“A curiosity about stories, both real and fictional, is what runs through my work.”
Lottie Davies. Born in 1971, Lottie Davies is a London based contemporary photographer. She studied philosophy, and learnt her photography through assisting established photographers in London after she’d graduated. Lottie Davies has won recognition in numerous awards, including the Association of Photographers’ Awards, the International Color Awards, and the Schweppes Photographic Portrait Awards.
“My work is concerned with stories, personal histories and identity. Since the dawn of language and conceptual thinking, we have constructed our sense of ‘self’ from memories, beliefs and ‘life-stories’. The tales and myths we tell ourselves and others about ourselves may be redemptive or they may be painful and despairing, but either way, they have intense personal meaning. Although each person’s story is inevitably coloured by the accidents and idiosyncrasies of a unique life and sensibility, they are told in conceptual languages of image and narrative which to some extent we all share.”
Lottie Davies talking about her work during the exhibition of “Memories and Nightmares” in Madrid, 2012
Interview with Lottie Davies
Lottie, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
I had a cardboard and plastic camera when I was a child, which took little teeny-tiny negatives, one roll of film would last a year! I think the first time I loved taking pictures was when my dad let my brother and I take one frame each on his Leica when I was about 12. The world looks AMAZING through a Leica!
Why did you become a photographer?
Honestly, I think I became a photographer because I can’t paint. If I could paint I would make pictures with fabulous glossy oils and have a bohemian studio somewhere in the East End. But, since I can’t, photography gives me a way to make art and that is what I love to do.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography is magical – even now with the advent of digital technology, nothing beats an image ‘coming up’ in a dish of developer. But, whichever technology you use, it is a remarkable thing, that we can catch people, places, happenings, all in the blink of an eye. It’s just magical.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
Loads of them, and many of those from the US. Sally Mann, her book “Immediate Family” is still one of my favourite works. Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Ragnar Axelsson, Nick Knight (especially his ‘Flora’ series), I love John Londei’s book “Shutting Up Shop” which I think is brilliant on many levels.
“One of the things my career as an artist might say to young artists is: The things that are close to you are the things you can photograph the best. And unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.”
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“A photograph has edges, the world does not.”
I may have that quote a little wrong, but that’s the spirit of it.
How would you describe your photographic style and creative process?
I’m not sure how I could describe my photographic style, I’d rather someone else made that call! In terms of my approach, it all depends on what kind of work I’m doing. If it’s my personal staged work, I’m a control freak and a perfectionist and tend to exhaust myself and the entire crew with fussing over every little detail. I do all the production myself, from research and location finding through to costume and post-production, so a great deal of the elements are thought through and decided in advance. If it’s travel work, I work on my own, usually from the back of a car, eating ‘Tracker’ bars and not drinking enough water, and the process is looking for pictures rather than creating them. I find both processes exciting, nerve-racking and equally satisfying but they are very different.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic style and how did you achieve it?
I think it is important to keep experimenting and to never be entirely satisfied with the work you’ve made, and at the same time, keep faith with your work, to believe in it and to stand next to it with confidence. A tricky balance. I’m not sure if I have a strong style as yet, but I certainly think my work has changed hugely over the years. It’s an ongoing project.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work?
Technical things, although interesting to me as part of the process, are not central to my work although I do enjoy working with film still. It’s a tricky question, but I suspect that a curiosity about stories, both real and fictional, is what runs through my work.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
Remembering that “a good photographer” is not necessarily the same thing as “a successful photographer”, I would suggest the following:
Communication skills, a genuine interest in others and the world, patience, a willingness to work stupidly hard on something and then reject it if it’s not good enough, sufficient practical and personal resources to keep going when it seems impossible.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
It has to say something interesting or illuminating.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
All over: cinema, books, paintings, photography. Mostly from stories I hear or collect.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I shoot my personal art work almost exclusively on large format film, using a Horseman or Wista 5×4. ‘Lilith’ was shot on a beautiful 10×8 camera which I borrowed from a friend. Travel and editorial work is shot on a combination of Mamiya 67 rangefinders, Mamiya RZ67 and Canon 5D digital, commercial work is shot using medium format digital systems.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
I don’t have one, I skip about. Wayne Ford’s blog “Posterous” is good, as is Duckrabbit, I like Time and NY Times online photo exhibitions and I find Twitter is actually the best place to discover new work and things which will interest me – peer recommendation is generally a good resource.
What photography book would you recommend?
Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family”. It’s not a book ‘on photography’, I don’t find overview books that interesting, I prefer to see a body of work presented by the photographer. Also “On This Site” by Joel Sternfeld and “Uncommon Places” by Stephen Shore.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
Be prepared to work very hard and be disappointed, but the longer you stick at it the more likely you are to succeed. Like your work; if you don’t, no-one else will.