Seeing the Essence: Photographs by William E. Davis

Exhibition Website

Jan 24 2017 - Apr 16 2017

Arkansas Arts Center

Little Rock, AR

The exhibition Seeing the Essence: Photographs by William E. Davis celebrates this great Arkansas photographer’s generous bequest of more than 700 of his original photographic prints to the Arkansas Arts Center. The exhibition features twenty-five large black and white photographic prints made by Davis, revealing his special gifts for choosing distinctive subjects and looking at them as no one else would. This acquisition is a major addition to the Arts Center’s already strong collection of work by Arkansas photographers.

William E. Davis (1918 – 2016) passed away in Little Rock on February 13, 2016, after a distinguished and varied career in photography. He and his late wife, Jodi Simon Davis, lived in a colorful Victorian house not far from the Arkansas Arts Center. The house is now being restored to its former glory.

After his distinguished service as a fighter pilot in World War II, Davis apprenticed with Little Rock photographer Leonard Photographic Service and attended the Southwest Photo-Arts Institute in Dallas. Beginning in 1950, Davis was a commercial photographer based in Little Rock. He was personal photographer to Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller for many years. Later in his career, he taught photography at the Arkansas Arts Center and the University of Arkansas Graduate Center.

Beginning in 1983, Davis worked with the portrait photographer Greer Lyle to arrange photography workshops in Arkansas. This led Davis to start doing fine art photography to reflect his own unique vision. Davis was inspired by the clean, precise aesthetic of such West Coast photographers as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Brett Weston.

His home state figures importantly in Davis’s fine art photographs. He captured landscapes, barns, houses, cotton gins, and farm machinery from a unique perspective. He would often come very close to his subjects, picking out details that were strikingly abstract. In fact, some of his images of trains, tractors, or barn doors are such tightly cropped and strongly magnified views of such tiny and apparently insignificant details that the viewer is hard pressed to figure out what the photographer was actually looking at. An unsuspected world of beauty may lurk in a few inches of peeling enamel, a broken window, or a battered section of corrugated metal.

Davis photographed in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Montana, and other states. He found the essence of striking landscapes, structures, and technology from churches and home to airplanes and farm machinery. No matter the subject, Davis’s distinctive, often humorous, point of view shines through.

This exhibition will feature such outstanding images as: Century Plant, Two Nail Heads, and Cross at Las Trampas. The Arkansas photographer’s titles are often nearly as captivating as his visual imagery. He tended to see inanimate objects as people, as in: Mr. Hasp, and Gang of Four. The latter simply shows four drips of white paint running down some unnamed piece of machinery. He titled his view of a pair of knotted ropes Marriage Vows

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Photography
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • William E. Davis

Exhibition Venues & Dates