Shannon Davis is a photographer, design director, and has been an adjunct professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design in the Motion Media and Branded Entertainment Departments since 2008. She began her career as a creative director, launching the channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the U.S. and Europe. Her immersion into these classic film libraries as well as her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. have shaped her aesthetic and approach to photography. With an instinctive pull toward the common man, the forgotten and overlooked, her photographic work takes on a cinematic approach, exploring a sense of identity and place.
“I’ll show you.”
“Old First Ward”
I Got Somethin’ To Show You
In the shadow of 200ft high concrete grain elevators in Buffalo, NY is a community known as The Old First Ward. The buildings and people share a similarly defiant and vulnerable look—worn down but standing unflinchingly before you as if to state, “I’m not goin’ anywhere.” This series captures the co-existence of the monolithic past represented in the dilapidated grain elevators and the resigned spirit needed to live in an area known for its lack of jobs but plenty of lake effect snow. As a neighbor stated, “They’ve got one foot in the gutter and the other on a banana peel.” This ongoing photographic series follows the people in this small isolated neighborhood in the heart of the rust belt.
Historically, The Old First Ward has been home to a strong Irish heritage where generations of families have lived in the same house and worked in the elevators. It is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. Where an unfamiliar car is given a scrutinizing stare and a photographer is questioned with skepticism. Once I noticed a family sitting on their front porch. They were hesitant at first to let me photograph them but after a few moments the woman said, “I got somethin’ to show you.” She went inside and came out with a large tropical parrot. The realization that this rare bird lived in a frigid climate in a house in need of much repair, seemed a metaphor for living in this area. Even if you can’t find a job, you can’t afford to fix your home or can’t keep custody of your child, there is something you hold dear and find precious.
I keep being pulled back to this neighborhood, these people. I find myself an outsider wanting to be accepted into their close-knit community. Their simple lives are trapped, concealed by layers of complexity. As they reveal themselves, faces so unguarded, buildings in perpetual inertia, I stand before them feeling respect and envy. After each encounter, each visit, I am aware that I like who I am when I’m with them, I’m my best self. So, I keep going back to photograph, bringing copies of photos from the last visit to share and I find myself saying, “I got somethin’ to show you.”
“I don’t know him.”
“You better apologize.”
“She left and took my kid.”
“My bike was stolen twice, but my dad got it back.”
Rust Belt Dream
“There’s no pool, just the slide.”
“We can do whatever we want.”
“I just got out of the hospital today and my son is gonna take me to bingo.”
“I’d give the shirt off my back.”
“That lady’s looking at us.”
“I’m gonna fix it up.”
“You know who that is?”
“Everybody was poor and nobody knew it.”
“My kids are my luck.”
“I feel safe here.”
“I used to be bad, but now I’m good.”
To view more of Shannon Davis’ work please visit her website.