Tim Davis’s photos are so fun to look at because you can sense how much fun he has making them. A masterful photographer with a mischievous sense of humor, you can sometimes almost picture him giggling behind the lens. The joy is particularly palpable in his ongoing series #Imlookingthroughyou, because this is Davis at his most free. Last year, on sabbatical in a new city, Los Angeles, Davis temporarily traded in his analogue camera for a digital one and his carefully considered photo series for a boundless instagram hashtag. To great effect: #Imlookingthroughyou (and his parallel series #upstateeventhorizon) is easily one of the best things on instagram. These photos show a pedestrian’s Los Angeles in all its alarming variety, capturing what Martin Amis once called “the freakish poetry of life.” Below, Tim Davis (@ohthattimdavis) shares the uncropped versions of some of these beautiful photos for the first time, and narrates the creative explosion that produced them.
I drove across the country for weeks shooting a series called Sunset Strips—photos of strip malls made at sunset from an elevated perspective. This required all kinds of scouting, and most of the time the photos didn’t work out the way I wanted because the sunset doesn’t always happen. When I got to L.A., my wife said, “you have to do something that’s going to make you happy.” Work was making me very unhappy. I started to think about photography like a married couple that decides they’re either going to get a divorce or they’re going have to have a wild fling with each other and go on a vacation. I chose the wild fling. I would try to explore everything that I was capable of as a 47-year-old for photographer with a lifetime of practicing — a project that was as broad as possible, a reach into my quiver — everything I think the camera can do.
If I was going to have this wild fling with photography, I thought a digital camera was the right tool. I had never really used one in a serious way, in a successful way, but felt that the digital medium lends itself to profligacy. I also decided from the beginning that all these pictures were going to be vertical, which I hadn’t done before either. It was a bit like wondering whether I could pull off wearing a seersucker suit or a Fez. It was a challenge. But I began to really enjoy it and it was such an interesting relief to have that part of the equation off the table. I started to see the world in nice little vertical palettes.
The phrase “I’m looking through you” started as a way of relating to the city of Los Angeles. People from the East Coast are always talking about LA as a shallow place that’s all surface. As a photographer, I have realized that cameras only see the surface. The entire history of photography is essentially a history of surfaces. I happen to doubt that there is anything else in the world that really matters. I’m not at all convinced that there’s much inside of us, but I believe in passionately in the surface of things. I think that it matters a lot. It has a lot to offer. #I’mlookingthroughyou is almost like metaphorical pun on the inability to look through anything, except for the camera.
The city of Los Angeles is the best walking city I’ve ever been in. And hardly anyone is walking. This is perfect for a photographer like me who is dedicated to finding things that other people aren’t seeing. Every little house is its own ecosystem, and the people that are out there are just not expecting human interaction in the same way that New Yorkers are. The history of street photography is focused on places like New York and Paris, where the streets are almost kind of neutral, and it’s all about the passing of these beautiful people. L.A. is really different than that. The whole place is kind of underseen. No one’s paying much attention to it. Everyone is zooming by on their way to the parking lot of some place.
Usually, anywhere else in the world, when I ask someone to take their picture, I would say the positive response rate is something like 35 to 40 percent. In California especially, southern California, it’s about 85 to 90 percent. It’s really just you and the person pointing the camera at you. I love it.