little, if any, retouching on the computer. “I shoot in a photojournalistic style — what I see is what I want to print.”
While Simchock has a good eye and knows how to compose a good photograph in the view finder, he says, “It’s not until you see (the image) on the computer that you know whether it is just a good shot or whether it is going to be exceptional. You can have a great composition, but if the eyes are not in focus, then it’s a worthless shot.”
Take, for example “La Nina,” a photograph of a young Peruvian girl (see above). The image is framed tightly around the head of the girl, clad in a light-blue shirt and red headscarf. Her head is cocked, leaning against a wooden pole she holds in her right hand, her left hand beneath her chin. Her poise is almost bashful but the look in her dark eyes is captivating. It’s an instance that would have been lost, had her eyes been caught in the soft blur of improper focal length that allows her right hand to fall from attention in such a close-up, close-cropped photo.
The ultimate simplicity and stark nature of most of Simchock’s photographs could possibly be attributed to his personal reflections on his travels. Of his time spent in third world countries, he says, “The happiest people I’ve come across are the people who have the fewest material possessions. It makes me realize what is most important — people. My life has become more and more simple since I left the corporate world.”
In addition to his travels, Simchock has other projects on his place. Another series, which can be viewed on Simchock’s web site, is titled “Hogs, Rods ‘n’ Bods,” centered around the motorcycle, hot rod, and tattoo culture here in the United States. He teaches photography as well, both groups and individuals. After teaching at the summer camp in northern California earlier this month, Simchock went to Los Angeles to meet with South American Journeys, a travel company he connected with at the travel expo at Jacob Javits in New York in February. He will be teaching photography workshops for groups traveling to Peru in April and Chile and Patagonia in October of next year. Simchock is also spending time on his writing, which began as travel journals.
Due to his West coast trip this summer, Simchock hung his Straube Center show early and is happy to report that “a tenant in the building took an interest in my work and has already bought eight of the 50 pieces.”
Photography by David Simchock, Saturday, September 9, 4 to 6 p.m., Straube Center, 100 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington. Opening reception (conference room, Building 108) for exhibit of local, national, and international artists featuring works of Roberta Desantis, Susan Ewart, Bob Iola, Gunther Johne, Harry I. Naar, David Simchock, Charlotte Sommer-Landgraf, and Tina Tontagna-Tate. Through Tuesday, October 10. 609-737-1308.