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On the Cover: Tim Davis

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Hobo Supermen , Tim Davis, Photograph, 2016
  • Hobo Supermen , Tim Davis, Photograph, 2016

When Tim Davis lived in the East Village, he rarely shot photos in the city. He often left the city on excursions to find things to photograph. "I had this sense that in New York, everything was used up." Davis explains, "If I knew about it, it must already be over."

Davis moved to Tivoli when he joined the Bard College faculty as a photography professor in 2004. Living upstate offers him a type of artistic freedom, new ways to do what he calls "walking around the back" or "climbing inside." Sometimes, these concepts mean to imagine ideas from a new angle—they are also taken literally.

One video art project, an absurdist sports competition titled "Upstate New York Olympics," features Davis jumping over lawn jockeys and pummeling snowmen. In the four-minute Lawn Jockey Leap Frog video, Davis traverses a series of front lawns and bushes unnoticed, even as he falls sideways into people's houses. Davis says that nobody pays much attention to anything up here.

Davis's current series of photographs, "Cartoons," is just as zanily intelligent. This month's cover photo Hobo Superman is part of that series, and came from an assignment Davis gave to one of his classes, based on literary critic Harold Bloom's theory of the "anxiety of influence." Davis subverted the idea, into what he calls the "Xanax of influence," where the artist imitates someone whose work they admire. Davis imitated Playboy artist B. Kliban's cartoons.

The original idea: dress his mom and stepfather in Superman costumes during Thanksgiving dinner. Davis's stepfather refused.

That idea gave way to the photo of Davis and his brother-in-law Alex, two middle-aged Jewish men, sitting like hobos by a fire burning on railroad tracks in Amherst, Massachusetts. Although Davis's work has relied on blending the ridiculous and the sublime, he admits this series is a bit more on the ridiculous end of the spectrum. The photograph is stark, the costumes slightly illuminated by the fire in an otherwise bleak, Nordic-looking landscape. The two men look nothing like the Superman we know from comic books and movies. Davis's image blends together that sense of loneliness and bleakness with humor. Photography is his way of documenting the funny. "So much of the humor of life disappears," Davis says. "Photography is a way to keep track of those jokes and utterances."

Davis also released his first album this year, It's Okay to Hate Yourself recorded at Old Soul Studios in Catskill with his brother Benjamin's band, Cuddle Magic. It is multigenre effort, blending folk, psychedelic, and rock with witty lyricism. Davis provided some videos to the music, visual analogies à la Beyonce's Lemonade. (Davis jokingly insists that he "did it first.") It's Okay to Hate Yourself can be purchased as a vinyl or digitally downloaded on his website. He assures that it is a million seller—he has a million copies sitting in his cellar.

Portfolio: Davistim.com.

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