1960's Chicago had to be one of the hippest scenes in America. It was at the height of the civil rights era and everything was filled with passion. Poets, painters, jazz musicians, scholars, hippies and revolutionaries mingled. Such a perfect time to grow up, trying to find myself. For me, it all started in the 60s.
I was born in Chicago, on the south side of the city, in 1950. From an early age I had a passion for the arts. I spent time painting, drawing and knowing that somewhere there was a purpose, a path, something out there that was pulling me. I even tried playing the saxophone. In 1965 I cracked open The Sweet Flypaper of LIFE by Langston Hughes with photographs by Roy DeCarava. Bobby Sengstacke, my best friend Louie's big brother, gave it to me. Bobby, an incredible photographer, took me under his wing and showed me the way.
I worked in the darkroom of The Chicago Defender newspaper, the oldest black newspaper in the country. It wasn't long before I was shooting assignments. I was 16 years old.
Turned on by the photographs of Gordon Park, Cartier Bresson, Dorthea Lang, Arthur Bedou and James Van Der Zee, just to name a few I knew that putting a frame around the life I lived and the things I saw was more important than anything else in my world.
My photographs earned me a President's scholarship to Fisk University where I studied art painting and shot pictures everyday. Film director, writer and historian Carlton Moss taught a film class at Fisk. When he saw my pictures and he said, Simmons, you're a cinematographer.
I received a Master's degree from the University of Southern California in 1976 in cinematography. I've been a working cinematographer ever since. I am a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), as well as, a teacher of cinematography at UCLA.
Everyday I carry a camera and continue to capture an undisturbed look at things I see. It is these frozen moments in time that for one second say so much about who we are. It all started in the '60s.