Benjamin Davis is a current RIT student in pursuit of a photo degree. His series My Parent’s Scrapbook is about the history of his parent’s relationship and their time before they were married. We asked him a few questions regarding this work.
Empty Stretch: Age/ Location/ 3 favorite things in life?
Benjamin Davis: 20 / Rochester NY / Family and friends, exploring, and cheap vodka.
ES: How did you get into photography? Why do you keep photographing?
BD: I got into photography seriously in college for the first time. I had always been interested in art but typically just did sketching or painting. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in school so I took an Intro To Photography class taught by two graduate students and loved it. Seeing their work and looking at the different artists that they showed really inspired me and made me look more into the medium before I finally switched into the program. I really enjoy creating a narrative and developing metaphors through photographs. I keep creating images because I have so many different projects and ideas that I want to express. I’ll often take one picture or find an interesting object and then keep thinking about what it represents and how I can develop a project out of it. I’m always trying to find new methods of visual storytelling.
ES: What is your relationship to your parents, ie still in contact, are they divorced/ still together? estranged?
BD: I am still in contact with my parents. They have been together for 34 years, married for 27 and dated the other 7. One of the reasons I was so interested in their past is because of how long they have been together in a country where the divorce rate is so high.
ES: Do you have any siblings? how do they feel about this work, how do your parents feel about it?
BD: I have one older brother. We don’t talk very often, so I haven’t showed him the work yet. He works for a natural gas drilling company and travels often while I’m always away at school or off working. My parents didn’t really know what to think of the project at first or why I wanted to do it. We came across the box of objects she saved from the time period they were dating. I knew I wanted to do some sort of project with it. I asked them if I could borrow it and have been working on it off and on since. Now that the project has started to come together they like it. My mom has definitely taken an interest in it and just gave me more objects that she found, like another bundle of letters and an old chocolate box full of movie tickets.
ES: What is the process for deciding what is shared & what is photographed?
BD: I keep a notebook where I write down places mentioned in the letters. I then set aside letters that I feel showed a sense of character in the relationship for easier access later. I also ask them about their favorite activities and places of the time period. There are so many letters that I am still going through them in order to come up with more ideas. I also go through her scrapbooks and other objects that were saved and put into the box. After I pick out the interesting objects and places I think of what they represent and how I want to photograph it. Lots of the images are minimalist in nature because while I want them to be visually appealing the item still needs to take center stage. I try to share as much as I can because I want to create an appropriate idea of what the time period was like for them.
ES: Did you go into this with a clear idea of what you wanted to say about your family? or has it developed along the way?
BD: I always try to go into a project with an open mind and let it develop along the way. In the past I have gone into projects focused solely on one idea and it never turned out well. Some of the objects I found were sweet while others gave me a creepy vibe. I wanted to show both sides of this because in a way love can be like that too, very sweet and fun but it can also turn into obsession. As for the images of places that I visited I felt it important to show what I noticed there now, 27 years later.
ES: Any thoughts of next steps? taking it in a direction of Larry Sultans work, photographing your parents now?
BD: I really like Larry Sultan’s work and would like to photograph my parents now but still feel like I have a lot to do with their past. I want to continue this project throughout the fall and get back into the studio. I just took a trip last weekend to visit more places. I also found more old photographs and have been doing more work involving those like this rough edit I shot last weekend.
Please find more of Benjamin Davis’ work on his website.