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For OB photographer, pushing herself to ‘the edge’ led to a new focus on landscape photography and a new book

Ocean Beach photographer Allison Davis
“I didn’t necessarily know what I would find, but I knew I’d have to push myself to my limits to discover, to pursue beauty and to really see what was at the edge,” Ocean Beach photographer Allison Davis says of the 30-day coastal journey that led to her landscape photography book, “Revealed at the Edge.”
(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Allison Davis spent 30 days traveling the West Coast last year after halting her wedding photography business because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her landscape photos and essays are now part of her forthcoming coffee table book, ‘Revealed at the Edge.’

The COVID-19 pandemic may have ground her wedding photography business to a halt, but Ocean Beach resident Allison Davis found another outlet for her creativity: landscape photography.

For Davis, a native Texan who was just making connections and rebuilding her business in San Diego before the pandemic shutdowns last year, there were plenty of challenges. Those challenges led to something beautiful “revealed at the edge.”

‘Revealed at the Edge’ began as a personal project to create and grew into my first book and a hopeful series of coastal journeys of collections and books,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I would come away with after photographing the West Coast for 30 days, but as I shot each day, I could feel a book unfolding, more than just a handful of landscapes for a fine-arts show.”

She had tried to supplement her lost wedding income with real estate photography, but it was making her hate her beloved art form, so she pivoted and leaned into her passion for traveling and landscapes. She spent 30 days driving the West Coast, covering more than 3,000 miles of shoreline and camping in her Honda CR-V. She ultimately photographed 220 locations, focusing on raw, natural, untouched locales.

It culminated in “Revealed at the Edge,” her coffee table book of landscape photography. (A Kickstarter campaign for the book has raised more than $38,000 in pledges.)

Davis, 37, talked about traveling the coast through wildfires, uncertainty and the literal and figurative paths that led her to this new place in her life.

Q. How did you get started in photography?

A. “My love for photography began in middle school. I loved sports and wanted to be a Sports Illustrated photographer. But I was also the self-appointed historian of the lives of my family and friends. In high school, this led me to pursue working as the yearbook editor and to pursue a college degree in journalism.

“I only took one film class in photography in college. My love for photography grew as a reporter who was required to shoot while on assignment. Then, in 2008, I photographed a wedding for a friend of a colleague and I was hooked. I jumped headfirst into shooting weddings and photographed 30 weddings that year while working a full-time job in a media department at a church.”

Q. What’s different about the way you approach your travel photography vs. how you approached your wedding photography?

A. “I’ve found that the common theme for both is that I’m a witness to life and beauty. For me, I’m not creating either scene. I don’t create the moments and connections on a wedding day and I don’t create the landscape in front of me, but I get to stand and bear witness to it. In both, I seek out the story unfolding in front of me, I seek out the beauty, I seek out the raw truth and try to give an honest depiction of both, with a bent toward focusing on the beauty.”

Q. Talk about “Revealed at the Edge.”

A. “I knew I needed to lean into my creativity and passions, and without the ability to photograph people during the pandemic, I leaned into my passion and love for travel and the coast. I saw a window of time on my calendar with 30 days between September and October, so I set that time aside and began preparing.

“I decided to car camp as much of the trip as I could to keep the logistics cheap and easy. I have a Honda CR-V, and even though I’m 5-11, I made it work for the trip. The purpose of the project was to seek beauty in each day, to push myself to see what was at the edge, to spend time connecting with God and creation, to listen and to write, to create beautiful and captivating images of what I could journey to find, and to find beauty in the moment and not just in the best and most optimal circumstances, weather and light. In creating for 30 days, I was hoping to come away with gorgeous landscapes to carve a way for me to make a living as an artist.

“I didn’t necessarily know what I would find, but I knew I’d have to push myself to my limits to discover, to pursue beauty and to really see what was at the edge. When you’re hiking the coastline, there’s so much to discover, but you miss most of it unless you’re willing to step to the edge. The overlooks are nice, but you miss the drama of the bluffs or the cliff sides if you stay back at a comfortable distance. So it is a literal and metaphorical adventure to push ourselves to see what’s revealed at the edge.”

Q. In the video about your journey in creating the book, you mention always looking for the light and sun as a photographer. But when you got to the Bay Area, the wildfires had started and you went eight days with cloud cover, smoke and flames. What was going through your mind at that point? And how did you adjust to those less-than-ideal circumstances?

A. “On the second day of my trip, as I traveled north to begin my journey, encountering the extreme wildfire conditions freaked me out. I’m from Texas and I have never experienced a wildfire season. Knowing that, as a photographer, I’m photographing the natural scenery, I had no idea what the conditions would be like for my trip, but I pressed forward because I had a specific window of time.

“The smoke played an interesting character in the book. It’s almost as if there’s a theme of the landscape being hidden and then uncovered and as the smoke lifted, things became clearer. In naming my project ‘Revealed at the Edge,’ this was an interesting development that gave the images a different feel and a different story.

“Honestly, the wildfires were also just one more thing that made 2020 the year it was — a year of loss, suffering and those less-than-ideal circumstances. I wanted to photograph the landscape as it was and find beauty in it, no matter the smoke, fog, rain or sunshine. A book of landscapes in perfect conditions is just pretty, but this book has a great depth of unique beauty and is a clear search for beauty in real conditions. To me, that feels like life: It’s not always perfect, but it can be beautiful.”

Q. You’re moving into fine-art landscape photography. Does that mean no more wedding photography?

A. “I’m pursuing fine-art landscape photography right now because it’s what is inspiring me and filling my spirit as a believer and an artist. I have endless ideas for collections and what I want to shoot and write about, and it’s just an overflow out of my creativity and heart. It’s hard to give up something that’s burning inside me passionately at this moment.

“I’m open to whatever God brings and whatever direction that is. For this moment, I would keep shooting weddings as I recoup the losses of the last two years of income, but if I can find artistic, spiritual and financial success in fine-art landscape photography, that’s where my heart and my intentions will go.”

Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A. “Two pieces of advice I always come back to are: When you don’t know what to do, just do the next thing; taking one step at a time will take you forward. And, when things aren’t going right, go left. This always challenges me to think about what else I could do if things aren’t going well.”

Q. What do you love about Ocean Beach?

A. “I love living steps away from the beach, the quirky beauty of the neighborhood, the humor, the carefree attitude and the playfulness. I love that everyone plays here — they skateboard, surf, fly kites and are active and savor the beach life. I have amazing neighbors who have become friends. I love the restaurants and small businesses. I love the life I’ve been rebuilding here.”

Q. What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A. “People may be surprised to know that I’d never been camping before I went on this trip. I’d never booked a campsite, I’d never really spent time in national parks or national forests. ... Deciding to car camp the majority of the trip was a fun and adventurous stretch for me.”


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