Harold Davis – Photo Talk 3

December 3rd, 2010 |  Published in F-J, PhotoTalks  |  4 Comments  |  Subscribe to Comments

Night in Yosemite, Photograph by Harold Davis

Night in Yosemite, Photograph by Harold Davis

Night in Yosemite, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved.

Here is an interview with Harold Davis, photographer and author. The first few photographs I saw of his were his night photography work. Browsing through his photographs left me inspired and motivated. Here is his website: http://www.digitalnight.us/. Harold also conducts workshops in the Bay area, California.
Read on to find out a bit more about Harold Davis.

SU: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into photography?
HD: I’ve been a photographer for most of my life. That is, off and on starting at about age six, but more on than off.
There was a darkroom in high school that some of the cool kids used as a hang out. It was magic watching the images appear in the trays of developer. I was hooked.
As a professional photographer in New York, I photographed everything from architecture to zebras. I photographed the Love Canal environmental disaster on assignment, and hung out of a helicopter photographing the World Trade Towers from above. I sold lots of prints and fine art posters.
There came a time I got bored with photography. I turned to writing, and (like so many of us) to the technology business. I remember walking into the lobby of a big software company on my first day of a new job, and seeing one of my art pieces on the wall. My new manager refused to believe it was really me until I pointed out my name on the print. I’m the author of more than twenty technology-related books about things like software development, and about companies like Google.
For me, the time away from photography was a time to recharge my batteries. I believe that digital photography is a more powerful medium than film photography ever was. I’m not knocking the great film photographers, for whom I have the greatest respect, but digital is different.
Digital photography is one part photography, and one part software. Essentially, there’s nothing you cannot do, and no image you cannot create with digital photography. With great power comes great responsibility. You can’t evade responsibility for your photo anymore by pointing to reality. Reality doesn’t cut any ice with me, or with someone looking at your image. Of course, the context matters. You shouldn’t manipulate a documentary photo, but you can (and probably should) manipulate the heck out of an art image.
I enjoy writing about digital photography. My recent book “Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers”, published by O’Reilly, presents digital photography in a new way, and as a new medium. As I say in the introduction, my book “treats the techniques of classical photography and the tools of the digital era holistically: they are both integral to the best practices of modern digital photography.”
My book uses photos to teach photography. I try to convey the joy and inspiration I get out of photography, and share this with the readers.
I also put a great deal of effort into my blog, www.photoblog2.com . This is a way to show my photos, write about digital techniques, and tell the adventures of photography in the night with immediacy. The time constraints you have in traditional publishing are gone. If you stop to think about it, with more than 1,200 stories and thousands of images, my blog is really like a big, online virtual book.
Photography is best learned through photography. When I get bored with experimenting with one way to make photos, I’ll go off and try something else. I like to think about “what if”: What happens if I try this, or that?
I live in Berkeley, California with my wife and kids.

Beauty in the Belly of the Beast, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved

Beauty in the Belly of the Beast, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved

Beauty in the Belly of the Beast, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved

SU: What ignited your passion for night photography? What about it keeps you going when everyone else is asleep?
HD: Caffeine keeps me going at night when everyone is asleep! More seriously, there’s something wonderful about the night as a completely alien environment that is both so near to all of us, and so different from what we see during the day.
Photography is at its most magical when it reveals, and particularly when those revelations cannot be seen by eye. When I found out that what my digital camera “saw” at night was more, better, and different than what I saw with my eyes, I was hooked.

Clematis, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

Clematis, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

Clematis, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

SU: Your work also includes alternative digital photo techniques like x-rays and photograms. Can you tell me more about what excites you with these processes?
HD: I’ve used alternative capture devices, like scanners, and sometimes combined them with digital photos. The truth is that a digital camera is really a special purpose computer with a lens. When you talk about things like cross-processing, photograms, and x-rays you’re partly in a field where there’s no direct digital capture mechanism readily at hand, although it is certainly possible to beg, borrow, and jury-rig things.
Well, it is possible, of course, to take digital x-ray captures. These are monochrome by definition, and require some special precautions. And a scanner is pretty analogous to a photogram. But what’s really interesting to me is that a simple off-the-shelf digital SLR captures more within the UV and IR spectrums than we can see with our naked eyes (so in this sense my interest in alternative techniques is a little like my interest in night photography).
I’m also excited by the possibility of post-processing to emphasize a particular approach to alternative photography (and I don’t always want the results to look particularly photographic).
I find I tend to work richly in a vein for a while, and then take off in another direction, and then come back to the original field, perhaps with my vision, clarity, and technique enriched. My work with alternative digital processes has been like this for me. I started moving in that direction as the result of a challenging assignment, but I grew to love it. Actually, the style has been very commercially successful for me. Clients specifically request it in the context of their projects. For example, there’s a whole series of books coming out soon with covers that use my photogram and x-ray images.

Estero by Starlight, Photography by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

Estero by Starlight, Photography by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

Estero by Starlight, Photography by Harold Davis, All Rights reserved

SU: What does photography mean to you? And how does teaching photography affect your own work?
HD: Photography is very special to me. Photography informs my world. It is an inner and outer world for me. I relax making images, and I get charged up making images. It’s endlessly exciting. Some days I’m “on” and everything clicks. Other days, the muse is just not there. An astounding difference. I see the world through my photos, and I hope my images help others share my joy in beauty, shape, and form.
When I teach a workshop, I always learn from my students. I hope they learn as much from me as I do from them. You’ve got to respect someone who takes a photography workshop.
The only motivation is to learn more about how to do something they love. It’s great. I try to remember that photography workshops are about the participants, not about me. Everyone who takes a workshop is their own hero. I need to share my work in the context of explaining techniques, but I don’t need to prove I’m “better”, whatever that means. When I teach photography (and I try to avoid burnout by limiting my teaching to four or five workshops a year) I come away with experimental juices recharged, and with a renewed sense of awe and humility.

