Review - scott b. davis | sonora

Emily Capone, Musée Magazine, January 5, 2022

Anyone who views the work of scott b. davis can sense that there is a certain element of magic in his photographs, although davis might disagree. “I’m not a magician,” davis says in a 2016 Creative Mornings talk. “[…] I kind of revised my own definition of ‘magic’ as making something visible that was previously invisible.” This “invisible” which davis speaks of is shot through the patient lens of a camera that very few photographers use today. 


If you are like me, then you can probably recall a time in high school when your art class created a homemade “pinhole” camera to capture an original image with. The process is always exciting, and the wait electrified by curiosity as each black-and-white image magically appears on the film. It is with this mixture of anticipation and curiosity that davis creates his own kind of magic, capturing images that are invisible to the naked eye through palladium/platinum prints and his unique, homemade 16 x 20 camera.


Light and the lack of light are major components for davis, who focuses primarily on the transformation from invisible to visible, as shown in the negative ocotillo, ocotillo (no.45). The human eye strains at first to comprehend the negative image of the plant, which is ironic, as it is easily identifiable to the naked eye in the desert light. The magic happens when the viewer finally sees what has been produced by UV light, time, and sodium platinum. This bending of time and light are part of the fun for davis. 


In the spaces where most photographers refuse to stay, davis waits, so that he might explore the full capacity of these arid landscapes and how they can be manipulated. This is almost a dichotomy in photography. Continuing to draw on this experimentation, davis uses backdrops that are remote and empty, as in phases of the sun and moon, where the background is void even of the stars. 


The storyline is then played out in order of appearance on each exhibition wall, framed in tandem with the original size and likeness of the camera frame. Each installment follows a pattern from dark to light, as in copper mountains, in which four consecutive images of a cragged ridgeline are backlit by an eerie halo of light. These dark images remain in stark contrast to the fourth image of a white-washed ridgeline negative.


Both minimalist and abstract in nature, each photograph is a mirror image of the subject being captured through the lens of a camera that remains propped atop three legs. Silhouettes of craggy rock faces and obscure plants are captured in the pitch-black of night or during the bright and barren daylight, with the sole purpose of revealing the unseen. 


In his highly anticipated solo exhibition, sonora, scott b. davis’ most recent palladium/platinum prints are on display in the new Marshall Gallery exhibition space in Santa Monica’s historic Bergamot Station. This exhibition features original prints of landscapes in the Sonoran Desert, the US/Mexico border and western Arizona as seen in the scott b. davis monograph, sonora, published by Radius Books. Founder of Medium Photo, in San Diego, CA, landscape photographer scott b. davis has featured his work in galleries such as EUQINOM Gallery, Edelman Gallery, San Diego Museum of Art, and more.


Public viewings of sonora are available from December 4, 2021 – January 22, 2022.