Category Archives: Writing

Podcast with Harold Davis

Check out this wonderful interview with me in a podcast produced by Mid Century Books. Click here for the podcast, here for the Mid Century Books blog story, and here for The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook on the Mid Century Books website.

Tables and Chairs, Valletta © Harold Davis

Here’s the description of the podcast: Internationally-known digital artist and award-winning photographer Harold Davis joins our podcast to discuss his 2017 book THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S BLACK AND WHITE HANDBOOK. Davis is a professional photographer, as well as teacher, world traveler, story teller, and he is a classically trained painter. A multi-published author, his writing is as evocative as his art, and this comes through in his visual style. In fact, he values writing so much, he calls himself a “photographer as poet.” He started his career in the New York art scene of the 1980s. Later, he spent time in California’s technology industry. Now Harold Davis heads his own studio in Berkeley, CA.

Part 1, What Should Be in a Photographer’s Backpack

Tuscan Road © Harold Davis

Darkness into Light

This spring I visited and spent a number of days and nights in the world’s largest cave, in the jungle mountains of central Vietnam. Fewer people have been to the cave than have been into space. This was a journey of 6,000 miles to the other side of the world, and an arduous trek through the jungle, down precipices, and across narrow and high bridges in the darkness with water gurgling far below.

For me, the appeal of visiting the world’s largest cave was less to do with the “cavey things”, or even the varied landscapes and portals of the cave, and more to do with where one begins to see the light. In other words, this was a spiritual quest as all journeys are, or should be.

A core component of my quest was to peer into darkness and distinguish the void from the light, to attempt to examine this darkness and light in the context of the basic structure of photography, which is also about darkness and light.

Stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological wonders of the speleology are fine in their place. This is a landscape that is quite difficult to photograph traditionally in the absolute darkness of the void, and in the absence of logical markers of scale that we see in a more normal landscape. A challenge is always intriguing, but difficulties aside, the speleological features don’t interest me photographically.

What does appeal to me is the cave as metaphor, and metaphorical experience. From darkness we are born, sometimes easily and sometimes with difficulty, and emerge from the cave naked into the light.

Cave Shadows © Harold Davis

We struggle towards the light, and live with what we see in the shadows. At the other end another dark tunnel awaits, with who-knows-what on the other side.

Let There Be Light © Harold Davis

This is the story of our lives—with love, passion, and our journey from darkness to light. In the end, this reverses and we return to the void. At its best, a compelling image can help put us in touch with a piece of this journey. Always we must wonder: are we looking at reality, whatever that may be, or at a pale shadow, flickering on the walls of our cave?

Also posted in Vietnam

Shameless Quote Department

“Harold Davis is the digital black and white equal of Ansel Adams’s traditional wet photography. Adams would be awed by Davis’s work. In The Photographer’s Black and White Handbook Davis presents a large number of his photographs, and virtually every one is a masterpiece, ready for gallery or museum exhibit.”Seattle Book Review, rated five out of five stars and cross-posted in the San Francisco Book Review

Click here for more “Shameless Quotes”, click here for monochromatic (black & white) images on my blog, and here for current workshop offerings.

White River Falls, Oregon © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Fulsome Praise for The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook

I am blushing! From the Seattle Book Review: “Harold Davis is the digital black and white equal of Ansel Adams’s traditional wet photography. Adams would be awed by Davis’s work. In The Photographer’s Black and White Handbook Davis presents a large number of his photographs, and virtually every one is a masterpiece, ready for gallery or museum exhibit. In spite of the coffee-table quality of this volume, Davis meant to give us a teaching tool, a handbook for serious digital photographers.” Click here to read the full review.

Introducing Multiple Exposures

Phyllis and I are working on an artist’s book—really a booklet—based on my Multiple Exposures body of work. The title, Multiple Exposures, is a play on the technique used, and the fact that the models in the images are exposed (so if female nudity offends you, this work is not for you).

The style of this artist’s book is what we’ve come to call a “pocket” portfolio. It is printed and hand-bound here in my studio, with the intended use of showcasing my images (with some our our pocket portfolios, Moab Paper has also used them at trade shows to demonstrate various paper stocks).

While Multiple Exposures will not be for sale, constructing it is labor intensive and copies are obviously limited. I truly believe that each copy will be regarded as a valuable collectible in times to come. If you are an art gallery interested in this work, or a collector interested in a print, I am happy to arrange for a personal showing.

Wheel of Life © Harold Davis

Here’s the introduction I wrote for the Multiple Exposures artist’s book:

As a technique, the in-camera multiple exposure has its roots in the film era, with notable examples including the surrealistic imagery of Man Ray and others. The digital era has to a great extent eclipsed the use of the multiple exposure, but this forgotten and important element of our photographic heritage can be used to make images that are difficult—or impossible—to create in post-production alone.

