Introduction for Moyra Davey

It may seem that if one just looks at a photograph of a bookshelf, they cannot read the books inside the photo. Or if one looks at the erosions and encrustations around the chipped face of that man leader on a penny, it’s not really like money sitting in your pocket.

From this problem of surface is where Moyra Davey’s work begins. Her essays take us through the slow time of being with her materials so the body amongst the stiff book is also something to read. Davey makes her own coffee ring stains on the texts she encounters. Her extensive quote collections are interspersed with journal-like responses on topics like Photography & Accident to provide reflections like mirrors being held up to each other. Davey stands in the intersecting cracks, her arms getting strong and tired.

The methodologies between photographing and writing are so refreshingly challenged in Davey’s work. Davey has printed several series of photographs on 12×17” paper like thick magazine inserts, full bleed, then folded up with small markings of tape, and tiny labels with the addresses of friends and family. When these mailers are exhibited on walls or reproduced in books, the public is invited in to these layered surfaces. They appear as stills from the mind of her films and writings, complete with creases the mailer gains along the way. Davey’s adamant repurposing of contexts are hurled back to the public so that an intense intimacy is locked in place.

Davey’s photographic subjects are familiar things—books, cemeteries, tabletops, light fixtures, but somehow they look like underwear drawers. The relatable becomes a surface masked with all sorts of variants of the personal so that the personal gets cancelled out, similar to the re-digesting any contemporary photographer must do of Barthes and Sontag. Her photographs move beyond representing the objects that lend to her intellectual mindscape. The content of the writing resembles the refusal to clean something before photographing it. How stable can an object be when clanking around the mind?

Inside Davey’s essays are the struggles and joys of stagnation, of vastness, of wandering. Davey portrays also, being profoundly alone in the process of arriving at an idea. And when the idea of what to make next comes, it arrives in a sudden way you might even miss, like the light falling on an object think you might know so well but then the light makes it new. There is always a conflict of how to enter, of waiting for a discovery that cannot be planned with Davey, but this is scripted in the formula of relentless searching.

Davey’s books’ Long Life Cool White, Speaker Receiver, and The Problem of Reading, all include essays alongside her images, or images alongside the essays, making solid the experience of continual looking, of encouraging a return to the looking. Each time I read I learn something I hadn’t before taken in, as if the essays are also a photo of a shelf with books and I can only take one off at a time, only read a few pages, before flung back in to the world. So that there are many moments of potential being shaved to a precise point of entry.