Interview-Photographer Paul Davis
Do you agree that you are challenged everyday to create something that has never been created before?
I would rephrase that and say that I feel like I am challenged to create something that is totally different from what I’ve done before. I constantly challenge myself to try new things and push myself in different directions. I think most new artwork is influenced and inspired by the work of those who came before and I’d never presume to say that my work has never been done or tried before.
I try to read and keep myself open to new influences and ideas. I will usually see, hear or read something that sparks an idea. I’ll find myself returning to that idea and at that point I’ll sketch it or write it down in a notebook that I carry that I call my “idea orphanage”. I’ll save these ideas until the time is right to adopt it. Adoption in this case means that I’ve found a way to push the project forward - which could mean finding the right model, getting access to a location or discovering the right wardrobe - and make it a reality.
At that point I start building out a team and I create detailed planning documents to help make sure that the wardrobe stylist and MUAH team members are all pulling in the same direction. I’ll often ask for their input and their suggestions during this phase because often they have ideas that improve on my original thinking.
When we get to the day of the shoot I’ve tried hard to take care of all of the details so we can just focus on shooting and having fun and creating something special.
The one constant in my creative process is that I’m plagued with the feeling that everything is falling apart. Over time I’ve found if I just keep pushing forward that at some point things start to fall together. I live for that moment. I get excited when I feel the project turn that corner and I start to see how it’s going to work out.
What do you look for when creating a shoot and does your shoot lineup with what you expected?
I don’t have a formula that I follow but I do ask myself one question for every creative project and that is this: “What is one thing I could do that would give this project a twist or that would make the viewer look again.” It could be an unexpected object, an unusual color or texture or a sense of movement - anything that just might reset the viewer and make them take a moment to look a little longer.
My shoots never line up with the vision I originally had in my head. That used to bother me a lot. I compensated by trying to be a meticulous planner but I learned somewhere along the way that that is often where the fun and creativity happens. As the team works together every project takes it’s on a life of it’s own. You have a vision for the photo but then maybe the model does something different than what you were asking for you and you realize she’s interpreting your direction in her own style and that leads to a possibility you didn’t anticipate or imagine.
Sometimes things don’t work like you hoped but many times they turn out far better than you had expected. For me that journey to find those possibilities along the way is what adds the fun and creativity of a shoot.
I try and plan very carefully because I always want to make the most of the time we have with the team but I try not to be tied down to the plans so that if the shoot takes a different, better direction then I’m open to embracing and capturing that.
Do you have a favorite artist in mind that drives your creativity or inspires you, who is it?
Well for me I would say that Erik Almas is a photographer who always inspires me. I love his work and how he merges flawless execution with a big vision to create these amazing images. He’s really known for shooting flowing fabrics and things in a beautiful way and I’m always inspired by his work.
Jason Bell blows me away with his portrait work - I really love a lot of what he does. I love his touch and his sense of subtlety with his lighting. Annie Leibovitz’s group portraits always leave me sad because I know I’ll never attain that level. Benjamin Von Wong inspires me with a lot of his creative concepts.
How would you describe yourself as a person & artist?
Well I enjoy laughing and I like to have a good time on set. I don’t take myself too seriously because I want people to enjoy the process of working together and I want everyone to be proud of what we do. That said when it’s time to get down to business I want to make the most of the time we have for every shoot so I’m organized and I try hard to plan carefully. As an artist I lean toward dramatic themes and clothing. Rich, ornate, dark, gothic clothing and makeup are always exciting to me. I hate to admit it but I like spectacle and making a scene bigger than life.
How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
Well looking back it’s easier to see now than it was at the time. In high school and college I kept manilla folders of photos that I had torn out of fashion and advertising magazines. I don’t know why I did that but I would save them and try and draw them or I would just go through and look at them occasionally.
Later after I had picked up a camera and started trying to learn how to use it, I got to go and help out on a couple of photo shoots and I fell in love with the whole process of creating interesting photos and working with other people to do it. The more I saw of it all the more I wanted to be part of it.
Do you have a favorite designers who inspire you? Alexander McQueen is the guy that comes to mind first.
Why is that? Everything is over top and creates a spectacle. There is a lot of detail and lot to see in his work. I love a lot of what he’s done and I always find myself drawn to his style.
What was the main reason that you decided to become a photographer?
I wanted to spend more time with my father. My father is a photographer and he had bought a Nikon D200 digital DSLR and he liked to drive southern Arizona taking pictures. We would drive around exploring ghost towns and graveyards together and there was something about the photography that resonated deep, down inside.
Later, as I started photographing people, I found that really enjoyed meeting and working with people and teams. I just felt like it fit me because I’ve always been more comfortable organizing and observing from the fringes rather than trying to stand in the spotlight. The more I did it the more I enjoyed it and I get a lot of personal satisfaction knowing guiding a project to completion.
Tell me about your latest shoot. What was your vision when you created it?
I had seen photos of this playa in Wilcox, Arizona a while back. It’s so expansive, flat and dramatic that I had thought for a long time that it would be a great location for a photo shoot. I wanted to shoot outdoors with some beautiful dresses that would be enhanced by contrasting with this beautiful, stark place.
I contacted Esteban and his fall line of clothing seemed like a perfect fit. His latest collection has not only some of the longer, flowing dresses but the textures and colors seem to lend themselves very well to that landscape.
To be a photographer, you had to undergo a lot of struggles. What was the most difficult obstacle for you when putting together a shoot?
For me, being based out of Tucson, Arizona, it’s generally finding clothing and a good wardrobe stylist. I don’t have access to the resources I would if I were in LA or NY. If I can get the clothing worked out then almost everything else just comes together.
Does your personal life ever affect how you compose your shoots or do you have a set schedule/ formula that you follow? What is it exactly?
My personal life absolutely impacts my photo shoots. I am a husband and a father so I end up planning shoots around those obligations first. I don’t have a set schedule per se but I do plan ahead to make it work with all of my other obligations.
How is your style of photography different from any other photographers?
I’ll be honest and say I don’t really know. I’m still working to create a style and find my own voice. I’ll leave it others to define my style and how I might be different.
What are your world-dominating goals?
I don’t have a world dominating goal in that sense of the question. First and foremost, I want to be a good husband and father. After that my goals are to work as hard as I can to become the best photographer I can be and to be known as both a professional and as an artist. Success to me is being able to shoot more of the subjects and themes that I enjoy with people that I respect and enjoy working with. I want to keep learning and pushing myself to never be satisfied or sticking with what is comfortable. I think if I do those things then the rest will take care of itself.