Working with a model, the process is both choreographic and collaborative. The model and I agree on the shape that is to be created using the individual components of the multiple exposure, and establish marks. The model then takes each position in turn, and with a great deal of bidirectional communication I fire the strobes and camera on a dark background.

Some of my original thinking when I began this work was to reference relevant historical art using the medium of the in-camera multiple exposure, hence Rodin, Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp. But as I went along I became more interested in creating entirely new elements of the life force. In some sessions this was romantic and sexual, in others the insect kingdom intruded.

Finally, as in all things philosophic, the religious made its appearance—with the bizarre sensual sadism that is part-and-parcel of Western ideology, followed by references to an as-yet-unnamed theology that owes something to Hinduism, and something to the hope that each of us can recognize the light within each other.

Gates after Rodin © Harold Davis

Related story: You can read more about my Gates after Rodin image in A Rorschach for MFAs, and how I began doing these images here. For more stories and images, check out the Multiple Exposures category on this blog.

Also posted in Models, Multiple Exposures

Getting Inside My Head

Well, I’m not exactly John Malkovitch, but I am pleased and excited to see this attempt to “Get inside the head of this marvelous man whose writing is as evocative as his art (and find out what he eats for breakfast!)” on the Mid Century Books blog. The “marvelous man” would be me…not Malkovitch, LOL. Thanks Mid Century Books, truly appreciated. Stay tuned for a podcast interview with the editor at Mid Century Books.

Villandry © Harold Davis


Harold Davis: Talks at Google

Here’s the recording of my recent interview and talk at Google regarding The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook and the Zen of Photography!

If the embedded video doesn’t display, please click here to view it on YouTube.

Martin Then and Now

This is a photo of my wonderful father Martin Davis that I recently scanned and retouched to restore some damage. Martin thinks it was taken when he was sixteen and had just graduated from the Bronx High School of Science.

Martin Davis.b

That was then, and this is now: although you can see that Martin’s spirit remains strong and shines through. Recently we had my parents over to celebrate Martin’s 89th birthday. In the iPhone capture below, he has just opened a gag birthday gift that my son Nicholas picked out (Nicky has a wicked sense of humor!).

Martins 89 Birthday

Also posted in Photography

Wedding Day

This is a photo of my darling Phyllis and myself on our wedding day almost 25 years ago. The color print (an inexpensive drugstore print made from color negative film I think) was starting to fade, so we scanned it to preserve it. Phyllis and I walked to St Michael’s Church from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I remember crossing Broadway with a little old lady cackling and waving a cane and shouting to Phyllis, “Kiss him, you fool!”


We’ve come along way since that day. Across the country, and four kids later, marrying Phyllis was the best thing I’ve ever done. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses. We’ve weathered kids in intensive care, illnesses, battles with the school district, and financial pressures. But every day and in every way our relationship has grown richer, and I love Phyllis even more (if that is possible) than the day we married.

My Grandparents: Harry and Helen Davis

These are portraits of my paternal grandparents. Harry Davis was born Herschel Davidowitz in 1892. Helen Davis, nee Gotlieb, born in 1895, and Harry were both from Lodz, Poland. They met in New York, and were married in 1925.

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer Unknown

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer and Date Unknown

The images are flatbed scans of sepia tinted photos that have suffered some damage over the years. The photographer and date of the sitting(s) are unknown. Clearly, these portraits marked some kind of formal or special occasion, as the subjects are dressed up and looking their best. This is not the kind of studio portrait that would have happened every day.

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

I never knew my grandfather Harry Davis as he died in 1947 before I was born. However, in his absence, he was a figure who has loomed fairly large in my life, since he was an artist, and I was named after him.

My grandma Helen on the other hand was a beloved if somewhat peculiar presence in my early years. I believe that English was her fourth language (after Yiddish, Polish, and German). This led to an idiosyncrasy of language that was particularly noticeable in her essentially incomprehensible written communications. Her vast love for her family was immediately and always apparent, and I loved her a great deal.

My father adds some biographical details:

Harry and Helen knew one another slightly in Lodz. She came to borrow books at an informal lending library that he and his friends had established in Lodz. His friend Felix Kornberg was married to her sister Regina. Harry reconnected with Helen at the Bronx apartment of Bessie, another sister.

Harry had been taken as a forced laborer to Germany during World War I. After the war he and his brothers established a furniture manufacturing business in Leipzig, Germany. So he came to New York City from Germany.

