Tim Davis: My Life in Politics by 5B4 September 21, 2007
I just discovered something that I think is tantamount to a crime. I was reading over the Photo Eye bookstore newsletter and I see that within a few weeks they are going to be receiving a whole slew of Aperture titles that will be subjected to the Deep Discount bin. Now regularly I get excited as I think, whoopee I can get a couple books for cheap, but then I saw that Tim Davis’s book My Life In Politics is going to be a measly $12.98 a copy.
Has the world gone insane? Is this a Bush administration ploy? Where are all of the people writing their congressmen and women? This was the best book published in 2006 and it costs less than Mary Ellen Mark’s Twins book? (Mark Twain is somewhere nodding and laughing) That, ladies and gentlemen, is the crime at hand.
As we gear up for another round of political horse racing (like Christmas decorations, it shows up earlier and earlier) it would be helpful to take a look at Tim’s book. Davis dwells on the outskirts of obvious political imagery and finds meanings in many facets of the political landscape partially hidden from view. It is a contemporary view of how we, as a nation, have painted ourselves into a corner due to our politics being ruled by “urgent emotions” that forego discourse. Ours has become a process does not celebrate great communicators, just great image makers, posing as substance.
It is about appearances and surface and signage. It is about the importance governing has over our lives and yet how embarrassingly powerless we seem after being confounded by its wind and unrelenting distraction. As Jack Hitt writes in his essay “Our empty public square is a marble echo chamber, reverberating with the distant sound of the banishment of deliberation and meaning from our politics.”
Davis finds the appropriate situations in which to relay his message. A roadside political placard shows up staked on a grave in the middle of a cemetery. We then see through the names on both headstone and poster that the son is the politician and the father is, well, dead but championing his son’s cause from the grave and possibly casting a vote as well.
For each photograph, the caption which appears in the back of the book is a poem by Davis who has a couple books of poetry published as well.
For a close up on the crotch of a statue of George Washington, the corresponding poem reads:
Founding Father’s Crotches
How the Beaux Arts said to manufacture manhood. Unintimidatingly flaccid and unembarrassingly fulgent. The Great Compromise as opening theme and fertile crescendo. DNA standing for Do Nothing Attributable. Democracy, No one Argues, is as sexy as stenography. Hear ye, Hear ye, Being everything to everyone means getting no one’s knickers in a twist.
Two lobbyists, both on cell phones sitting in a room awash with empty chairs; one drinks a Diet Pepsi, the other a regular Coke.
Daves do what Daves will do. Pacing the cell placing the call. Targeting. Listing. Crossing off. Red in the elbows. Daves hold the hand of the handholder’s handler, praising emoried nails and dangling with taint prose. Is there a special circle in Dante for middlemen? I’d call it power.
Davis, as a photographer, is extremely sophisticated in how he creates his frames. Seemingly simple at first, they keep revealing and compounding meaning and interpretations yet they are never too clever for their own good. Davis is a refreshing voice for those of us who love complex photography that is well crafted yet not weighed down by its own devices. He is essentially a classic photographer in the vein of Walker Evans who has learned the lessons of those before him so well that they are new and refreshed under his application. These are photographs that can stand up to repeated visits. Even after owning this book for a year now, I still think it is a great book. Yes…I did say great.
Both essayists, Tim Davis and Jack Hitt are fantastic writers. Enlightening and poetic, their word play is limited to a 1500 word essay by Davis called “1500 Word Essay” and Hitt’s 3,000 word dissection of American political speech and image called “The Vacant Public Square.”
The book is playful with its design which was done by Andrew Sloat who also contributed drawings that reference the words in the photographs. The printing is well done
So…this book joins the ranks of other great books that, at the time of their release, were thrown to the remainder piles. I may piss off a few people but I do not feel at all odd adding Davis’s name to the same remainder pile list that has included books by Winogrand, Eggleston and Frank.
If at this bargain basement price of $12.98 you still do not find the incentive to own this book, then my friend I am sad to say that the terrorists have won. See for Jeff Ladd's List ...