Whitehot Magazine

NYC Photographer Sally Davies Likes Diane Arbus, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell

Sally Davies, Woman at Door. E 3rd Street 2018, color photograph

By NOAH BECKER, December, 2018

I had a chance to speak with NYC based photographer Sally Davies about her work...

Noah Becker: You are from what city?

Sally Davies: Rural Manitoba. Outside of Winnipeg, Canada.

Becker: You mentioned that you were a painter, when did painting end for you and photography begin?

Davies: I was a painting major with a photo minor at college. I think my father gave me my first camera when I was about 15. I’ve been photographing ever since. I exhibited at OK Harris and Gracie Mansion Gallery as a painter in the 90s. As that decade came to a close I was looking for some fun, some relief from painting, and started building minature dioramas. They ended up as large scale photographs with Alien figurines in Barbie clothes. I had my first solo show of those photographs in 2000 at Gracie Mansion and it sold out. That told me it was OK to continue photographing. I painted for a few more years after that, then around 2006, took a total break from painting and started photographing every day on purpose. I’m still on the break from painting.

Sally Davies, Blue Haired Woman Avenue B. 2017, color photograph 

Becker: You take a lot of iconic photos of New York. What's your history in New York and what do you like about making images of the city?

Davies: I moved to NYC’s East Village in 1983 to finish college, and I still live here. It was a different place back then but I managed to photograph my way through the insanity. Then I had a fire in my loft on Ave A in the 90s and lost all my negatives except a very few. A lot of downtown visual history went up in flames that day. Unfortunate stuff happens to all of us in life. We can throw in the towel or we suck it up and keep going. I kept going. I photograph New York City because I live here, but I also photograph everywhere I go. I have been spending a lot of time in LA this past couple of years, and I love to shoot there also. I guess I am telling my story, wherever I am. I think thats what all artists are doing in their own way.

Rear View Window LES NYC 2016, color photograph

Becker: I've seen your celebrity portraits of people like the musician Sting. Were you making these for magazines or are they kind of both commercial and personal?

Davies: I shot Smokey Robinson, Elvis Costello, and Sting for the Elvis Costello TV Show “Spectacle”. So that was a commercial shoot for hire gig. I love to shoot portraits; famous, not famous, even dogs. Viewers love portraits. A good portrait is telling two stories at the same time; mine and the subjects.

Sally Davies, Avenue B Skateboarder. 2018, color photograph

Becker: You still live in New York, is it being gentrified to the point of being over?

Davies: If you want things to be like they were before, then yes, it’s over. But if you understand that it was changing- even when you didn’t know it was, then no, it will never be over. It will just be different. My parents talked about the “the old days” when I was a kid. I couldn’t imagine the world as they remembered it. I find myself doing the same thing now. A 25 year old cannot imagine the east village as it was in 1983 but they will have their own experience. They are going to lose the life they have now, they just don’t know it yet. And the beat goes on. 

Becker: Inspirations? Are you inspired by photographers or something else?

Davies: The old photo guard continues to remind me whats good: Diane Arbus, Saul Leiter, Helen Levitt, William Eggleston, Fred Herzog. All artists inspire me: musicians -Tom Waits, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Painters: Sylvia Maier, Mike Howard, Agnes Martin, and so many more. In the end, If you live with gratitude, you will find Inspiration everywhere. The universe is like that.

Becker: What's next for you?

Davies: Hitting the road again soon, heading west. Going to spend some time in the desert, and see what happens there. Maybe get some peyote and do some time traveling. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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Email: noah@whitehotmagazine.com

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