Tag Archives: Balboa Park

Scott B. Davis: Success Stories and the Medium Festival of Photography

When you think about busy people, Scott B. Davis is surely at the top of that list.  Scott recently opened an exhibition, Black Sun, at Hous Projects in New York (running through September 1st), works full time at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego as the Director of Exhibitions and Design, has created a brand spanking new photography festival, the Medium Festival of Photography that launches September 6-8th, and just closed on a new home.  And those are just the big things.

Born in Maryland, Scott received his BFA in Photography from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.  The son of a private pilot, Scott developed ideas about landscape at an early age.  He began using a view camera in 1994 and photographing the desert at night in 1997.  These aesthetic approaches to making work allow him to define space in a contemplative way where he is diminishing the traditional landscape in favor of highlighting human presence within the landscape. He believes that no single truth exists about landscape, and the most honest photographs equally consider light, dark, human and natural elements.

In 2002, Scott built a 16×20″ view camera, used it exclusively for 5 years and created large platinum prints. He recently has returned to an 8×10 view camera and continues to work in platinum.  Scott has exhibited internationally, is widely published, and his work is held in many significant collections.

An interview with Scott follows…

Balboa Park, San Diego
2011 Platinum/Palladium Print

Congratulations on the exhibition at Hous Projects in New York City.  I love the idea of making imagery that you almost have to squint to understand completely.  What compels you to shoot in the dark?

making photographs
at night came out of a desire to discover new landscapes and engage
fully in the act of looking. i frequently travel in remote parts of the
desert, and revel in the simply joy of seeing new spaces. but like most
of us, i spend the majority of my hours at home. it’s in this realm that
i keep my eyes engaged by shooting what i know, and what we all live
with day in and day out. shooting in the dark is a kind of compulsion…
something that boils down to a simple desire to discover new
Intersection, San Diego
2010 Platinum/Palladium Print
I understand that you built a 16×20 view camera in 2002–is that what you use exclusively to make work?
used the 16×20 camera exclusively from 2002 until about 2007. as film
prices started to climb and i wanted to keep exploring new visual
territory it made sense to retire the beast and move back to smaller
film. beginning in 2007 i’ve used my 8×10 for everything i shoot. i’ve
enjoyed the liberty of exposing more film, and now scanning those
negatives to make large platinum prints.
Canyon, Los Angeles
2009 Platinum/Palladium Print
Talk about the slowed down nature of making work through this process and, in particular, at night.
work at night is a meditation, as is platinum printing. in terms of
making night photographs, it is an act of paying attention to spaces we
pass every day, and looking for beauty where others see nothing. i begin
to see more as i look for those magic spaces ‘in between’, and in
return the landscape beings to teach me. i discover places i would have
never thought important, compelling, or beautiful, and i learn more
about the neighborhoods and places that are equally a part of the urban
spaces we call home. our eyes are subjective consumers, and in the daily
ritual of looking we tend to see everything as a photograph. or a
potential photograph. but as photographers we know most of these don’t
work out. it’s our intentions and “vision” that makes an image worth
printing, or even shooting in the first place. when i’m actively
photographing at night i do everything from consider the exposure to
thinking about how i want to show detail in the final print, or how i
might need to compensate for detail in development and printing. it’s
all very ansel adams! [laughs] from there i’ll set up the camera and
tripod, then begin the nuts and bolts of picture making. exposures are
the quickest part, ranging from a minute to maybe an hour depending on
where i am and what i’m trying to achieve. printing is an entirely
separate process, but an equally important one, best left to itself.
VW Bus, San Diego
2010 Platinum/Palladium Print
You are well ensconced in the San Diego photographic community, and your day job is at the Museum of Photographic Arts as the Director of Exhibitions and Design.  What is a typical day at the museum, and how does being surrounded by so much great photography influence your own work?
my typical day at mopa
is a diverse range of management, design, and long range planning. that
can take the form of anything from meeting project deliverables to
branding and laying out individual exhibitions. i spend a lot of time on
the minutia of exhibition planning, which is to say the administrative
tasks nobody (viewers) should be thinking about when looking at a
finished exhibition. i believe that if my work appears invisible then
i’ve done my job well. it’s a nice metaphor for my own work outside the
museum too. but one of the great rewards at mopa is working with a team
of talented people and being exposed to art on a daily basis, be it
historic work by known photographers, unknown photographs that are
simply wonderful, or contemporary artists who are pushing new
boundaries. it is enriching, and i’m certainly very lucky.
Palm Tree, near Washington and Venice, Los Angeles
2012 Platinum/Palladium Print
I am so excited about the new Medium Festival of Photography that is coming up in San Diego in September.  How did it come about and can you share a little about the festival?
came about as a way to engage with photographers on a deeper level.
being a working artist myself i meet more talented photographers than
anyone has wall space to exhibit. wanting to give a platform to this
abundant creativity was where it began, and finding a way to share that
with a larger audience is where it started to gel. the festival is a
celebration of creative photography spread over three days. it kicks off
with a keynote lecture by alec soth and is followed by a diverse range
of speakers covering topics from wet plate to a live sunburn
demonstration by chris mccaw, and much more! we have a portfolio review
event on saturday that offers photographers the chance to engage with
curators, editors, and gallery owners. it’s going to be a fantastic
addition to the photo community in southern california!
Covered Sedan, San Diego
2011 Platinum/Palladium Print
You wear so many hats in the photo world — successful photographer, Museum Director, Festival Director, friend and supporter of all things photography — how do you balance it all?
a busy schedule is a lot of work, though i find the act of it both
encourages and defines each new step. i believe we should all live our
purpose—what the hindu religion calls dharma—but this is
something we’re largely disenfranchised from in the west. inspiring
others through photography is my life path, and from the outside it
appears to be a lot of work. and it is. but loving what you do and
“working” are two separate ideas to me. i strive to insure my actions
provide an enriching return, not just to me, but to others.  this is the
secret to maintaining a balance. work and give back to others. it comes
full cycle.
Silver Lake, Los Angeles
2010 Platinum/Palladium Print
When you were emerging as a photographer, what took your work to the next level, and what suggestions do you have for photographers trying to establish themselves?
my work evolved
through the passionate study of good photographs, which meant reading a
lot of books and attending as many lectures as i could. the greatest
influences on me were workshops offered by master photographers. these
short, 3 to 5 day experiences taught me more than anything i learned in
formal study at a prestigious university. they helped define my dharma.
Ben’s Auto, Los Angeles
2009 Platinum/Palladium Print
An finally, what would be your perfect day?

