The Scott B. Davis Mixtape
Scott B. Davis first came on my radar through his dark and moody images of West Coast cities at night. I was an immediate fan of his photography, reflecting a level of commitment to his craft in his large format capture and stunning Platinum/Palladium prints. I then came to know Scott in his long time role as Director of Exhibitions and Design at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. While juggling a successful photography career and a full time job putting other people’s photographs in the best light, he realized a need for building a photography community on the west coast and, as if his plate wasn’t already full, started a photography festival in 2012. And what a festival it has become.
I have had the good fortune to review at the Medium Festival of Photography over the years and witness the enthusiastically well run event that features portfolios reviews, incredible artist lectures, workshops, and events that allow for new connections and friendships. Throughout the year, Scott offers workshops that keep the community connected. Last year, Scott and I offered a destination workshop, held in the local mountains, that truly gave me an insight into someone I so admire and am lucky to call a friend. Scott is that rare breed of person who is talented, deep thinking, funny, humble but secure in who he is and the potential for his work and life. And it’s a life that finds joy in the natural world, in his connections with his community, and certainly in his relationship with his wonderful wife, curator Chantel Paul.
Medium Festival of Photography takes place from October 20 -23rd, 2016 and registration for the 2016 Eye to Eye Portfolio Reviews will be open for 48 hours only on March 17-18, 2016. Join the email list to stay up to date on registration announcements!
And now, it gives me great pleasure to present The Scott B. Davis Mixtape….
Since the 1990’s Scott B. Davis has made photographs that explore unremarkable wilderness corridors and anonymous urban spaces in the American landscape. A platinum printer for two decades, his night photographs and work with platinum paper negatives have expanded the possibilities of the medium. Collectively Davis’ prints examine the far ends of the visible spectrum and challenge the limits of human perception. His work with large format wooden view cameras (8”x10” up to 16”x20”) adds a visceral layer to the finished prints as photographic objects.
In 2012, Davis founded the Medium Festival of Photography, an annual event that brings emerging and established contemporary photographers to San Diego for four days of portfolio reviews, artist lectures, exhibitions, and events.
Scott B. Davis’s photographs have been reviewed in the New York Times, Village Voice, the New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, LENSCRATCH, and other media outlets. His work is held in the permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Pier 24, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and others. Davis’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
His website www.scottbdavis.com contains current exhibition and project information.
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I grew up in the rural ‘burbs outside of Washington D.C., wandering between cornfields and the seediest parts of the city I could find. My father was a commercial pilot, flying the wealthy elite in small private jets, which I had the privilege of jumping aboard as soon as the smell of money cleared the air. I was incredibly lucky to have these experiences, and it meant we got to do amazing things like fly over our neighborhood at low elevations, do high speed passes of hikers at scenic overlooks (I hope the FAA isn’t reading this), and visit all kinds of remarkable and unremarkable parts of the country.As a kid in high school I was largely disinterested in the world around me, and thought photography was pretty lame. Nightclubs, goth music, and surfing became my outlets for creative expression. But it was the experience of flying with my father that gave me a profound appreciation for the land. At 18 I moved west with a friend, quickly discovered photography and visual art, and soon found my calling. Before long I was drawn to the land as a muse, and photography as a medium.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I work at my studio in San Diego, which is situated high on a hill with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and (weather pending) snow covered mountains to the east. I divide my days between making prints in the darkroom and doing administrative work for the Medium Festival of Photography, the organization which I founded and serve as the Executive Director. Working alone is a curious thing. It requires a lot of internal motivation and knowing when and how to take a break. I used to dream of life as an artist (something I wouldn’t trade for anything) but I can tell you it’s the same amount of hard work as a regular “day job”, only the motivation has to be 100% self generated. You work and work, come up for air, then realize you’ve been isolated for the last 5 hours, 5 days or 5 weeks. It’s important to stay connected to the outside world. For me it typically means I head outside to stretch my legs, wander in our desert garden, or just drop everything for a walk to keep the forward momentum going. I often say, cheekily, “I’m living the dream” (in all fairness I’ve worked hard to create it over the past 20 years) but in essence the dream isn’t so different than what I used to do in a museum office only there’s a lot less politics to deal with.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
