Robert Frost, the great Pulitzer Prize winning American poet, once wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”.
This poem reminds me of my friend and National Geographic Creative Photographer Greg Davis, from Livingston, Texas, who is returning to The Woodlands Waterway Art Festival and featured in the interview below. Last year was Greg’s first year at the festival where he won Best of Show / Photography; when you view his photographs and experience the emotion they invoke it is easy to see why.
The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival returns from April 7th – 9th. It is unique in that it limits its artists to 225 and they represent an expansive range of art styles as well as is ranked one of the top fine arts festivals in the Nation, with an attendance of 19,000 in 2016.
The festival is limited to 225 extraordinary artists representing a diverse range of styles and art forms to include: photography, digital, painting, sculpture jewelry, drawing and much more. In addition, the festival has many workshops for kids and adults, live music, culinary exhibits. All proceeds of The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival benefit education and outreach programs which includes providing Student Art Scholarships to be presented at the festival.
As mentioned above, Greg Davis is returning for his second year at The Woodlands Waterway Art Festival. Greg has a studio, Gusto Studios, in Austin, Texas located at 2309 Thornton Road #M, Austin, TX 78704. His website, where you can read more about his story, view his photo gallery, and buy all types of prints, is GregDavisPhotography.com. Greg is also involved in an Austin, Texas charity called Well Aware. Well Aware is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides innovative and sustainable solutions to water scarcity and contamination in Africa. Well Aware funds and implements life-saving water systems to drive economic development and build self-sufficient communities. For more information on Well Aware including phone, address, and how to get involved visit WellAware.org.
WJ: How did you get started in photography?
Greg Davis: “My dad had a Canon AE1 camera he purchased in the mid-80’s…I did not have camera toting parents taking pictures of vacations. When my dad bought that camera, I became more interested. My senior year in high school, the journalism department had an opportunity to be their photographer for the yearbook and newspaper. It was a really cool time to be in the dark room, learn about the chemical process…I didn’t really have a mentor teaching me to take photographs…it was a journalism class and photography was secondary. My early work didn’t give me any indication I would be where I am at today. My dad, in my senior year, asked me what my next step was going to be. I looked at him and said, “uhh Art School”. He said “no no no what do you want to do” “I don’t know what you want me to do?” “I want you to go to Baylor, I went to Baylor, your granddad went to Baylor, your great grandmother went to Baylor, you can get your business degree and we’ll pay for it. I am not paying for Art School. Graduate from business school and you can do whatever you want.”
WJ: When you told him you wanted to go to art school did you have photography in mind?
Greg Davis: “I didn’t have photography in mind. I knew I was creative. Our high school art teacher, Ms. Staples, was very complimentary and said that I had some talent to develop, something I should look into going further into. She saw something in there.”
WJ: When was it you thought I could make a living at photography?
Greg Davis: “Even when I took off to travel around the world in 2004, after the series of personal events, I didn’t know. I am self-taught, most of the things you see here are high school art…perspective, complimentary colors, rule of thirds, these are all basic Art 101 things I learned from Mrs. Staples.
WJ: At any point when you went to Baylor, did you dabble in photography?
Greg Davis: “No. I put the camera down. I wasn’t going to art school so I didn’t need a camera. Photography didn’t carry on into Baylor. I didn’t know how to translate that into making a living. Back then you had to tote a camera around, they weren’t on phones; it seemed awkward to be carrying a camera around to college parties. I put it down for about 18 years. Didn’t really pick it back up until some oversees vacations. I got some nice pictures, but didn’t think anything of it.”
WJ: What was the year and catalyst got you back into photography?
Greg Davis: “In the year 2000, I started losing family members. Three significant family members. Then 9/11 hit. Then two more family members. I think it was 2000 – 2004, I lost five close family members; my aunt, uncle, cousin, grandmother, and my dad. I also had a series of personal events that caused me to take off. After these events, I took off in 2004, sold everything. After a series of God winks, I call them, a series of coincidences happened in my life. When the God winks started adding up I took off. I went around the world for one year. I didn’t really set out thinking I am going to change my life and be a photographer. There was a little bit of that in there. I set up a website where you could buy my work. I think I sold $300.00 worth in the whole year. I can’t survive on $300.00 a year. When I came back to the US, I was going to need a plan to work. When I got back someone convinced me to setup at the Art Market on 6th Street in Austin. Boom…I couldn’t believe the response, the engagement, the impact…they kept coming back and wanted to put my art on their wall.”
WJ: Tell me about the trip and how you discovered the woman with two different colored hands from blanket weaving? This seemed to be the photo that resonated back in the states.
Greg Davis: “9 months into this one year journey around the world, 9 months is the cycle of birth, 9 months my life was reborn on that trail in Vietnam when I came across a Black H’mung villager with a blue and a green hand, full traditional dress, broidered metal earrings…and she had a bright blue colored hand and a bright green colored hand. Our trails kind of merged. I hustled up behind her and tapped her on the shouldered. She was startled. I had a questioning look on my face and pointed to her hands, pointed to my hands. She looked at her own hands and had puzzled look on her face like “how do I explain this to…” She signed and made I – pointing to herself, made a weaving motion and dunked her hands, one hand in one side, the other hand in another side… I asked if she would hold them out together so I could take a picture. After the picture, she looked at me like I was crazy and walked off. I didn’t think anything about it. I just thought it was a cool picture. I didn’t realize the impact of that image when I returned. I had met someone and they came by the Art Market. She asked if I had anymore pictures and I pointed her to my website. She came back the next week and told me “oh my god I found the one I like”. I said what’s that. She said the blue and green hand. I didn’t know what she was talking about and how to go to my own website to find the piece that changed my life. Because of her emotion I went and printed a few more…boom boom those sold super quickly. Next thing you know it is the piece I’m known for, it’s the signature piece. The name of the piece is the Blanket Weaver.”
