Davis, Amelia 1968-
DAVIS, Amelia 1968-
CAREER: Photographer and author. Exhibitions: Works exhibited in fine art galleries, universities, and medical symposiums.
AWARDS, HONORS: Susan Koppelman Award for editing, 2000, for The First Look; Betaseron Champions of Courage grant.
(With others; and photographer) The First Look, foreword by Nancy Snyderman, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2000.
(And photographer) My Story: A Photographic Essay of Life with Multiple Sclerosis, Demos (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Amelia Davis is an accomplished, San Francisco-based professional photographer who has produced books about breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. Davis's first book, The First Look, resulted from her own personal experience with the disease through her mother's diagnosis of breast cancer in 1994. Davis's mother was told she would need a modified radical mastectomy. When Davis and her mother got together to see if they could find some photographs of what her mother's breast would look like after the surgery, they could only find simplistic pencil drawings. After the surgery, they both realized that she did not look like any of the drawings. "My mother felt mutilated and alone," noted Davis on her home page. "It was at that point that I felt no woman should ever feel that way." Davis went on to say, "And so began a six-year photographic journey of photographing women of all ages, ethnic groups, and socio-economic backgrounds."
The First Look features black-and-white photographs that do not reveal the women's faces but rather the results of their surgeries, which include mastectomies, reconstructive surgeries, and lumpectomies. Davis decided not to photograph the women's faces and notes the reason why in her preface: "Because today's society places so much emphasis on looks, the faces distracted from this purpose." Using only the first names of the women photographed, Davis allows each woman to tell her story in her own words. In addition to an introduction by Davis, the book includes a chapter on breast reconstruction by a plastic surgeon along with a description of lymphedema by a nurse. Writing in Booklist, Whitney Scott commented that the author's "photographs, coupled with their subjects' stark personal essays, take major strides toward disarming the dread in that first postsurgery look." In a review for Library Journal, Bette-Lee Fox noted, "Some of these photos are inspiring; others will make you gasp and wail." Signs contributor Stacey McCarroll commented that Davis's combination of photographs with the personal narratives of the breast cancer survivors is "a combination that draws the audience into the material." Commenting on Davis's writing and her editing of the personal narratives, McCarroll also wrote, "Davis's voice throughout unifies the work, ultimately marking its success."
Davis's mother overcame her breast cancer but ultimately succumbed to diabetes. One month before her mother died, Davis was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (M.S.), which led to her next book, My Story: A Photographic Essay of Life with Multiple Sclerosis. Similar to First Look, My Story presents photographs and essays focusing on thirty-one people who suffer from M.S., including comedian Richard Pryor and actor David Lander, who starred as Squiggy on the television show Laverne and Shirley. In addition to essays by M.S. sufferers writing about their disease, Davis includes essays by some of their caregivers. She says she included caregiver essays because of the importance in her own life of her partner, who has helped her deal with the disease. "MS is represented to the public by the people who have it, but the disease affects many more people," Davis told Stephanie Salter in a San Francisco Chronicle article. "I really wanted to recognize them publicly." Writing in Library Journal, Mary Nickum commented, "This positive and inspiring portrait will be welcomed by anyone" who has the disease or is otherwise touched by it. On her home page, Davis said, "I hope this work will help people to look at this disease with more understanding and less fear."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Davis, Amelia, The First Look, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2000.
Davis, Amelia, My Story: A Photographic Essay ofLife with Multiple Sclerosis, Demos (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, September 15, 2000, Whitney Scott, review of The First Look, p. 192.
Denver Post, October 17, 2000, Jenny Deam, "Seeing the Scars of Cancer Breast-Surgery Results Depicted in 'First Look,'" p. E1.
Library Journal, August, 2000, Bette-Lee Fox, review of The First Look, p. 142; May 1, 2004, Mary Nickum review of My Story: A Photographic Essay of Life with Multiple Sclerosis, p. 133.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2004, Stephanie Salter, "Out of the Shadows/Multiple Sclerosis Reorders Priorities but Doesn't Have to Be a Life Sentence of Pain and Helplessness," section E, p. 1.
Signs, summer, 2004, Stacey McCarroll, review of The First Look, p. 1175.
Amelia Davis Home Page,http://www.ameliadavisphotography.com (November 4, 2004).
Champions of Courage Web site,http://www.championsofcourage.com/ (November 4, 2004), "Amelia Davis."
MultipleSclerosisPRO.com,http://www.multiplesclerosispro.com/ (November 4, 2004), "Amelia Davis."*