February 17th, 2019- March 14th, 2019
Samuel Davis and The Empty Quarter Gallery are pleased to present “They Were Here”, a new and exciting collation of images from previous bodies of work.
Davis plays with the notion that a photograph is simultaneously a document, a truth, a memory and a lie. His work plays with the idea that the meaning of a scene changes from the literal as it is imagined, then captured by the photographer, stored and finally presented to the viewer.
Seemingly huge dinosaurs, rocket ships and other toys are represented in an almost plausible way. “My photography has been driven by the desire to make images that represent that feeling of comfort through confusion”. “This act of viewing makes all of us part of this place that we are drawn to for reasons we are not quite sure of” reflects Davis.
Davis’ childhood memories are of toys in the foreground, the television in the back. Two imaginary realities at once. He began to identify the desert as “the” place where things happened. The Roadrunner vs. The Coyote. Rockford Files chasing someone to Vegas. John Wayne, Wagon Train, and every “B” Sci-Fi movie worth anything. Atomic testing, war movies, specials about UFO’s – they were all in the desert. Some place, so foreign to the gulf coast it was beyond fantasy. “I wasn’t sure if the desert really existed, or if it was just a movie set” says Davis.
Likewise, Jettisoned Flight Attendants and Tragic Heroes find themselves in engineered simple scenes that seem confusingly believable against today’s CGI and green screen technology where audience no longer needs to fill in the gaps.
The late 1970’s and 1980’s of my childhood were not exempt from the sweeping changes of the generations that preceded them. The ashtrays slowly disappeared from the armrests and seatbelts became required”, reflects Davies. The term stewardess became taboo in favour of the more appropriate “flight attendant”. The seatbelts, the oxygen masks, the seat cushion that is also a floatation device are all props in a performance to make us feel more at ease with the reality that we will soon be 30,000 feet above the ground at speed just shy of the sound barrier. That person with the bright smiles and oddly designed uniform is the single representation of hope that everything is going to be ok. They are the physical manifestation of slight of hand; that “look over here, not over there” moment that allows us to enjoy our free soda pops and peanuts and not think about the “what if” of a broken rivet or a cracked windowpane that could lead to disaster.
Countering the myth of the NASA astronaut as idealized he-man, someone who possesses “the right stuff,” Davis’s figure spacemen suggest their relation to science fiction— demonstrate instead a kind of wistful vulnerability, we would never have been permitted to observe in the Apollo age. Would they have even passed the rigorous testing required of aspiring astronauts?
The last group of images included in this exhibition comes from a portfolio entitled ‘Tin’, in which the future truly meets the past: Davis has used antiquated photographic processes, including daguerreotype, wetplate collodion, and tintype, to capture the images of primitive robots lurching over an uneven surface, what we call UFOs soaring through the air, or pristine flying contraptions turned into specimens before the camera. What antiquarian wouldn’t delight in finding such treasures in the back of a shoebox at a flea market? He thus reminds us of how photography’s apparent realism can play with our dreams. Photography’s evident truthfulness makes it one of the best vehicles for creating compelling images of that which does not exist. (As far as we know, depending on whom you ask.)
Davis images do not rely on digital manipulation (except to correct imperfections such as scratches). Instead, his art is made in the camera.
The result belies is simplicity, creating a fun but thought provoking exhibition.