In our latest Artist of the Week story, the Lake Powell Chronicle sat down with Page native Kyle Davis and talked about his passion for photography and what it means to him.
Where are you from?
Long story short, I’m from right here. But that’s a simple answer. The longer one is that I’m from a little bit of everywhere. I’m half Navajo on my dad’s side, and I’m half Scottish on my mom’s side. I was born in Page, Arizona, growing up on Sunset Street down in Vermillion, but lived in Minnesota for a little bit when I was younger as well.
Post high school brought me out to Hanover, New Hampshire, while I attended Dartmouth College. Four months in Rome, Italy, a year in Boston, and now I’m back again. I’ve moved out of Page three times and I’ve moved back three times.
How did you get into photography?
I couldn’t tell you how old I was when I used my first camera. I can’t even tell you what kind it was. A Kodak? A Canon? Who knows?
All I know is that it was my mom’s camera. I know she liked photography and at that age, and more so even now, all I wanted was to be like her. To be like both my parents. A superhero.
I must have been around six or eight years old when she first even let me hold it. I didn’t really know how to use it other than to point it at things and click the button.
Eventually though, and about a hundred failed rolls of film later, I think I got my first roll shot. I can’t remember any of the shots, except for one, an all-blue shot of the sky. If you grew up in the desert, I’d imagine you have one of these as well. Mesmerizing on a warm afternoon, lying in the grass, looking up.
What is it about photography that you like the most?
It’s freedom and it’s recreation. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t draw––really anything artistic comes difficult for me, but I can point and click.
For me, it’s an easier format to capture, to reproduce, and every time you look at photos from different photographers, they are showcasing how they see the world and how they interact with it.
You see what they are in love with. Where they are in love with, and I think most importantly who they are in love with.
What is it about photography you dislike the most?
Sometimes it’s the feeling of inadequacy, the self-critiquing. This isn’t a constant feeling, but at times I feel like I’ve become stagnant, or that I won’t be able to achieve the things I want to achieve when it comes to my photography.
I think in this day and age with so many opportunities to shoot, I get nervous I’ll fail my standards, or that I’ll let my friends down and they won’t be happy with a shot I took for them. I won’t say this is a disliking towards photography but a chance to recognize some of the stress that might happen.
With most things though, this is also the part that pushes you to do better, to keep learning, to try new things and to evolve.
How would you describe your style and what do you prefer to shoot?
I would love to tell you that I am a landscape photographer, but I’m not. I would also like to tell you that I enjoy shooting super-bright, vibrant colors that pop, but I’ve also really gotten into the faded vintage look. I love black and white, and I’ve also shot portraits and family photos for friends.
I’ve done a couple weddings, baby announcements, engagements, some marketing shots; love me some astrophotography, so I guess a little bit of everything. And oh yea’, don’t forget my selfie game.
But if I had to focus on what truly makes me happy as a photographer, I would say that I’m a “candid” photographer. When looking back on all of my shots, it’s never the one that I planned that I am in love with, it was the unexpected.
The people and places that hang on my walls at home, or the shots I send to my friends, so they can post them on Instagram, they were all taken in a moment when someone wasn’t looking.
What is your advice to somebody who is just getting into photography?
“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great because they’d paint a lot” – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
I’ve always loved this lyric; it resonates within me. I think it’s 100 percent true and I truly believe that the more you shoot, the more you find your expression. Photography isn’t about being good or bad, and you can’t do it wrong.
Just shoot, then shoot again, don’t go looking for something, let it find you.
What was the most recent photoshoot you have gone out on?
Can I count dangling off a rope, 40 feet above ground on the edge of a cliff a photoshoot?
I love to climb and go on adventures, whether it’s kayaking or biking, anything outside. Hiking in general is one of my favorite things to do and this past weekend I had a chance to go top roping with some of my friends.
It’s a form of rock climbing where you have an anchor at the top of a cliff and a rope coming down to support you as you climb up and to catch you if you were to fall.
