Bev Davies displays a consistent and practiced eye at capturing the performer freed of the self-awareness that often plagues formal or posed photos. Her retrospective show Play It Loud, which ran at Chapel Arts in July and August, is a selection of concert photos from the last 30 years and is a fascinating slice of local live music history in addition to a collection of stunning photography. The show features a selection of black-and-white photos shot on film in the late ‘70s to mid ‘80s and colour prints of digital photographs that date from 2007.
The unexpected surprise of the show, though, is undoubtedly Davies herself. Her presence placed the photos in a context of both local history and personal art by reversing the distillation of a concert from the sensory entanglement of sound, motion and presence into the visual stimulus taken from a minuscule fraction of these. Davies didn’t skimp on providing technical details and freely discussed the rigours of shooting concerts on film as a photographer for the Georgia Straight in the 1980s. It was with her guidance that I saw an otherwise unremarkable pair of shots, looking markedly unlike her other works. The photos taken at Maple Leaf Gardens in April 1965, are in colour, in that oddly saturated way that only old film stocks seem to get right. These two shots, taken from the Rolling Stones performances, were Davies’ gateway into concert photography, and though they lack the verve or polish of her future work, her talent is already apparent.
The works from the first half of Davies’ career float away from the wall, pairing the impact of monochrome imagery with a unique mount evoking the d.i.y. ethos of the ‘80s punk scene. Each photo was scanned from the negative and printed on plastic and mounted on adapted metal shelving. The shelves have their sides covered in collages created from reproductions of punk show posters dating from the same era as the photos, and the whole construction is attached to the walls by three-inch bolts that terminate with wingnuts, regular nuts or metal anchors. The complex mount doesn’t distract from the photos themselves, and the posters around the sides provide a subtle reminder of the era of the photos.
The second half of the retrospective begins with 2007. After leaving the Georgia Straight in the mid ‘80s, Davies’ output waned significantly and the lack of feedback from processing constant shoots led her to stop shooting. The purchase of a digital camera and its instant feedback reignited her interest, and a meeting with Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) rekindled her old affair with concert photography. Behind glass and bordered by wood, her new works are printed in colour and framed more conventionally but are no less impactful. Ranging from Jan. 2007, right up to Arrested Development at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in July 2009, her shots in colour are saturated and while they lack the historical authenticity of her earlier work, her keen eye for expression remains in effect.
Play It Loud is an impressive distillation of a historically fascinating and visually potent body of work, and with a narrator as exciting as the work, it is an unforgettable art show.