Rule Breakers: Sally Davies

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule."

Austin Bar

Rule Setter: David Carol, photographer and co-founder of Peanut Press
Rule Breaker: Sally Davies

I never want to see another overly saturated, ultra contrast-y color picture of real life. And I want the photographers that make those photographs to look at all the losing color images from a 1970s Popular Photography Magazine Photo Annual in perpetuity! Okay, that might be too cruel, but at least confiscate their batteries and power cords for a few weeks.

That being said, STOP with the over adjusting of your AWFUL color photos because you think if they are richer and contrastier and redder and bluer and greener then they will suddenly be more interesting. They will not be. The viewer shouldn’t be thinking about the technique before they even get a chance to look at the photo.

To me, the essence of an interesting and compelling “documentary” photograph is first and foremost the authentic and realistic presentation of the subject. If you think heavily saturated colors will make the photo interesting then you have most likely failed at making an interesting picture and more color won’t save it. Keep it simple and honest. The photo needs to rely on your visual opinion, composition and subject matter—not some cheesy gimmicks. If the photo is well composed, has compelling content and successfully expresses your opinion of the subject, then you don’t need to exaggerate reality with your computer.

Now here’s the problem with everything I just said: Sally Davies. She has figured out where to draw the line between “Dogs Playing Poker” and the purity of a Walker Evans-esque image with her documentary-styled photographs. Davies may play with color and contrast, but she does it with skill and the deft touch of a painter (which she is) and the knowledge of a color theorists (she studied color theory in college). There is an enhancement to her images that rarely intrudes in her bold, graphic, and beautiful work. I often use Sally Davies as an example of using a virtual darkroom to enhance an image but still not get in the way of an otherwise unmanipulated scene. She is one of the best I know at combining “art” and straightforward documentary work to produce a lyrical and factual image. Turning up the saturation and contrast can at best make a seven-dollar steak edible, but it won’t turn that burnt grizzly beef into a Peter Lugers steak. Davies starts with a superior product—her photographs—and subtly and thoughtfully seasons to taste.

—David Carol

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