Helen really didn’t know German. For her, speaking German was just speaking Yiddish with a different accent, especially a very soft “l”.

Black & White Book is Shipping

My new book The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook: Making and Processing Stunning Digital Black and White Photos is now available and shipping from Amazon and other book stores. Very exciting!


Becoming a more interesting person: the genesis of Harold Davis

Want to know more about me and what makes me tick than you may ever have wanted to know? Check out Behind the Lens with Harold Davis.

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

My work in part defines me, and who I am defines, energizes, and bounds my work, and gives my art the power that it has. To fully understand my art and the man behind the lens, one needs to understand the unique path I’ve taken—which is definitely a “Road Less Traveled”—and learn a bit more about who I am.


Road Less Traveled by Harold Davis

Road Less Traveled © Harold Davis

This is a long and fairly detailed memoir, starting with I Was Born and All That, continuing through Photography 1.0 and my Technology Interregnum,  and leading inevitably and relentlessly like a rough, slouching beast to Post-Photography Photography and a syncretic synthesis.


Harold Davis: Self portrait with moustache

Self Portrait with Moustache © Harold Davis

Check out Behind the Lens with Harold Davis.

Vida and Shopvida: Annals of Deceptive Business Models

Being a Professional Artist Means Business

As a successful professional artist and photographer—and, not entirely coincidentally, a business person—I am aware that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Sensible investment is after all the cornerstone of business life, and this is no different for a business as an artist than for any other kind of business. Although, as one art dealer I’ve worked with said, “Artists work twice as hard as anyone else, because they have the work of being an artist, and the entirely separate work of making a living as an artist.”

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

In the light of spending money to make money, I am not entirely opposed to upfront pay-for-play business models in the arts, such as paying fees to enter contests, paying to join an exhibit, or paying to be included in a directory of artists or photographers. There’s a slippery slope here, and I do advise casting a skeptical eye on these kinds of opportunities, particularly if they are regarded strictly as business opportunities. Which they are often not, of course: as an artist, one’s work is tightly bound up with one’s sense of self-worth, and any chance to have one’s work displayed or reproduced is an appeal to vanity, often over the common sense of the pocket book. (Pocket book discipline might be more rigorously applied in the context of a non-arts-based business, although a high percentage of new businesses of all sorts do fail, perhaps in part for lack of thrift.)

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

However, what I have little patience with is pay-for-play business models masquerading as something completely different, where the real intent is to take advantage of artists. This brings me to the subject of Vida, also called Shopvida, on the web at


If you have almost any kind of presence as an artist or photographer on the Internet, you’ve likely received an initial email from Vida. The first email I received, from Erica who is a self-described “manager of artist relationships” at VIDA, went as follows:
I am writing today regarding your artwork, with the hope that you will consider collaborating with us. I am writing from VIDA, a Google Ventures backed company that brings artists and makers together from around the world to create original, inspiring apparel in a socially conscious way. We are looking for artists with amazing technical skill and truly original work.  We came across your artwork, and we’d love to work with you to translate your art into fashion.

By way of introduction, my name is Erica, and I manage Artist Relations here at VIDA. We specialize in converting 2D art into beautiful, quality apparel and accessories. Also, each of our artists receives a portion of net revenues shared back for each of their designs sold.

As part of our artists recruitment team, I would be thrilled if you would join us as a VIDA artist by submitting your artwork to …. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all, please reply to this email directly. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

We would be deeply honored to have the opportunity to work with you.

Much the same tale is told on the ShopVida website:



We handle production and business, so [our artists] can pursue their passion and make a living.



We provide literacy programs to our makers. They learn to read, write, and do basic math and build a better life for generations to come. [capitalization in the original]

So not only was Vida honored to have me, by joining I could make some money, support mindful global citizenship, and also literacy programs. Who was I to say no to this appeal to my artistic vanity and my desire to do good—with the potential to benefit my pocketbook. Surely, a potent brew of benefits. I hemmed and I hawed, and I decided to give this a shot. After all, no payment was requested upfront.

Putting up a shop on Vida is relatively easy and also quite a bit of fun. You use low resolution Jpeg imagery to design items in a number of clothing categories (also bags and pillows).


Harold Davis store on Vida (see text)

You can see the Vida collection that I designed at, partly shown above. [Author’s note: I’ve requested Vida take down my store and purge my images, but as of publication date this link is still live.] Once the low resolution store front is in place, you need to upload high resolution versions of the image files, but this isn’t anything that anyone reasonably capable with Photoshop can’t handle.