So, as much as I’d like to pretend, I’m half as cool as Jimmy Chin, I’m not – not even close. But moments like this call for photography and fortunately, my friends don’t mind it if I climb my own rope to get some candid [shots] of them while they climb. For me, this counts as a photoshoot.
What is your most memorable event while taking photos?
I’ve had so many, so many beautiful memories. From drinking champagne out at Alstom Point for sunrise with some friends, to taking photos of the Milky Way while a single candle lights my friend’s yurt up at the beach.
But truthfully, it’s my friends’ and families’ patience that I remember, their love, their support. I think what people sometimes miss when it comes to photography are the 20 or so photos that came before that you never used. The directing, the posing, the countdowns, it’s a lot of work. Now if only I could get the clouds to listen.
What type of gear do you use?
Currently, I’m shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III and I love it.
It was my first big camera and I vividly remember the day I got it. Forcing my little sister Lauren to stand outside my mom’s house so I could get a photo of her. I have two lenses, the first one I got with the camera and is a 24-105mm lens that I use for most things and a little bit afterward I bought a 50mm prime lens that I use for most of my portrait photography.
Throw in a couple neutral density filters to get those fun waterfall shots where the water has the beautiful, streaked look to it. An ultra-violet filter that a good friend told me to get as the best insurance not to scratch your actual lens.
A simple tripod, a camera bag, some lens cleaners, a duster and that’s about it. There’s one more thing and although I don’t count it as a piece of gear, it’s probably the most important piece.
My girlfriend Mary Kate. She’s my buddy, my adventurer, sometimes my driver, my biggest fan. She’s done it all for me. Half my photos are probably of her. The magic behind the story.
Who are your photography influences?
My mom for the love, @geoleon for the colors, @kai.boet for the vibes, @juliatrotti for the warmth, and @brandonwoelfel for the magic.
A lot of my influences you can find on Instagram or on YouTube. Peter McKinnon would be hard not to mention. So many of these people just found what they love and now try to share what they know of their work.
I’ve learned a lot from watching their tutorials on YouTube or checking out their live stories on the ‘gram. This isn’t to say that it’s only the more social media-driven artist that I enjoy.
Patricia Dinu has some stellar contrast work and has a pretty famous shot of the Wave that remarkably isn’t in color. I mentioned Jimmy Chin earlier and although you might not recognize him by name, if you have ever seen the movie Free Solo, you know his work.
His drive and his ability to shoot at the extreme requires both an amazing knowledge of photography as well as technical climbing. A place I’d like to find myself.
Where are the must-shoot spots in the surrounding area?
Great question, but I won’t be tricked into giving away my secrets. Truthfully though, just walk outside. We live in the most gorgeous part of the world.
We have a lake, a river, several gorgeous canyons, the Milky Way. I think something like 3.2 million people went to Horseshoe Bend last year. That’s unbelievable. There’s Rainbow Bridge, the Grand Staircase, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion––you get it. I don’t know if you have ever seen the desert in snow but when it happens it’s surreal. And don’t forget the Navajo Nation.
How much of photography is purely serendipitous?
All of it.
As a wilderness guide, how do you incorporate your photography skills into the guest experience?
One word, selfies. Just kidding, but really. A common question I get from my guest is, “Will you let us know when it’s a good time to get a photo?” My answer is the same every time, “It’s always a good time to get a photo.” But what I think this comes down to, and maybe the guests don’t even know it, is that I think all they want is to remember the emotion that they are feeling when that photo is being taken.
People don’t’ remember facts, they remember emotion and a photo is a trigger for that emotion, that love. It’s a chance to reflect back on a time when you were feeling alive.
What is it about Page that brought you back and keeps you here?
My family, and that’s more than just my mom or my dad or my two beautiful sisters. It’s the bonds I’ve made that will last a lifetime.
My coworkers, my neighbors, my climbing buddies, my music festival friends, throw in a few awesome Australians and that’s just the start. Page isn’t a big town; we all know that.
So, when you make a friend here you see them all the time at the bar, the store, the golf course, the lake, church, work––this might be a good thing or a bad thing at times.
But you have the chance to spend more time with the people you care about here than any other place on the planet in my opinion. That connection keeps me here.