Interview and Portrait by Matthew Rakola
An Interview with Cameron Davidson
Cameron Davidson lives in Northern Virginia and shoots for clients all over the world. Cameron photographed, from the air, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for twenty years. Chesapeake is one of six books of his collected work. While we at APA are especially fond of Cameron’s landscape and aerial photography, he produces stellar portraits as well. Visit our Facebook page as we feature Cameron’s work throughout the month of January.
How many years have you been in photography?
Quite a while now. I started shooting when I was 14 and never really looked back. I assisted (indentured servant?) to three photographers in the DC region, David Sharpe, Ross Chapple and a name I have wiped from my memory. I started shooting commercially in 84 after I had a couple of years of editorial under my belt. I started out pretty young and am grateful that I was given the opportunities and trust by a few important editors and art directors.
Who are your photographic or artistic influences?
I read a great deal and this helps give me with a sense of balance and influence. Particularly now, since we all seem to be bombarded with photography, technique and way too much non-important information.
My early photographic influences were Bruce Davidson, Jay Maisel, Eric Meola, Pete Turner, Arnold Newman, Ernst Haas and William Garnett. Nowadays, friends of mine surprise me with their incredible imagery. They are: Julian Calverley, who is arguably the best landscape photographer in the UK who shoots with Alpa and an 80 megapixel Phase back. And Mark Tucker, a portrait shooter in Nashville who is pushing his own envelope with 8×10 and large format homemade cameras. Both of these guys have a distinct vision that is firmly rooted in a meticulous approach to craft.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing photographers in the metropolitan DC area?
Production support. The creativity is here but production is the very weak link. Art Directors go outside of the area when they have a good budget and want to work with people who will help them in their careers. I am not sure why production values are lacking here. Maybe it is the long-term documentary base but it is tough when you are unable to find great producers, rental houses or support services.
Can you define a specific “turning point” in your career?
For me, it was when I was profiled in Communication Arts magazine. They interviewed me and focused primarily on my aerial work. I made some great connections from that piece and it helped quite a bit – mostly – getting my name to people outside of the region.
What is your dream assignment?
Trust. A team that shares the same vision. An approach where everyone works together to create something greater than the brief. The assignment would be a mix of three approaches that make up my work: Elevated or aerial perspectives combined with people and landscape.
What was your biggest mistake professionally?
Not seeing the incredible opportunities presented to me early in my career and making the mistake of listening to people who did not have my best interests at heart. For all the young shooters out there, I think it is important not to be swayed by the internet gurus and to find your own voice and approach. John Schneeberger, (R.I.P) an editor at National Geographic who I worked with on several projects gave me an incredible piece of advice. He said, “surround yourself with people better and more talented than you, you will be judged by the company you keep.”
If you could go back in time and visit yourself, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself?
Other than not be afraid of love, I think more than anything it would be to trust my own head and heart more.
What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing?
Balance, which is harder than it should be. I read, I try to find quiet time. Writing is important, allowing myself time to be off-duty, to not have to shoot and not fear slow times. I ride my bike, I fly and more than anything I try to push the Macintosh away.
Do you consider yourself more of an artist or a craftsman?
More a craftsman than anything else. Yes, the artist is there but you are also responsible to your client, so you bring a wee bit of scientist, craftsman, educator and artist together to create an image that reflects the story or what the message is for your client.
Why do you think clients choose you?
Generally, it’s my experience, reputation and personality. A few years ago, I got sick, almost terminal sick and I had to change my life a bit, to allow my true nature to come out, which is quieter than I thought and more focused. I changed my diet and got married. That made a huge difference. But generally, I give everything to the shoot and to making sure my client gets more than what they need.
This interview and feature is the first in a series that highlights the talented members of the Washington, DC chapter of American Photographic Artists. Check back for next month’s featured member.