Q&A: J Davies a year on from PHOTO 2022
We checked in with PHOTO 2022 rising star J Davies on what they've been up to since being a part of the festival.
J Davies is a queer, agender, First Nations (Māori) photographic artist living and working on stolen lands of The Kulin Nation (in Melbourne, Australia).
In 2022 I was selected to participate in the PHOTO 2022 New Photographers program with the final outcome being a group exhibition at James Makin Gallery in Collingwood.
Each of the 7 photographers in the group were paired with internationally established image makers. I was lucky enough to be partnered with Berlin based photographer, Florian Hetz. An artist whose work I had been following and looking at for inspiration for a lot of years prior.
Between the directors and curators coordinating the festival, our designated mentors and the staff at James Makin there was a wealth of experience for us to learn from. We received advice on creative and conceptual direction, framing, pricing, writing statements and bios. It was a huge opportunity to grow as an artist and I found it invaluable at that stage in my career.
The mentoring program was immensely beneficial and something that is rare to establish outside of the institutions we study in. My relationship with Florian came at a pivotal time in my career and provided me with guidance and lived experiences within the art world and someone to go to directly for assistance and advice.
I still have quite a close relationship with Florian that I value immensely. I’m heading to Europe later this year with plans to spend some time with Florian in his home city, Berlin. A relationship that would not have been as nurtured without PHOTO 2022.
After being selected to take part in the New Photographers program in 2022, I was also curated into Queering the Frame, a photographic exhibition depicting the history of queer communities in Australia over the past 5 decades. This exhibition was shown at The Centre for Contemporary Photography as part of PHOTO 2024 and was received by the public more positively than I could have hoped for.
This exhibition then led to me showing at The National Gallery of Victoria as part of Melbourne Now just after my first solo exhibition opened in February at Incinerator Gallery. I also published my first book Half of My Whole Life Was Just a Dream around the same time as PHOTO 2022. It’s been a big 12-18 months and I couldn’t be more proud, nor excited about future prospects.
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Installation views of J Davies’s work on display as part of the Melbourne Now exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023. Image: Sean Fennessy
One of my main drives when art-making is connection. Connection through collaboration. My work is centered around queer and trans joy and support and creating spaces for contemporary connections to culture and community.
Being able to produce an exhibition alongside a group of very talented and inspiring creatives from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia is another rare scenario to be part of. It’s kind of like all the best bits of art school without the dreaded theory classes. Group crits every second month and a cohort of like-minded artists with unique perspectives and voices.
Recently, I was informed that I will get to travel to Hong Kong to install my exhibition and to take part in their public programming for the festival as well! Definitely something I would never have imagined before being part of PHOTO 2022.
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J Davies, selected as part of the Hong Kong International Photography Festival 2023 Satellite Exhibition 衛星展覽.
Take every opportunity to learn and grow that may present itself. Not only were we, the cohort of New Photographers, learning from experienced directors, curators, established art mentors – we were also learning from each other. Again, learning from your peers becomes less common after you leave the institution and these working relationships create ongoing pathways and connections within the art world.
The accessibility, and saturation, of photography on social media platforms and the advancements of our smartphone cameras has definitely created a shift with how the general public access, and value, photography.
We are exposed to infinite images daily, and often take those artworks for granted. The commodification of the photograph for commercial gain has also warped societies relationships to photographs and created a conversation about the reality of photography – or what is considered truthful.
In a world where editing software like Photoshop and Chat GPT exist and can learn and replicate human experiences, the lines of reality are continuously blurring in new ways. (Some ways that I actually think are quite interesting.)
I think with the rapid growth of technology it’s important to remember to support human artists telling human stories. Without support these artforms, and artists, will cease to exist. It’s important to keep these artforms alive! It’s important to keep all human artforms alive! And with financial support and stability we are able to keep sharing these moments and memories, we’re able to continue connecting through the art of photography.
As an artist working in the field of photography for 10+ years; the success of PHOTO 2022 was so encouraging and motivational. It was surreal witnessing billboards sprawled across this city with infamous photographs that I’ve studied throughout high school and university. To see our city saturated in photo-based art of all forms by renowned pioneers of photography and to be somehow shown alongside this list was overwhelmingly validating. Truly a very special experience and something I am very grateful to have been involved in.