A Conversation with Sian Davey


Sian Davey, perhaps as a result of her background as a psychotherapist, appears to possess a great understanding of her subjects, a quality which manifests in her intimate portraiture. Although many of the people she photographs are her children or close friends and family, regardless of the subject, her images resonate with depth and meaning. In her series “Looking for Alice,” Davey talks about the discomfort, anxieties, fears and prejudices within her, and society at large, towards her daughter Alice, who was born with Down’s syndrome. The result is a thoughtful and loving series of portraits of a beautiful young girl. Similarly personal, her series “Swept Under the Carpet,” captures her father weeks before he died alone. With a lifetime of destructive behaviour behind him, Davey photographed her father with the three objects he had left, an image of her and her siblings, his medication, and a frayed suit. Davey says these were “symbolic of his fantasy of being a loving father and a successful businessman.” Davey also photographs her surroundings as a means of orienting herself spatially. When she moved from Brighton to the rural Devon a few years ago she began to photograph kids playing in her neighbourhood– the breathtaking English countryside–to gain an understanding of the historical context behind the community and the landscape. Davey’s photography has been featured in the Financial Times, Slate, the Independent and more. We recently chatted with her about how she gave up psychotherapy to pursue photography as a career. 

Girl with Bowl of Cherries
Hairdresser 2
Feeding the Chickens

When did you begin taking photographs? Or taking it seriously as an art form?
I began to take photographs about 5 years ago just before I had my last child Alice. Though I have seen the world through images since I was a small child.

What inspired you to do so?
Looking back on this period of time it was as though everything I had come to know and understood about life came together; someone referred to this as the ‘tipping point’ and that made sense to me. I feel that is where the work came from. I have not stopped taking photographs since.

When did you decide to follow photography as a career?
I recently ended a 15-year practice in psychotherapy, and it felt completely right to do so. It was a realization that at this point in my life I need to take photographs and not be a psychotherapist, and that I needed to trust and wholly commit to that regardless of any outcome.

Winter Virus I copy
Christmas Morning copy
Alice Stepping Out copy

Did your background in social policy and psychotherapy influence this decision?
My background in psychotherapy and social policy has informed the way I am in the world. My psychotherapy work is primarily about building relationships and this is essential in my portraiture work -that those I photograph feel at ease to be who they are and not what they believe others (or me) expect them to be.

What is it about the perspective of the lens that allows you to get new insight on a person or a situation?
The lens gives me permission to meet people and have conversations I would never have had, it allows me to be fully present observing the quality of light and everything that is observable or felt in every moment.

Do you feel there are elements of truth in photography that can’t be seen in everyday life?
It is always questionable when you get in the territory of truth since one’s perception of an image is based on interpretation. I may want you to feel the same as I do but it is highly unlikely that it will bear any witness to how others experience it.

Boyon Cliff Top
Sitting with a Stranger
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portrait Fin

How do you think photography relates to time?
The moment before I take a photo feels like a coming together of so many conditions so it feels at times very intense and focused and often transpersonal as though its not about ‘me’ taking this photograph but a spirit working though me. I am merely photographing life. The act of taking photographs demands a presence of being that we are awake to life and everything that is shown to us in that moment. I photograph life as it appears in every moment. So when I photograph I find myself drawn to everything, both the conscious and the unconscious material of both my internal world and the worlds of others around me. It is always a dance between them both.

Is there something that you’re specifically interested in capturing or discovering when it comes to children or youth?
Not no especially, photographing children is no different to anyone else I photograph. I just want to understand and understand whoever it is that I photograph. I probably feel my most well and resourced when I am working. The moment before feels sensorial and vital since the act of taking a photograph demands presence of being.