“But I like eBay pictures”


Receivers, Moyra Davey,  2003

From Triple Canopy:

Matthew Porter: In the 2006 essay “Notes on Photography and Accident,” from Long Life Cool White: Photographs & Essays by Moyra Davey, you characterize your practice as suffering from a period of lassitude, or fatigue. The date of this photograph, Receivers, is 2003. The fact that it’s part of a robust series of images from that year suggests it was made in a fairly productive period. And so I was surprised that the essay was published around the same time.

Moyra Davey: You’re right to be surprised. In fact, I probably made the photograph in 1996. It was taken in the former studio of my husband, Jason Simon, where he stored and worked on a collection of audio components: receivers, amps, preamps, and so on. At that time, we still lived in Hoboken, New Jersey; we moved to New York in 1999. Throughout the ’90s, I took a lot of pictures of his stuff—his collections fascinated me, and his relationship to these objects fascinated me. Actually, any collector’s relationship to his or her objects fascinates me, because I think objects, like photographs, are signifiers of death. And I find it really interesting when people can overcome this signification and have a positive relationship to objects—because I can’t.

But back to Receivers. I shot it with a Plaubel, a really beautiful 6 × 7 German camera with a Zeiss lens and bellows, whereas most of the other pictures in this series were taken with a 4 × 5 or a 2 ¼ camera. So this was an exception, and I lit it with a strobe. What I found most interesting about these amps, preamps, and exposed tubes was their architectural quality, although I was never able to translate this appreciation into the images themselves. But unlike many of the other pictures, I really like this one. I believe it’s pretty powerful. Zoe Leonard once told me she’ll keep a picture in her “back pocket” for ten or twenty years before printing it; she waits until she knows it’s time. I literally had a contact print of Receivers that I kept in my wallet because I knew it was going to be the jumping-off point for whatever show I’d do next—which turned out to be in 2003, at American Fine Arts Co.

MP: What’s unusual about this picture is that it’s one of the few not made in the cinema verité style you usually prefer. Many of your other photographs rely on available light, and yet here you use a strobe, which is much more powerful than even an in-camera flash.

MD: Right, pictures like Shure (2003), which shows dust on a phonograph needle, and other images from that time were mostly made with available light.

Shure, Moyra Davey, 2003

They’re moody, they’re kind of atmospheric. Many of them were really hard to print. For some reason, my negatives ended up needing a lot of magenta and green correction, and that drove me crazy. That was another thing that pleased me about Receivers—that I was able to color-balance it so well. And I had this realization that it kind of looks like an eBay picture. It’s got that casual, deadpan quality, like you just took the picture with a flash and put it up on eBay.

MP: I don’t think it does the photograph justice to call it an eBay picture.

MD: But I like eBay pictures. In fact, Jason and I collaborated to produce a series called “eBay Pictures.” We photographed hundreds of items on a white bedspread and showed the resultant prints in grids—I think five big grids of thirty little prints.

“From eBay snapshots to unlikely timekeepers: a conversation”, Moyra Davey with Matthew Porter, Triple Canopy