When Brooklyn Navy Yard-based photographer Davina Zagury Feinberg moved to Brooklyn from Israel ten years ago, she had the notion that she could make it as an artist. As we sat together in the café atop BLDG 92 in the Yard last week, it was apparent that she had done just that.
We at Turnstile Tours and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92 are proud to announce Davina as our featured artist for the Fall Photography Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on October 19. As you may know, this also means she will be judging the tour’s photo contest – and years spent navigating the photography world on both sides of the Atlantic qualify Davina for this assignment.
But actually, what do these credentials really mean? As New York City journalist, photographer, and crusader Jacob Riis wrote in his 1890 classic How the Other Half Lives, “A drawing might have done it, but I cannot draw … I wrote, but it seemed to make no impression” As daunting a challenge as it is to cover an enthralling art career in a short post, we make a career out of this type of thing (our two-hour Overview Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard covers about 300 years!) So what’s our secret? Visual aids!
Davina spent the late 1990’s in school studying photography in Israel. This entailed history, philosophy, and communal strategizing about the tools and toils of success behind the camera. Here she works on a project close to our New York hearts — setting up shots around Tel Aviv that reminded her of lonely scenes in NYC subway stations. After shooting photos with different angles and lighting, she printed them out and took notes directly on their surface. Scribbles and arrows plotted where models might stand or sit, and where and how lighting should evolve. She went back to the sites with models, positioned them, and snapped away. The project won her high praises from the faculty, and her art career was off to an encouraging start.
After a couple years assisting a well-known fashion photographer in Israel, Davina moved to Brooklyn with new technical know-how. She and her husband teamed up on the streets of Lower Manhattan to experiment with selling small, square prints of crisply-captured vintage toys (we have a special affection for street vendors – Davina was what is called a “First Amendment vendor,” which allows vendors to sell written or artistic materials without a license). As people moseyed down Prince Street, they would stop and ask about the stories connected to these utilitarian but humanized playthings. A wooden scooter from the 1930’s stands proud well before the Razor-craze. A rusty metal and plastic tricycle was purchased from a Gaza junk peddler. A 1939 powder blue pram was borrowed from a Holocaust survivor. And a soft reindeer, with red antlers and nose, got a second (or third?) life as a model after being used to fill the negative space of cargo ships full of other exports. Besides an obvious highlighting of old craftsmanship, the photos had a fresh and inter-generational appeal.
At about the same time Davina was (quite literally) focusing on relationships via objects, her own relationships were evolving here in New York. This series reflects explorations of her own personal relationships, and she had many friends pose for these shots. One friend, seen in the photo at left, happens to be Navy Yard artisan and entrepreneur Trevor MacDermid. Trevor began a company called Underground Signs and, like Davina, works out of Building 131. This photo and others retain the pale but happy backgrounds of her still life photos, but swap out toys for human models. Besides her own relationships, these scenes were deeply inspired by idealized love postcards from the early 1900’s. As she describes, “by inviting each couple into my studio, giving them their clothes, their makeup, their pose … I personified the culture that demands conformity with images in exchange for the fulfillment of desire,” adding, “I was the unacknowledged third party … the completing side of the love triangle.”
Between 2008 and 2010 Davina took on specific but fairly commonplace models, but partnered with a photo retoucher to create photos that were anything but typical. Photos of one-year-old baby girls are supposed to be cute, but these look a bit off. She sought out models with blonde hair and blue eyes, but enhanced, colored, and retouched them – the results are a bit eerie, and almost sculptural. When Davina tells me the photos were heavily doctored, and that even entire noses were “replaced,” the manufactured quality of the work only hardened. These are poignant and serious pictures, and perhaps offer respite from photographic clichés that boldly seek to capture the beauty of reality (or the reality of beauty, for that matter); this subject is more complex. The artist David Hockney once said, “It’s hard to represent horrible things in pictures, because by their nature pictures attract us.” While it may be debated that obsessions over perfection like the ones referenced in these photos are “horrible,” I think it’s quite clear that humans are attracted to pictures, especially of babies, which are often obsessively fawned over. But these babies are not to fawn over – yes, there is a special attraction to them, but it is their coldness that is striking. The normal warmth and fuzziness of baby portraiture are avoided, and it makes this series something to remember.
Davina’s career has come full circle with this ongoing, eight-year project named after the French word for “lovies.” By mingling worn toys with human models, her subjects remain familiar. But there’s new meaning now – the models bring their own toys into her studio, and with them, a deep-seated meaning that is palpable in the photos. Here Davina taps into something that is both easy on the eyes, and challenging. Longing for someone, or something, is a universal human emotion. With these photos we can enjoy and embrace this emotion. What is it that we hold onto, and why? And, of course, kids are so darn cute.
Davina’s concepts and skill are clear, and can be seen all over her commercial photography website; for more on her personal explorations and full artist statements, visit her art website. As a wife and mother of two, Davina keeps plenty busy between her current home in Bed-Stuy, her studio here in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and between shoots all over New York City. She does, however, look forward to weighing in on the last three selections for our Seasonal Photography Tour series (see the winter, spring, and summer selections).
We hope you will join us to capture the unique autumn scenery at the Yard. The Naval Hospital campus is especially beautiful now; some of its gnarly bushes and brambles have been cleared, and the cats continue to confidently prowl around its aging structures. As Davina told me, “There’s just so much material here.” There is still time to join the tour and be eligible for the contest – winners on the fall tour will receive two free tickets to a future tour and be entered to win either the Photographer’s Prize or the People’s Choice Award, which are both a private tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard for up to 30 people. We will be announcing further details about the year-end competition soon, as well as more photography events for 2014. We hope you enjoyed this little career tour of Davina Zagury Feinberg, and I look forward to telling (and showing) more about her between shutter-clicks on the tour.
Turnstile Tours offers the Seasonal Photography Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard four times throughout the year. The final tour of the 2o13 season will be Saturday, October 19 at 11am. Get tickets and information here, and advance ticket purchase is highly recommended. We also offer our Overview Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard every Saturday and Sunday 2:30–4:30pm (2-4pm starting November 1), and other special themed tours of The Yard. All tours are offered in partnership with and begin at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the yard’s past and present, the Ted & Honey rooftop cafe, and a host of great special events and programs.
The post was authored by Rich Garr.