WJ: Now the Blanket Weaver is the photo that launched your career, how about a photo that you maybe thought was the next Blanket Weaver, but for whatever reason – maybe lighting, etc. didn’t make it after processing or hasn’t done as well?
Greg Davis: “One of my favorite images is just not attractive to the majority of the people. The one piece I did large, assigned a limited addition, invested in museum glass, did it large, I still have it. I’ve shown it to thousands of thousands of people that have laid eyes on it. It’s never sold in over 4 years almost 5 years now, but it doesn’t speak. There has to be a narrative to photograph, it can’t just be a pretty picture that hangs over the couch; that’s not what I am going for, there has to be a narrative. There’s also a brand new piece with a man crossing the Qeswachaka Bridge; you’re only the 2nd person to buy it. There’s a collective culture or thing that the masses will ask. Most people look at that piece and think fear, fear of heights and they don’t necessarily want it in their house.”
WJ: What do you hope people get out of your photographs? Is it emotion, a feeling, etc.?
Greg Davis: “Yes, what I hope to invoke is something, anything; I don’t care what it is. It’s like a musician writing a song; there you hoping you are moved by it whether you want to dance, whether you want to cry, think about lost love, or feel more connected. Our job as artist is to invoke emotion and engagement with the piece whether it is musical, a painting, or still image. I just left the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL and wow, some of those pieces you could feel them; they invoked emotion. My intent is for me to move you in some way and that is not for me to say how that is, just some way. I can only be responsible for my emotion and narrative I am trying to say; I can’t push that on someone.”
WJ: How did you get the opportunity to go on the journey to Kumbh Mela where some of your photos have been taken?
Greg Davis: “The Museum of the Southwest in Midland, TX invited me to show at their museum. They have an outdoor festival and they invited me to show inside. The theme for the year is myth and legend. The whole year they had 6 artists showing. The very first thing I thought of was Kumbh Mela; it’s mythical and legendary. And my line of work which is human condition and cultural, Kumbh Mela fits both of those bills, but happens every 12 years. I didn’t know it was going on or when it would cause I didn’t follow it that closely. Low and behold it was happening in like 8 months from when I was asked, I’m in. I started making plans and instead of just taking photos, I decided to make a short film that would give it a little more context and more of a narrative. In 2013, I attended the world’s largest spiritual pilgrimage at the confluence of three of the holiest rivers in India called Kumbh Mela and out of that came a 24 piece exhibit and a 11 minute short film. Over the past three years, the film has been in 15 film festivals and won 4 awards and the photography has now been in 7 museums in Texas and complimented by the film with two more locations lined up for this year.”
WJ: What inspiration did you get out of making that journey to Kumbh Mela? Was there something you got that was unexpected, something you weren’t looking to get?
Greg Davis: “Yeah being surrounded by that intent. 100 million people attended the 55-day festival, to be around that intent of people going. The reason they go is Hindu’s believe they are going to be reincarnated into their next life by the way they live today. If you make the journey and bathe in the confluence of the three holiest rivers during this time, it will break the cycle and you will go to heaven. They come to save their souls. Each person makes that journey to connect to something else. Whether faith, purpose – which my purpose it to be a reminder that we are part of something greater than ourselves and I think that happened with the creation of those 24 pieces and that short film. Or whether its devotion. We met a man who has been carrying his father’s ashes for six years and came to place the last of the ashes at Kumbh Mela; he wasn’t a Hindu, but it was an act of devotion, he was devoted to his father and is part of the film. Through faith, devotion and the purpose of my project, I was able to create this really engaging film and exhibition for the people of Texas to engage with.”
WJ: How has your non-photography career helped your photography career?
Greg Davis: “Working a decade of corporate America plus the business degree, the organization behind that, the contact management as I was in sales, I can tell you who my collectors are, what they bought, where I met them, if we had a significant conversation I can tell you about that. I take notes and that goes into my contact database. I’ve got 7000 people that I can tell you a little bit about. Being in corporate America taught me about the importance of relationships. And having the marketing degree has helped me and as well as working in a retail environment. I grew up in a retail environment and its very much the same; I am showing my work to collectors, being engaged, being present…”
WJ: One piece of advice to a young photographer, artist, or anyone pursuing their passion regardless of age what would you tell them?
Greg Davis: “There’s a lot of things on ways to advise. I’ll use an example that happened to me. The Main Street Arts Festival in Fort Worth, TX. I applied to the show, it’s a high-end arts festival, and I applied to the show for 10 years straight and got rejected. And this is after the accolades, the awards…I am still applying and getting rejected. I finally get in after 10 years of rejection letters. The first year they gave a people’s choice award of over 200 artists and I win the people’s choice award; it was the first year they had given it away. So the lesson is just focus on…you’re going to get a lot of no’s, a lot of rejections, a lot of setbacks, but just focus on the end result. Are you able to do what you do with passion and enjoy that process; take money out of the equation, just do it cause you love to do it. Every successful person out there has had to jump, at some point you are going to have to jump. When you jump you’re not immediately going to start flying, but as some point you will start flying.”