Listening to my heart, plain and simple. It may not sound like an achievement but it really is. I come from modest means, and have stubbornly charted a path to create a life filled with purpose, meaning, and opportunities to promote fine art photography. As a boy I stubbornly resisted building a life that fit cookie cutter molds. 44 years into it I’m living proof it’s possible if you put your mind to it.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
This is a two-fold question. I’ve attended reviews as an artist and manage reviews as a festival director. As an artist I want to build connections with other artists and curators who help clarify my purpose, which is making marks on a two dimensional piece of paper. Portfolio reviews are invaluable—they’ve built some of my strongest professional relationships and were instrumental in developing some of the closest friendships I have today. In 2012 I created a review event and festival in southern California, so I’m now a stakeholder in watching these same events unfold in other peoples lives. It’s amazingly gratifying work.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Do your best to get over any feelings of intimidation. It can be awkward entering a room with a bunch of strangers, but photography draws unique individuals and every review event tends to be filled with amazing, kind, and generous people who want to help you. As I mentioned already, some of my closest friends and creative muses have come from connections made at portfolio review events—these range from people you meet once on a bus to those who you collaborate with on projects you never envisioned. They can truly be life-changing events, and I support them whole-heartedly.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I used to make surfboards. I was a glasser (the guy who applies fiberglass to a custom shaped foam core), and over the course of 7 years I glassed about 10,000 surfboards. Today I rarely go in the ocean and haven’t owned a surfboard in 20 years.
This is the melting pot of America, picking a favorite anything is a challenge. Lately I can’t stop thinking of David Bowie and how he influenced (and was influenced by) the entire world around him. But if I had to pick something that will get me going today let’s grab The Pixies “Monkey Gone to Heaven”. Dancing? I spent most of my teens and 20s dancing in goth clubs, starting at 15 when we found one that would let us in. Dancing should be a career for everyone alive and engaged with the world!
David Bowie brings up an important idea worth sharing—namely that of originality and courage. I regularly invite others (students, friends, strangers) to be wildly influenced by the world around you. Be brave, listen to your heart, and sing your song as loudly as you can. Our world is inundated by connectivity and we’ve forgotten the profound power of boredom, silence, and making time for intimate conversations with friends. This is to say nothing of letter writing, phone calls (when phones were actually comfortable to talk on) and long drives necessary to get you to a destination. Tune out your devices, frequently. Rediscover boredom. You have a unique story to tell. The best path to success is a combination of failure and risk. I’m a firm believer that spending too much time in front of the computer quickly takes you to a point of diminishing returns that affects your creativity. I could go on, but it’ll just keep you in front of the computer longer. Go make pictures, and have a blast doing it!
And now I hand the headphones over to Scott, so he can have a spin at the turntables…
It’s worth giving a shout out to Aline and the entire LENSCRATCH team—what you’ve created for the photo community is an invaluable archive of contemporary photography. It’s helped put a face to many of the figures we know in the field and introduced countless names of those who are doing good work today.
This sense of community is what drove the formation of the Medium Festival of Photography—which itself has served to connect and inspire photographers and colleagues in the field. Medium was born on a belief that the energy we experience through live lectures and the exchange of these ideas in real life is something that profoundly shapes our careers as artists. After going through a rigorous university program (UNM) and re-emerging into the world as a working artist it quickly became apparent to me that the experiences which shaped my career were not the classrooms, critiques, and assignments that define us as artists on paper—it was the people I met along the way and the experiences we shared.
Medium is exactly this—a way to bring brilliant minds together in one room, to be inspired by this visceral sense of energy, and develop new relationships in the field. Being a working artist for the last 20 years I’ve met more talented photographers than anyone has wall space to exhibit—a feeling probably shared by many readers. I wanted Medium to be a platform for this abundant creativity and host a forum to share it with a larger audience, and this is where everything started to gel.
Today the festival is a celebration of creative photography spread over four days, in rooms filled with curators, editors, artists, collectors—all sharing ideas on a level playing field, all sitting in the same chairs exchanging dynamic conversation. Each festival kicks off with a keynote lecture and is
followed by a diverse range of speakers covering topics from wet plate to experimental practice in photography. We include live demos, exhibitions, film screenings, and a lot more, while our portfolio review event and off-season workshops offer additional resources to develop photographers careers and build community. In 2016 Medium transitioned into a 501c3 or nonprofit organization, marking its proper place as a valued community resource. The future has never looked brighter!
Thank you Scott, for all you do for photography and photographers…
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.