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 1

It was clear as soon as my storefront was up on Vida that the next step would be self-promotion. As I was informed at the top of my new online store as soon as it was live, with ten sales I get “Slate” status—which means that ” Harold’s art will be promoted by VIDA.” Presumably, without the ten sales there would be no promotion of Harold’s art by Vida, sigh!

Just to be clear, I have nothing against involving family, friends, and collectors in social media campaigns that benefit me. In fact, Kickstarter is kind of built around this concept, and I have run two successful Kickstarter campaigns (see and It is reasonable to expect family, friends, and social media involvement in the projects that are important to an artist. It becomes a problem if these channels are the sole support of a project, and largely are making money for a third-party who is not the artist.

The Vida Product

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Before deploying my reputational capital on behalf of my Vida collection, I thought it would be a good idea to order an actual product from my shop as a matter of simple quality control. Under Phyllis’s name I bought a “Kiss from a Rose” cashmere silk scarf for $85.00 (it came to over $100 with tax and shipping). As a side note, this sale to myself was the only sale I made via my Vida store.

When the scarf eventually arrived, the reviews were mixed. Delivery took about five weeks, which seemed like a strangely long time. While the scarf seemed expensive to us for what it was, in fairness it was sized quite large. However, in our opinion the fabric didn’t seem as luxurious as the “silk-cashmere” description would seem to imply.

There was no lining. Hemming (on the short side) was adequate, but not particularly elegant or complicated. The long edges of the scarf were not sewn at all, but were simply the selvages of the fabric.

The process by which this was created clearly involved printing on fabric via an inkjet printer. There were some places where the dye didn’t reach the fabric, leaving white spots.

To be clear, I have nothing against printing on fabric with an inkjet printer, particularly when it is done well. But this isn’t exactly an artisanal process, and it is unlikely to be lifting third-world crafts people out of poverty. I’ve used an inkjet printer to print some of my images on canvas, but that doesn’t make these images “genuine oil paintings” any more than Vida’s inkjet products are legitimate third-world textile art.

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 2

As my welcome to Vida email noted, the “important tips that have helped Vida designers achieve success” were:

  1. Email your friends, fans, and customers
  2. Spread the word on social media
  3. Blog about your collection
  4. Purchase for yourself or loved ones
  5. (MOST POPULAR) Purchase Artist Wholesale

While I waited to evaluate the product sample, the upselling email fun began…often at the rate of several emails a day.

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Emails from Vida

Cameron at Vida wrote me (many times) to say that if I spent $1,000 I could become “a featured designer with a curated collection. We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists. This is a private email.” Having a curated collection would result in having “[a]t least 1 product from your collection featured on the VIDA Shop All Page. Being Featured on the Shop All page will give you significantly more exposure.”

Jennifer wrote me (on several different days) to “personally reach out to send you a final reminder that today is THE VERY LAST DAY to claim your curated collection page on VIDA.”

Lesley suggested I might enjoy the Festival of Art event where “where art lovers and artists can join together in their admiration for the arts,” and where I would receive a 40% discount on purchases of $900 or more.

Alice sent me another invitation to become a featured designer with a curated collection: “We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists for 1 week only. We think your art is beautiful and we would love the opportunity to feature your work. This is a private, invitation-only email.

This inundation of upselling emails from Vida continued for quite a while without letup. As one my of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, might have said, “So it goes.”

Summing Up My Sense of Vida

Let me try to sum my sense of Vida up. The claim [from an initial email from Erica at Vida] that

Vida is backed by Google Ventures, and artists who get discovered on VIDA are featured everywhere from national television to major press mentions like TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal….We’d love to work with you to build your artwork into a fashion brand

seems exaggerated—but certainly something that gets my attention as an artist, with its mention of Google and my artwork as a fashion brand, and no more exagerated than the spiel from many another tech startup. This is, however, also a well-crafted appeal to the vanity and optimism of any artist.

The actual business model seems to be more like a blunderbuss than a discovery mechanism for quality art that would work for textile designs. The goal seems to be to see how much product can be moved by the artists to friends and family of the artist. The only mechanism for discovery of great designs is to qualify by selling Vida product to friends and family, and it is far from clear that the promotion that might follow from said sales at Vida would result in any long-term gains in terms of the branding of an artist.

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

At best, this is a pay-for-play business model on Vida’s part. As I’ve noted, I have no problem with the notion of investing in the business of being an artist, provided this investment is made thoughtfully. I also have no issue with using friends and family as part of one’s social media constellation to jumpstart a career. I do have an issue with the lack of upfront clarity on Vida’s part about this being what a store on Vida will entail.

Pay-for-play can be okay, but then you should say right away, “For exposure you must pay!” Essentially, Vida is analagous to a multi-level marketing scheme, where participants only make money by selling the company product to others.