my perfect day would involve opening someone’s eyes to photography. this
could mean sharing the magic of a camera with someone or teaching them
something new about the medium. it could also mean my learning something
new, which is a borderline addiction. i recently discovered a book of
desert writings that i hadn’t picked up in several years. the process of
sitting down with this book and re-reading it page by page has turned
into a series of perfect days, one after the other. the writing has
little to do with photography but has given me a half dozen new ideas to
think about… a half dozen new reasons to follow my camera into new
territory. the perfect day is about eye opening experiences, plain and
simple. who’s eyes those are is less important than the act of
inspiration itself.
Tract Home, La Jolla
2011 Platinum/Palladium Print

Sedan, Rice California
2009 Platinum/Palladium Print

Photo Stroll Four – the final bit drawn from the permanent collection of San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts

Finally, the conclusion of a four-part photo stroll through the various photo exhibitions, including in previous posts Streetwise, on at San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts. And a big thank you to John Mann from SD who kindly took me round Balboa Park, the botanical gardens and the show.

The exhibitions have various running times: Streetwise: Masters of 60′s Photography has just finished. Inside Out: Portraits from the Permanent Collection runs until 25 September, and Imagine That! is on until 29 January 2012. I recognised the name of one of the photographer’s whose work is included in the permanent collection Ruth Thorne-Thomsen. I met her carrying a large pinhole camera in 1999 on a beach in Mexico. She was taking photos in difficult conditions with her large format pinhole camera and sent me a couple of her tests when I got back from my trip. I still have them, somewhere.

To get a glimpse see over for more, but it’s no substitute for the real thing – nor should it be. Tomorrow, photo news catch up and some show openings…

All photos Miranda Gavin, 2011.


As museums and public art institutions use social media networks and third-party sites to share content, think flickr, youtube, etc, audiences are being asked to participate in various ways. With this show, San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts called members of the public to send in photos from the 1960s that have social meaning for them Where were you between 1960-1969?. Follow this link to the Streetwise page

And if you want, you can see more photos that have been uploaded by members of the public from their sitting-moon portrait sessions on the chair at the gallery. Follow this MOPA link for more.


Filed under: Documentary photography, Photographers, Photography Shows, street photography Tagged: Imagine That!, Inside Out: Portraits from the Permanent Collection, Museum of Photographic Arts, photo shows, portraits, portraiture, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, San Diego, San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts, Street photography, Streetwise: Masters of 60s Photography