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Photographer brings African images to UA

By Daffodil Altan
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 13, 1999

For photographer Lynn Davis, the mystery of the massive architectural and natural monuments of the world lies within their grace of form and extraordinary execution.

When renowned Harvard scholar and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was looking for a photographer for his "Wonders of the African World BBC/PBS" project, he wanted someone "who could make Africa look like the Parthenon."

He selected New York-based photographer Lynn Davis whose work has recorded some of contemporary photography's most astonishing grand scale site images. Her current 74-print exhibition at the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography is the largest public display of her work ever, making this a powerful CCP gallery event.

Whether depicting the Great Pyramids of Egypt, a mud mosque in Mali, slave chambers in Ghana, the curved stoned walls of Great Zimbabwe or the remains of Queen Sheba's palace in Ethiopia, Davis' large scale prints make their physical presence central to the experience of her work. What emerges from the large literal physical representations of her subjects is a series of intensely evocative images.

Only a few of Davis' images in this exhibit use people as their subjects. Instead, Davis' photographs evoke human qualities through the profound human essence contained within ancient structures. At each particular architectural or natural site, Davis feels that there is only one place to stand. After two or three exposures, she decides "on the spot how big she will make the image and on the toning," said Cass Fey, curator of education at the CCP.

Here is the mark of Davis' genius. All of her prints are black and white and distinctively and dramatically toned in selenium, sepia and gold. The result is a marvelous tension between the historical edge that her toning creates, combined with the geometric modernity of the ancient figures. Although the massive "Red Pyramid" captures the architectural geometry of Egypt's Pyramids, Davis makes the image sublime by softening it with brown toning. Her image of the magnificently curved "Wall of Great Zimbabwe" has the same effect. Instead of just the pyramid or the wall, Davis evokes the shadows of ancient history and allows them to hover quietly within the image, against the color and magnitude of the structures. The effect is intoxicating.

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