Donkey see, donkey shoot

Nothing, especially her identity as a legally blind individual, can darken the desire with which Nanci Sumner walks through life. Fascinated with finding adventure through her figurative steps, the 61-year-old last month enjoyed levity in taking literal strolls, capturing images of the 57 donkey statues that added an artistic component to the Democratic National Convention.

“I find so many things interesting, and I’m constantly looking for something to shoot,” the inhabitant of the 1500 block of South Clarion Street said of her penchant for producing pictures. “This opportunity struck me as very unique, so I wanted to explore and preserve the output of my journeys.”

The Passyunk Square occupant commenced her project July 8 through a Center City jaunt that yielded clicks of the New Jersey and South Carolina representations, with fellow South Philadelphia Hawk Krall crafting the Garden State homage. Resuming nine days later, she organized her travels by zip code and covered the others in five days, making the American Samoa tribute at Citizens Bank Park, 1 Citizens Bank Way, her final endeavor.

“I was so happy to see all of them, especially because they were so beautiful,” Sumner, who used a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for the task, said of the creations that proved a hit to locals, visitors, and dignitaries, with Sunday having been the works’ final day in the limelight. “It was definitely one of the toughest assignments because of all the walking involved, but I was really compelled to show my appreciation for such patriotic gestures.”

Along with the American Samoa stop, her time in South Philly exposed her to decorated depictions of the charms associated with Louisiana at The Philadelphia Clef Club, 738 S. Broad St.; North Carolina through Jim’s Steaks, 400 South St.; Puerto Rico courtesy of East Passyunk Avenue; and Utah and the U.S. Virgin Islands through The Philadelphia Navy Yard, 4747 S. Broad St. The Pennsylvania and New York homages, situated in Center City, easily registered as her favorites, yet no matter the hierarchy, Sumner reveled in focusing on a light contrast to the heavy, often bombastic, political discussions that constituted the convention’s setting within the Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. With the guests gone, the speeches wrapped, and the donkeys preserved, she loves that she devoted six days to honoring art and our states’ rich histories.

“In the grand scheme, what I did is not that monumental,” Sumner opined. “I’ve never wanted to let my impairment define me or intimidate me, so I chose this idea as a way to show that I love having chances to be observant. Because of my condition, I am someone who takes nothing for granted, so why wouldn’t I want to go out and look at such amazingly intricate works of art? It was an honor to see such talent.”

The grateful view seeker would win anyone’s regard over how well she has kept herself from ever succumbing to self-pity. At age 5, she underwent the first of the seven surgeries that have occurred over her six-decade existence and still anticipates the moment when her vision can be a vision of perfection.

“I love to discover and analyze so much about the physical world,” the Oxford, Pennsylvania product declared. “Who knows what the future holds, but I know I’ll approach each day optimistically.”

An alumnus of the Overbrook School for the Blind, the location of the inception for her sharp focus on photography, Sumner busied herself for the professional world by attending business school in Pittsburgh. Concluding her time in the Steel City, she determined that she wanted to work in Philadelphia, where she moved in 1974.

“The city just appealed to me then and continues to do so today,” she said of the metropolis, with Center City, West Philly, and South Philly engendering 42 years of bliss, including 18 years in Passyunk Square. “There is so much to inspect and so many experiences to have if you’re willing to put in the time.”

Following a 35-and-a-half-year stint as a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania clerk/typist, Sumner retired March 19, 2010 and sought new adventures to support her creed of the joys inherent within being active. Her conversion to Catholicism through St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, 910 Watkins St., placed her in contact with the lively and lovely Barbara Ricci, with the Girard Estate denizen encouraging her to join The South Philadelphia Lions Club.

“I’m so fortunate to be around such an amazing set of people,” Sumner stated of her nearly six-year affiliation with the 81-year-old organization well-regarded for altruistic measures that include Christmas luncheons for blind and visually impaired adults and children and another for Hispanic youths through St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 1719 Morris St; annual scholarships endowments to a quartet of local learners; volunteer efforts for the Ronald McDonald House; and banquets for outstanding football players form South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., and Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St. “There’s such a message of positivity behind everything they do that it’s easy to want to contribute to their mission.”

She calls on her camera as her companion for the club, regularly shooting its events, including its Monday presence at Marconi Plaza, 2700 S. Broad St., for the National Night Out kickoff. The day before, her adoration of automobiles made automatic her presence at the East Passyunk Car Show and Street Festival, where she also used her lens to laud the scenery. With her donkey duties done, Sumner has not elected to let her creativity lapse and spoke fondly of projects inspired by her awareness of the tune “You Can’t Get to Heaven on the Frankford El” and admiration for the Philadelphia Walk of Fame plaques. Set to celebrate her anniversary as a South Philadelphia Aug. 29, the affable individual, who donned a South Philly Forever shirt for her South Philly Review interview, loves the photographic and interpersonal possibilities that the expanse easily breeds.

“If you live here long enough, it feels as if you’ve been here forever,” Sumner offered. “I’ve had great experiences in my neighborhood, and I think my photography has gone a long way toward helping me to become more aware of my surroundings. I’d say it’s made me much more compassionate, too.” ■

Contact Editor Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.

Donkey Photos by Nanci Sumner

Center Portrait Photo by Tina Garceau