Local, long time photographer  selected as topic of 2021  Gingham Tree Print

2021 Gingham Tree print featuring John Sims

Local photographer John Sims has been honored by the Lucedale Fine Arts Club as he was selected to be the feature of this year’s Gingham Tree Festival print.

Sims was born and raised in Laurel, Miss. After graduating from Laurel High School, he received a degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.

The tall, slender man with white hair has become a fixture on George and Greene County football fields and school events. When not at one of the schools, he operates out of a building he first rented in the fall of 1966. Setting up his studio with the help of his brother-in-law Wallace Reeves, a Pascagoula photographer, Sims later bought the building and has been in the same location all of this time.

In that time Sims estimates that he has made more than a million exposures of foot- ball teams, graduating seniors, weddings, anniversaries, and passport photos. He has recorded more than 900 wed- dings. "Probably more than a lot of preachers," he quips.

Sims did not start out to be a photographer, but a little time in the south Louisiana oil fields headed him in that direction. A job selling drilling equipment took him to south Louisiana. In the mid-60’s it was almost like living in another country.

While on vacation, he spent some time hanging out with his sister Jean and husband Wallace Reeves. Wallace suggested they open a satellite studio in Lucedale.

Sims was able to land contracts with both George and Greene County high schools to take yearbook photos and senior class portraits that first year.

"We have taken senior portraits for both schools every consecutive year since," he said.

In fact, the senior portraits rank among his favorite subjects.

"It is a transition period for them," he said, "from teenagers to not quite adults. It is a unique time in their lives. Not only are they graduating from high school but it is kind of an age transition into adulthood. You have to analyze each subject and bring out their best points. Everybody needs to be flattered a little bit."

His career favorite photo is not a high school senior, but an old man.

"He was an old, black man that walked up and down the street that lived in a little shack. At that time, I was heavily into portrait competition with our (photography) association. I got him in off the street and made some pictures of him. He was very reclusive, and at first, he would not come in. A mutual friend convinced him to pose for me. He had a white beard and lines in his face -- a really good character study face. You could just read a lot of his life history in that face."

The photo took first place in a regional competition that included photographers from nine southeastern states. The photo helped propel Sims up the ladder of officers of the two-state Professional Photographers of Mississippi and Alabama, where he served as president in 1984.

Sims credits the association with giving him many of the skills necessary for his success. He attended dozens of seminars and classes on technique throughout the years. "I studied under some of the masters," he said.

While the basics of composition and the importance of "painting with light" are still the same, much has changed in the photography industry during the past half century.

"The transition from film to digital changed our lives," he claims. "It saves me several hours a day that I am no longer in the dark room. We used to have to spend hours in the dark room processing and printing out each of those exposures. We would burn the midnight oil meeting yearbook deadlines, but now it is all transferred to a CD."

Another development has been Photoshop, the computer program that allows the opportunity to manipulate photographs.

"Each photographer, once he learns lighting, develops a particular individualized technique to control light. Now, I am talking portraits here more than anything else. You have to learn to paint with light. At least you used to have to learn to do this. Everyone corrects their photos in the computer with Photoshop now, and it just kills my soul."

Sims is still active with no plans for retiring. Most of his work centers around the school portraits.

There is still some walking business, but he no longer goes out to shoot weddings or anniversaries. He also depends heavily on long-time employee Kim Brannan.

"She saw me through all of my down time with my surgery and everything. She just kind of takes over when need be, and I depend on her for all of my electronics."

Also, John’s wife Cheryl helps carry the work during high volume shooting seasons, her computer knowledge helps us keep the editing and Photoshop electronics running smoothly.

"Many of the homes in George County probably have photos of two to three generations of family that I have taken. Mostly, I would like to be remembered for recording multiple generations of young people

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