“Whether you are a snowbird from Canada escaping the winter’s cold, a traveller from a faraway land looking for a better life, or a kid from Cleveland in hot pursuit of a Netflix deal, California beckons.” – Sally Davies
What inspired you to do the book California Dreamers?
I finished my first photo book- New Yorkers, and thought it might be fun to do another one, but somewhere else. I had a few friends in California who said they would join the project, so I headed west. I photographed about a dozen people there to test the waters, and I sensed a really different vibe. The omni present entertainment industry looms large in LA. It’s often a major contributing factor to the people’s stories who end up there. Quite different stories than New York.
How was it making California Dreamers compared to your earlier book, New Yorkers?
I think maybe it was more fun. I already knew how to light each shot, I had the format for the bio information down, and I knew how the book was going to look. I wanted the same design in case we ended up with a trilogy. So with these challenges out of the way I was free to enjoy the ride a bit more.
When you started these projects was it always with the idea of a book in mind?
When I started photographing New Yorkers at home, it was not necessarily a book idea. It was just something I wanted to do. After spending so many years photographing the streets outside, I wanted to tell a larger story of New York – the people and where they lived… inside. It felt like a logical progression. I had photographed a dozen or so New Yorkers, when I was offered a book deal with Ammonite Publishers (UK). Even with a release during covid, it still sold out in 2 weeks. I think that book’s success convinced me that I could interest readers with a west coast version as well. So far so good.
Any behind the scenes stories you would like to share?
Unlike working on the New Yorkers book, where I just hopped on a subway and could be on the upper east side in 10 minutes, shooting California Dreamers was a logistical rubiks cube. People in LA think nothing of driving for an hour and a half for a lunch date. Everyone lives far away and distance is decided by time not actual distance. Oh yea, and there is no public transportation to speak of. Thankfully my good friend Bob Stratton’s son Vin was out there studying photography at Cal Arts, so I hired him to be my assistant and weekend driver. I bought a giant map of Los Angeles and pinned it to my wall and from there I organized as many shoots as I could on Saturdays and Sundays when I was with Vin.
Without divulging anyones name or location, I can say it was an adventure from the get-go. One person lived in the desert with no air conditioning. Thankfully they were amazing and their house was also amazing so I was able to finish the shoot pretty quickly, but just as we were about to dash out to an air conditioned car, they decided to gift me a tarot card reading. I will never forget sitting in that little room in 110 degrees with my friend who brought me there, translating everything the card reader was saying. I have a dim memory of it being a great reading but I was so delirious from the heat, to this day I can’t remember a damn bit of it.
Another person lived in a rural town that was so remote, by the time we got there we had hatched a plan B in case the person turned out to be a serial killer. Of course they were wonderful and actually brought in other great people to the project, but it was touch and go as we were losing our GPS and driving ever higher up that dusty road.
What is on the horizon? Are there more books in the works?
A book will reach a far wider audience than a gallery or museum exhibit. So book ideas have to function on more levels. Of course I appreciate kudos from the aforementioned art types, but I want your mom to enjoy the book too.
Maybe one more city and then on to something different. Right now I’m out in California and am tossing some interesting ideas around.
California Dreamers is an intimate fly-on-the-wall photographic study of over 70 Californians, along with their personal testimonies and tales, revealing life behind closed doors in this iconic U.S. state. California, the Golden State, is steeped in cliché like almost nowhere else: palm trees, beach-blonde surfers, aspiring actors and tail-finned cars, all bathed in endless sunshine.
Sally Davies, acclaimed New York street photographer and author of New Yorkers, heads west to capture the images and listen to the voices of everyday Californians in their own homes, hoping to delve beneath the ubiquitous stereotypes. Generations of immigrants have headed west to plant their flag in the years following the great gold rush; movie makers, farmers, artists, oil drillers, starlets, writers and so many more. California became the destination for new beginnings, and it remains a place where one might strike it rich with a little luck, and a lot of hard work. In this collection of photos she has found light and space, swimming pools and enticing views of the stunning natural surroundings encroaching through the walls.
Posing for her in bedrooms, garages and patios, Davies discovers vibrant multicultural communities, eccentric stories of hopes and dreams, tales of gridlocked traffic, urban sprawl, air pollution and all aspects of the entertainment industry. Among the voices are well-known figures, Linda Ramone and actor Eric McCormack, accompanied by a cast of models, producers, a high-court judge, artists, stylists, writers, musicians, lawyers, magicians and many more. The magic and glamour of California waves us in but that is only the first layer of the onion.
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