A discussion with the Louisville-born, California-based photographer
By Sarah Carter Levitch
Photos by Scott Davis
Though typically behind the camera, we had the privilege to shift angles and get to know photographer and wildlife researcher Scott Davis, originally from Louisville, Kentucky. His work has been featured in publications like National Geographic, The New York Times and Men’s Journal, to name a few. With the recent publication of his book The Science of Hope: Eye to Eye with our World’s Wildlife, co-authored by Wiebke Finkler, Davis’ passion for adventure has only grown stronger. In our conversation, we discovered where this passion originated and how it’s developed over his life.
How did you get into photography?
As a small boy, around the age of five or six, I remember being completely enthralled by the images in various magazines my parents had stacked around the house. Magazines like National Geographic and LIFE Magazine. These images had the power to transport me to other parts of the world and beyond. Coupled with my deep fascination with nature, wildlife and foreign worlds, my connection to these images seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t long after that I found an old film camera in a storage closet in our home and immediately started taking pictures. Our home at the time was located in a forest, so I would often spend my days exploring the woods, looking for wildlife and photographing what I found.
A few years later, one of the summer camps I attended had a photography class that taught black and white darkroom techniques. The hook had been set at that point, and soon I had constructed a darkroom in my parent’s basement where I would spend hours. My high school, St. Francis, had a darkroom and a supportive photography teacher who was always encouraging my craft. Later in life, even during my early professional career that focused on wildlife and marine science research, a camera was never far from my hand. I often incorporated photography as a tool to help tell the story of my various wildlife study subjects.
Why do you take photos?
I take photographs for a variety of reasons. One is for the pure joy of creating compelling visual stories. This stems from those early days of excitement and inspiration when looking at National Geographic and similar story images. Knowing that my work may have that same potential to inspire others worldwide to care about or perhaps examine the world beyond their immediate sightline is intensely satisfying.
Another reason I take photographs is the sense of calmness I feel when wholly immersed in my work. Outside distractions fall away, and being laser-focused on the moment at hand is almost like a form of meditation. Of course, there’s also the challenge of creating or capturing a strong image. Capturing something unique provides a deep thrill and sense of accomplishment. Not every day, week or even month offers something truly special, but the potential is always there at the start of the day. When the planets align, it all comes together, and you succeed. It’s a genuine feeling of elation.
Probably one of the most significant reasons I take photographs is to help report and document what I see happening in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on all seven continents with numerous organizations and record what I have seen. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed first hand both subtle and dramatic changes to our planet and the natural world. I feel that we as a planet are heading in a precarious direction, and various course changes are necessary. If the collective “we” as global stewards don’t act in a more responsible approach, I have a deep concern that the harm we are doing will be irrevocable. I hope to assist in this endeavor in a small way with my images.
What do you hope people take away from your photos?
For most of my photographs, a prime objective is to bring out the natural dignity and beauty in my subjects, be they animal or human. Aside from the simple beauty of the subjects themselves, I hope the images can stir a sense of curiosity for the viewer. Ask what the story is behind the image, or create a sense of wonder and appreciation about how diverse and infinitely fascinating our world is. Perhaps they can even bring a sense of connectedness we all share. If my images can capture the viewer’s interest, make them pause for even a moment and appreciate the fact that there is so much more to the world than just our immediate surroundings, I like to think that is a good thing. It’s a big task, but that’s part of the fun and challenge to good storytelling photography.
What are you currently working on?
With the global pandemic still affecting all of us, it’s been an interesting last two years, to say the least. My typical pre-pandemic travel schedule had me on the road upwards of 270 days of the year, so I’ve had to adjust like all of us, with all the new international travel restrictions, testing, cancellations and rescheduling of projects, etc. Thankfully we are beginning to see some light at the end of this long tunnel, so I’ve been preparing for some new photographic expeditions that will take me to the far corners of the globe again.
The completion of this recent book publication, The Science Of Hope: Eye to Eye With Our World’s Wildlife, has whetted my desire to create a series of new photography books specific to each continent, filled with images and short stories about the people, places and animals I encounter.
Additionally, I continue to organize small boutique-style expeditions to all corners of the planet for people who seek to get off the beaten path enjoying super unique experiences, as well as for photographers who wish to add incredible image opportunities to their portfolios. For example, I’m currently planning a small group, private sailboat experience for those wanting to explore Antarctica’s awe-inspiring beauty and wildlife. Another trip in the works is a small ship-based expedition in Norway to witness the stunning aurora borealis, snorkel with Orcas and drive your own team of sled dogs under the star-filled nights. I find it exciting to get all the puzzle pieces in place to run these unique expeditions. In the end, when I see people’s faces light up with glee at what they are witnessing and doing, it’s definitely worth the effort.
To view more of Scott’s breathtaking images, visit his website at scottdavisimages.com