The Vida Product—Part 2

One other aspect of Vida’s workflow is troubling, and that is the production of the actual products. In point of fact, I have a natural outlet for products based on my work via my workshops and other events. Had we believed the merchandise was of a quality that worked with the quality of my work, and that we wouldn’t be ashamed to present to my audience, we could easily have taken advantage of one of the many offers I was pitched. For example, we could have bought $1,000 worth of products based my designs at a 40% discount, and sold these at retail at my workshops.

The problem here had to do with the quality of the printing, which we didn’t think was high enough to compare with my other work. In addition, a zebra doesn’t change its stripes to a leopard’s spots. The deceptive marketing to artists is one of a piece with the deceptive sense that Vida gives that its products, created using inkjet printing, are related to textile craft and somehow artisanal. There is quite a bit of markup in my $85 scarf, and I don’t think this money is going to a dye printing machine operator in India.

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Is Vida a Scam?

Is Vida an out-and-out scam? This depends upon your definition of “scam,” but probably not, in the sense that they do actually make and ship the products they advertise (even if these aren’t of great quality). Nothing illegal is going on as far as I can tell. Like Amway and Herbalife, there are probably folks who have done okay with Vida—but it wouldn’t be for me. 

While not an out-and-out scam, as a customer I would be disappointed in the quality of the work, particularly considering the price, and I would likely be disinclined to order more products from this company. (Would I have expressed my disappointment about the product quality to my sister-in-law-the-artist had I bought a Vida item of hers? Probably not.)

Is this a business model that treats artists ethically and morally? In my opinion, I don’t think so. As always, do research, draw your own conclusions, and caveat emptor.

I submitted a draft of this article to Umaimah Mendhro, the founder and CEO of Vida, and to the press email at Shopvida for comment, but as of publication time have received no response. 

Have you had an experience good or bad with Vida? I will happily approve for publication relevant comments related to this article.

More about the Business of Art and Photography

Other articles by Harold Davis pertaining to contemporary issues in the business of art and photography: Putting Paid to Purloining Picture Snatchers: Working with PixsyWhat do Harold Davis and Georgia O’Keeffe have in common on Pinterest, and how is Pinterest going to make money, anyway?; and Presentation Matters: Why Book Publishers Should Care About Quality.

About Harold Davis: HAROLD DAVIS is a professional photographer and digital artist whose work is widely collected. He is the author of many bestselling photography books, including Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer, Creating HDR Photos, Photographing Flowers, The Photoshop Darkroom, and The Way of the Digital Photographer.

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Also posted in Business of Art, Photography

A Touch of Art with Harold Davis and Topaz—Free Webinar

Upper White River Falls © Harold Davis

Upper White River Falls © Harold Davis

Master photographer Harold Davis is well known for his books, prints, and extraordinary images of a wide variety of subject matter. “I’ve been called a digital artist who uses photographs as my source material,” he says, “and I believe this is a good way to consider my work.” Harold Davis likes to take his imagery slightly beyond conventional photography using digital painting, but not so far beyond photography that he would “lose the suspension of disbelief inherent in the photographic capture.”

The Webinar will be live on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT. Click here to register. Registration is completely free, but seating is limited and Harold’s presentations are always in demand—so don’t wait to register.

Coming to Life © Harold Davis

Coming to Life © Harold Davis

In creating this syncretic mixture of photography and digital art, Harold Davis says that among his favorite “go-to tools are the brilliant Topaz Labs Photoshop plugins.”

In this webinar, Harold will explain how he uses Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, Topaz Glow 2, and Topaz Impressions 2, and provide concrete examples. He’ll discuss two of his ideas about using special effects in Photoshop: If you’ve ever wanted to know how the Hegelian triad and homeopathy relate to the use of the Topaz plugins in Photoshop, this may be the webinar for you. Finally, he’ll explain how he uses a touch of Topaz in his workflow to create his unique photographic art.

There will be time for Q&A following the webinar.

The Webinar will be live on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT. Click here to register. Registration is completely free, but seating is limited and Harold’s presentations are always in demand—so don’t wait to register.

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Carcassonne in Black & White

Carcassone Outer Fortifications © Harold Davis

Carcassone Outer Fortifications © Harold Davis

The techniques shown in this image—bracketed sequence photography, processing for extended dynamic range, layer stack monochromatic conversion, all with an added antique effect—are detailed in my new book. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and the publisher’s website. Thanks to everyone who has made The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook: Making and Processing Stunning Digital Black and White Photos the #1 New Release in Black & White Photography on Amazon and Amazon’s #1 “Hot New Release” in this category!


Also posted in Digital Night, France, Monochrome