Sally Davies – NEW YORKERS

Review by Melanie Chapman

A friend used to say “I don’t know if I miss New York, or if I just miss my twenties…” 

After looking through NEW YORKERS, the recent photobook by Sally Davies, the most likely response will be a resounding “YES!” to both.

No matter your age or era, if you’ve ever lived in “the City” or wished that you did, this timely book of environmental portraiture will likely fill you with nostalgia, and perhaps a touch of envy. NEW YORKERS is a voyeur’s dream and an anthropological masterclass all rolled in to one compelling photobook.

To an outsider, New York City has always been a fascinating place; a public circus of humanity that spills out onto the streets due to lack of interior spaces big enough to contain all its wonder. Yet as presented by Canadian born street photographer Davies, some of the most interesting places in New York are the private ones that by their very nature are a refuge from the outside world. Each of the 76 color photographs present longtime residents of New York City in their most intimate of spaces; their homes. NEW YORKERS offers not only visual data about their personal surroundings but also text in their own words about why, despite the expense and the changes they have witnessed, these people would never live anywhere else.   

The choices of where one lives and why, and with whom or what one brings through the door to surround themselves with is always fascinating material for photographs, and Davies’ work does not disappoint. Thanks to the access Davies offers, we can breathe-in the calm dark tones of Laurie Anderson’s West Village living room, the one she shared with her late husband Lou Reed. We can admire the artwork of a collector who lives on the Upper West Side, or at least the tall ceilings and space in which to display her collection. If you have ever wanted to peek inside the home of a drag queen, or stroll through the legendary Chelsea Hotel (home to artists and musicians that helped shape the cultural heritage of the mid-to-late twentieth century), Davies provides the opportunity. 

Yet, to this viewer, it is the “not fabulous or famous” denizens that are the most compelling subjects of this book; rather it is the regular people in their cramped apartments – parents who proudly sit on bunk beds with their now adult their children in rooms too small, or the woman with the incredible Pez dispenser collection…Their New York is more familiar to those of us who never seemed to have quite enough space or quite enough money, yet loved living in the cacophonous melting pot that is (or was) Manhattan, never-the-less. 

Many of the subjects comment on gentrification and how that has drained the city of its more public personality quirks, so we are fortunate for Davies’ access to private interior spaces. Considering that the photographs were made in the months just prior to the pandemic shutdown that was 2020, Davies may have inadvertently earned an award for “most prescient photographer.” She documents an era just before the world was confined within the limits of home. Like a hall of mirrors, the nostalgia for a changed city is seen through the lens of a new nostalgia for the recent past, when we all were free to move and live amongst strangers.

These homes may be cramped, rent controlled, or wisely purchased when a SoHo loft could be yours for a few thousand dollars, they may have lasted longer than certain relationships, but as Davies well-seen photographs demonstrate, there truly is no place like home. 

____

NEW YORKERS, Sally Davies

Photographer: Sally Davies, born Winnipeg Canada, resides in New York City 

Publisher: Ammonite Press, U.K., Copyright 2021

Essay: Forward by Stuart Horodner

Text: English

Hardcover, stitched binding, printed and bound in China

Book design: Robin Shields

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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