Black American Life through the eyes of L.A. artist Adam Davis

Black Magic’ celebrates the Black people, a project created by L.A. artist and educator Adam Davis. A collection of tintype portraits made around historically Black cities throughout America. A project that will contribute to the largest contemporary archive of Black American life through wet plate collodion also known as tintype photography. What you may not know is this labor of love was 2 years in the making for Adam Davis, at the peak of the pandemic he set out on a quest to explore the many layers of blackness, queerness, and Afrofuturism through wet plate collodion photography. Starting with 54 portraits featuring black people, the people of his community.

Photo Credit: Black Magic by Adam Davis

A tintype, also known as a melainotype or ferrotype, is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion created in the 1850s. Created for the wealthy and elite white citizens, it was never intended to be an experience held for black people to be a part of. Davis plans to use his work as an act of renewal for all of the images created to diminish the Black experience, using tintype at the forefront of his project.

Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, his father was a preacher and his mother was a teacher. From an early age, Davis was exposed to creativity and its power to offer a free form of expression. His father took up photography as a hobby, taking pictures of his church family and at many times, Davis too.

During the peak of the pandemic, Davis took a keen interest in learning how to develop film. He had a particular desire to learn an 1820s era method by the name of wet plate collodion photography. By the end of his testing and experimenting, 100 portraits were taken of different friends and community members, this was ultimately the start of his journey to creating a project that would soon be called, Black Magic. A product of his renewed interest to imagine a future world, one where the portraits resembled “futuristic ID cards”. In the exhibition catalog of “Black Magic,” Davis writes: “What was once just an exercise in curiosity and disciple, blossomed into this exhibition celebration of all the people and places I hold dear.”

Photo Credit: Behind the scenes with Adam Davis

Photo Credit: Behind the scenes with Adam Davis and is camera Vanessa

Davis imagines a future that centers and celebrates Black individuals and culture, in doing so he has to revisit the experiences of his own life and what he has witnessed through his blackness. He wants to highlight queerness in his pieces, looking back he realized that majority of his subjects in the series identified as LBGTQ. This is his opportunity to talk about it while bringing their stories to light.

This Spring Davis will visit and spend two weeks in each major black city to host a gathering or as he refers to it, “A show up and hang out.” Each participant will receive a portrait and the other will be inducted into the archive, each representing “an artifact of their existence”, he called it. The ultimate goal is to complete 500 portraits while on tour, with an embarking goal of 20,000 portraits during his career of portrait pursuits. “If you show up and you’re Black,” he says. “you get a portrait”.

Photo Credit: The work of Adam Davis

Photo Credit: Adam Davis mother, Vanessa.