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HomeContents > People > Photographers > George Davison

Dates:  1856 (1854 Grove Art Online) - 1930, December
Born:  Great Britain, London (Great Britain, Suffolk, Lowestoft - Grove Art Online)
Died:  France, Antibes
Active:  Great Britain
 
  
An early exponent of impressionistic photography, Davison was also a wealthy managing director of Kodak and ardent social reformer, and a founder member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood. He was a great photographic catalyst to his contemporaries although his own work has been neglected since then.
 
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for George Davison
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

 
  
Born in Lowestoft (Suffolk), England, in September 1856, George Davison made his way to London and worked there as a civil servant for about twenty years.
 
In 1890, he burst upon the English photographic scene with his soft-focus images and his lectures on impressionistic photography at the Royal Society of Arts. His 1890 image The Onion Field, made with a pinhole camera, was considered particularly radical for its use of all-over diffusion, a departure from the "naturalistic" tradition of Peter Henry Emerson. Davison photographed primarily rural subjects, printing them in platinum, gum-bichromate, and photogravure.
 
Davison exhibited from the late 1880s to the 1910s. In 1888, his work was included in the annual exhibition of London’s Royal Photographic Society and the international exhibition at Vienna. Subsequently, he showed in Brussels, Glasgow, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rochester, and Syracuse. His work was seen in the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the 1910 International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at Buffalo’s Albright Art Gallery, and An International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, organized by Clarence H. White for New York’s Erich Art Galleries in 1914.
 
Davison was active in English organizations and visible in international publications. He served as the honorary secretary of the Camera Club of London for nearly a decade, beginning in 1885. In 1892, he was a founding member of the artistically advanced group of photographers, the Linked Ring Brotherhood. With them, his moniker was, inexplicably, "Deputy High Executioner." Alfred Stieglitz featured a photogravure by Davison in the April 1902 issue of Camera Notes, America’s leading photographic quarterly. About five years later, when Stieglitz had moved on to edit and publish the even more exquisite periodical Camera Work, he included eight of Davison’s photogravures. England’s own Photograms of the Year reproduced his work six times between 1897 and 1911.
 
Davison had bought preferred shares of Eastman Kodak stock in 1889, early in the company’s existence. As a result of the firm’s immense success, he gained great wealth and was apparently on good terms personally with George Eastman. He owned several homes and a houseboat on the Thames in London. By 1897, he held a directorial position with the English division of Kodak, for whom he also produced straightforward advertising photographs. Davison was a devoted Christian Socialist, whose activities were misinterpreted as being anarchist, and in 1912 he was forced to resign from Kodak. Shortly thereafter, he left his family in London, retreating to a castle he had built in Harlech, North Wales. He remained active for a number of years in socialist and pacifist causes, and maintained friendships with such fellow English pictorialists as Frederick H. Evans. George Davison died in December 1930, at his home in the French Riviera city of Antibes. 
  
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
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Further research

 
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Thumbnail
Alvin Langdon Coburn
Portrait of George Davison 
1918
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
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Internet resources

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George Davison - Biographical materials 
http://www.terrynorm.ic24.net ... 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.79 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on George Davison.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.245 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by George Davison are included in this classic history.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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