Women’s Photography Collective – A Walk through Karen Davis’ Journey into Photography

Davis delves into her past, which played a role in making her the photographer she is today.

Davis made the move from Cambridge Mass to Hudson NY 14 years ago. Photo courtesy Georgia Landman.

How did you first come into the arts?

I suppose you could say I was a very late bloomer. It was not something I anticipated. I worked in high tech related to the graphic arts industry. It was sort of in my 50s that I started exploring what else might be out there just out of interest. I started taking photography classes that were offered at Massachusetts College of Art. The more I got into it, the more passion I developed. My husband and I came up with this proposal that I take a year “sabbatical” from my day jobs and just dive into this new world. I’m still on that sabbatical.

My husband built a dark room in our house and I, you know, just really went at it.

Karen Davis’ art aims to emphasize themes of family and childhood. Photo courtesy Georgia Landman.

One of the classes I took at Radcliffe, which is part of Harvard, used to have programs that graduate students and adult learners could take. The teacher, Holly Smith Pedlosky, was terrific.. She invited me to assist her and then later to co-teach. I got into teaching, portfolio development and photo related courses without a master’s degree because Radcliffe accepted my proposal to work with Holly. I slid in through a side door. 14 years ago, we sold our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts and bought a house in Hudson. We decided to open a gallery. We joke about living over the store but, essentially, it’s in our house.

Can you tell me more about the Davis Orton Gallery?

Having your own gallery, you can make your own rules. Our tagline is photography, mixed media and photo books. Mixed media gives us the wiggle room we wanted to show works on paper and interesting other kinds of work. We started an annual show, which is a competition for self-published photo books. Whether you have a publisher or you’re doing it to complete your own body of work, photo books are an art form in itself.

Do you feature mostly local artists In Your Gallery?

I would say regionally we show Hudson Valley artists and because of my roots, I’d say the Boston area. We’ve shown some well-known, very established artists, but also emerging artists. We have two solo shows, one in each gallery space.

You inherited the McCain family, the doll photographs that are featured in the Wired Gallery, from your late sister. This may be a sensitive question, but did making this series help you cope with grief in any way?

No, it helped me tie some sort of bow around our childhood and our family. The dolls represent my family and my sister who was disabled. She was the boy doll, Tom McCain. I find it personally interesting that the McCain family photo book has very few words. There’s captions that go along with the book’s progress, but the captions sort of tell as much as the story that I wanted to. I think I got to tell my story in a way that’s not heavy text or drawing things out.

When she was still alive we talked about the dolls. She brought them. She lived in Palo Alto and I’d go out a couple times a year. I photographed them with her just holding them and so forth. I felt I had total permission to use the dolls. To me, they’re an heirloom so they go on to the next generation somewhere.

Davis has worked with both a film and digital camera. Photo courtesy Georgia Landman.

I read about Central Square as well, your series of photos from your move to Cambridge, Massachusetts. You mentioned you were a single mother and how the series represented your independence. I’m wondering what your inspiration was for these photos.

People, like me, who are going through transitions in life wind up there. When I started with photography, it seemed natural to me. I wasn’t photographing my immediate life, but photographing something that represented this place where people came. They might not know what they’re doing next, but they came together there.

Remy Commisso

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