By Appointment – A Book Review by Cary Wolinsky

 

A good friend of photoweenie.com (and a master photographer) Cary Wolinsky contributed a review of a new book of Gerald Davis’s wonderfully zany photographs.

Let’s start at the end: on the back cover of the Gerald Davis book called Strange Stories is a quote, “There’s a difference between making pictures and taking pictures, which most people don’t know. I make them.” There is also a small photo of Sophia Loren saying, “ew.”  I am guessing he told her to say that.

Gerry shot and edited for UPI, Manchette, Contact Press Images, and the National Enquirer, and he freelanced for just about every major US and European publication.

His images frame the Boomer Era. Densely packed into the Strange Stories layout is Martin Luther King Jr., Alfred Hitchcock, America’s largest cat, Betty Friedan, debutants, riots in Miami, Vincent Price, bodies in a morgue. Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, waterskiing-squirrels, Richard Nixon, a tightrope-walking hen, Cybill Shepard, Kurt Vonnegut, Graceland, Princess Diana, Liza Minnelli, smiling ice cream cones, a nudist camp, Carl Sagan, Joan Baez, peace marchers, Nancy Reagan, Mohammad Ali, the Home Shopping Network, a bloodstained car seat, and a piano playing cat.

There are two kinds of assignments. In one, the photographer moves invisibly through space, dogging a subject and framing moments in time. This approach takes loads of time, patience, a good eye, and cat-like reflexes. The process is unpredictable, difficult to budget, and unpopular with bean counters.

In the other, the photographer starts with an idea, a name, a place, a budget, a deadline, and makes an appointment to frame a moment in time.  To do this well, a photographer must make a complete stranger feel comfortable in front of a camera in a heartbeat.  It is hard work, popular with bean counters, and the way most photography gets done. Gerry was brilliant at it.

The by-appointment photographer is greeted by:
“How long will this take?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Are you done yet?”

But Gerry’s subjects are happy he’s there! His subjects want to tell their stories to the camera:  This is me! Here is my stuff! Come in and see my huge house, my trophies, my guinea pig, my jewels, my boobs, my gun, my golf club. Nothing is real, yet everything is very real indeed.

Gerry takes on the excess, the vanity, and the inanity with humor and compassion. Gerry’s Elizabeth Taylor is ultra-present, decked to the nines, and lost and alone. His killer eye is at work and at play. Waiters roll banquet tables in sync. Designer legs and bag emerge from a car. A fully dressed young boy walks down a sidewalk holding the hand of a fully naked woman.

These pictures feel raw, as if dumped from a private storage box. On display are the hits, the near hits, and the if-onlys.  Here is the challenge and brilliance of the by-appointment photographer. His subjects could not be more diverse, yet they are all savored when seen through Gerry’s eyes.

© Cary Wolinsky 2015

The facts:
Strange Stories, The Photography of Gerald Davis
by Todd Oldham.
Published by AMMO Books, LLC.