Renegade Remaining Photons, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Renegade Remaining Photons, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Renegade Remaining Photons, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

SU: How do you come up with such beautiful names for your photographs? I am in love with some of the titles in your “Digital Night” series. Names like “Estero by Starlight”, “Renegade Remaining Photons”, “Star Light Star Bright”, “Moon Glyph”, “Beauty in the Belly of the Beast” are quite fascinating. Are these inspired by song names? or Sci-fi ?
It’s amazing because some of them are so apt.

HD: I appreciate this question very much because I think it raises an important issue about photography. Working on a photograph has many stages, and of course depends on the image, situation, and photographer. So work may involve pre-visualizing an image, setting a photo up, responding to spur-of-the-moment stimulus and taking a photo, and working on an image in post-processing as part of a workflow.
At any stage of this affair, I believe that work is enriched by a core understanding of what a photo is about. If you don’t know what your photo is about, you are blundering about almost at random. Sometimes you get lucky, but sometimes you miss the essence of the thing.
When I understand the essence of a photo—why I have photographed it, and what is important about the subject of the photo—then the titles seem to flow naturally for me. Telling the truth about what something is by naming it has great power. My sources do range from poetry to popular music to literature to scientific writing. In addition, some titles are suggested by the literal subject (“Estero by Starlight”) or by the shape of the subject matter (“Moon Glyph”).
“Beauty in the Belly of the Beast” is a tip of my hat to career criminal Jack Abbott’s book about our brutal prison system, and how this might contrast with the lights of Silicon Valley at night (now there’s a wild comparison for you!). The “belly of the beast” has become a common expression for the locus of power of an institution, but how often is it also beauty and the beast?
“Renegade Remaining Photons” is a phrase from a physics article I was reading when I was trying to understand the technical underpinnings of some of the wild results I was getting with night photography.
“Star Light Star Bright” is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, although of course the title also refers to the starlight in the photo. Never underestimate the potent creative energy that little kids supply (mine range from newborn to almost 11)!

Star Light, Star Bright, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Star Light, Star Bright, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Star Light, Star Bright, Photograph by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

SU: Any recommendations? (like Photographers, Photo techniques, Music, Books, quotes, food..anything?)
HD: As I’ve already said, the best way to become a photographer is to take photos, and keep taking photos. Look at the photos, and see what works, and also keep looking at the world around you.
I believe that it is as important for photographers to look at the work of painters as it is for photographer to look at photography. All art is one. Photographers are image makers, and this transcends the specifics of their medium. By the way, this is one of the reasons I tend to use the term “image” rather than “photo”.
If you are interested in landscape photography, you should take a long, hard look at the impressionist painters Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, as well as the expressionist painter Emil Nolde.
Maybe I was warped for life by a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York when I was ten. I was mesmerized by the Monet Water Lilies, and by the heroic Ansel Adams print of “Moonrise over Hernandez”.
I like the sounds of nature when I photograph the night, and I like to listen to music when I process my photos in Photoshop. Lately, I’ve been listening to Bach, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and the Robert Plant and Alison Kraus “Raising Sand” CD.

Papaver Rhoeas, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Papaver Rhoeas, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

Papaver Rhoeas, Digital Photogram by Harold Davis, All Rights Reserved.

SU: How can people interested in your work can contact you?
HD: The best way to contact me is through my websites, www.digitalfieldguide.com, www.photoblog2.com, and www.digitalnight.us. I have a page with information about licensing my images www.digitalfieldguide.com/licensing.php , a gallery with a shopping cart for people who are interested in buying my prints www.digitalfieldguide.com/prints.php , and a page with detailed contact information, www.digitalfieldguide.com/about.php .

I really like hearing from other photographers and I try to answer all emails. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, you can also subscribe to my photography newsletter at www.digitalfieldguide.com/newsletter.php .

Responses

  1. » The Milky Way Photoblog – Suprada Urval says:

    January 24th, 2012at 8:19 pm(#)

    [...] were the really good Harold Davis, Steven Christenson and Eric Harness. (Side Note: Check this interview I did with Harold Davis a while back – its an awesome [...]

  2. » Milky Way and Bristlecone Pine Photoblog – Suprada Urval says:

    January 26th, 2012at 4:20 pm(#)

    [...] were the really good Harold Davis, Steven Christenson and Eric Harness. (Side Note: Check this interview I did with Harold Davis a while back – its an awesome [...]

  3. » Bristlecone Pine Star Trail Photoblog – Suprada Urval says:

    January 30th, 2012at 3:32 am(#)

    [...] were the really good Harold Davis, Steven Christenson and Eric Harness. (Side Note: Check this interview I did with Harold Davis a while back – its an awesome [...]

  4. » Bristlecone Pine and Blue Skies Photoblog – Suprada Urval says:

    January 31st, 2012at 4:47 pm(#)

    [...] were the really good Harold Davis, Steven Christenson and Eric Harness. (Side Note: Check this interview I did with Harold Davis a while back – its an awesome [...]

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