A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

Category: Photography

April Street Portraits

I plan to continue my portrait project at transitional housing facilities. But scheduling those shoots is slow. Meanwhile, I need new pictures for the classes I'm taking, so I photographed some strangers in the East Village. I notice [...]

I plan to continue my portrait project at transitional housing facilities. But scheduling those shoots is slow. Meanwhile, I need new pictures for the classes I'm taking, so I photographed some strangers in the East Village.

April 2013 street portraits 2

April 2013 street portraits 1

April 2013 street portraits 4

April 2013 street portraits 3

I notice more than ever, in this set, how much I'm influenced by Hiroh Kikai's Asakusa Portraits. Of course I'm not a fraction of the photographer he is. But like the poet Kenneth Koch said, I "like to be influenced."

Shuso Hossen, Spring 2013

Two weeks ago the Village Zendo completed a week-long urban sesshin focused on our awareness of disabilities. We were blindfolded for part of one day, and wore earplugs for part of another. The retreat ended with the Shuso Hossen [...]

Two weeks ago the Village Zendo completed a week-long urban sesshin focused on our awareness of disabilities. We were blindfolded for part of one day, and wore earplugs for part of another. The retreat ended with the Shuso Hossen ceremony, in which R. Liam Oshin Jennings gave his first dharma talk.

Oshin shuso hossen 3

Oshin shuso hossen 1

Oshin shuso hossen 2

Oshin shuso hossen 4

Oshin shuso hossen 5

Oshin shuso hossen 7

Oshin shuso hossen 9

Review of Roman Vishniac Rediscovered

Today I saw the International Center of Photography's big retrospective, "Roman Vishniac Rediscovered". The show opens with Vishniac's Berlin street photography from the 1920s and 30s, in which he concentrates on form: shafts of [...]

Roman Vishniac, Salesmen

Today I saw the International Center of Photography's big retrospective, "Roman Vishniac Rediscovered". The show opens with Vishniac's Berlin street photography from the 1920s and 30s, in which he concentrates on form: shafts of light in a train station; a workman on a diagonal ladder amid diagonal shadows; four boys admiring a motorcycle, all dressed alike. The beauty and the visual coincidences he catches are delightful. The scene darkens as the Nazis rise to power, and the impact of the photos, unfortunately, wanes. Vishniac's photo of his daughter wearing a cute beret, standing in front of a Hitler poster, is ominous, but not particularly good.

Vishniac's most prominent achievement is his photographs of Eastern European Jews in the late 1930s. The project was commissioned by an American Jewish relief fund to highlight the poverty of Jews in Eastern Europe, much in the same way (and at the same time) as the FSA commissioned Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to photograph the Dust Bowl. ICP displays the work in fine new inkjet prints from Vishniac's negatives, and sometimes shows images Vishniac had originally edited out: Jewish women in secular dress, for example, or a prosperous-looking Jewish shop. The exhibit demonstrates how Vishniac selected his photos to accomplish a narrow view of Jewish life: poor, religious, medieval. When this world was wiped out by the Nazis a few years later, Vishniac's record of it became a twilit elegy, but the work as we've known it is not the whole scene Vishniac saw.

Roman Vishniac, Beggars

Propagandistic, too, are Vishniac's 1939 photographs of a Dutch "agrarian training camp" that prepared Zionist youth for emigration to Palestine. The images are posed, with clear inspiration from Socialist Realism. They're of their time: the age of statism, when individuals everywhere were subsumed in one ideology or another.

Roman Vishniac, Zionist Youth

It makes one nostalgic for the pictures made before all the polemics, when Vishniac was satisfied just to photograph stylish figures in slashing light. Unburdened by any message, these images are light, and the best in the show.

Roman Vishniac, Train Station

Miami Photos

I'm starting to use color; here's some shots from 10gen's annual meeting, which was in Miami this year. This is on Kodak Portra 400, with a Norita 66. Mistakes were made: Photographing from my hotel balcony, I didn't notice that the [...]

I'm starting to use color; here's some shots from 10gen's annual meeting, which was in Miami this year.

Miami 1

Miami 2

This is on Kodak Portra 400, with a Norita 66. Mistakes were made: Photographing from my hotel balcony, I didn't notice that the railing's edge was in the frame. And I shot 7 rolls but my flash only synced on a handful of photos. I'll reread the manual before I use the Norita again.

Photography Is Burning!

I'm in a group photo show at the Village Zendo in lower Manhattan, Saturday March 9. The show is open 11am to 6pm and I plan to hang out there all day, except lunch time, so you're welcome to stop by and say hello. There's a panel discussion [...]

I'm in a group photo show at the Village Zendo in lower Manhattan, Saturday March 9. The show is open 11am to 6pm and I plan to hang out there all day, except lunch time, so you're welcome to stop by and say hello. There's a panel discussion 7:30-8:30pm, in which the curator and the other photographers will say smart things and I would be wise to stay silent. The exhibitors are:


Here's my selection, unless I change my mind:

Photography is burning 1

Photography is burning 2

Photography is burning 4

Photography is burning 5

Photography is burning 3

Author Photos

I did another round of headshots this weekend: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of the upcoming books Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. Also my girlfriend. This one's probably not going to make the New York Times Book [ ... ]

I did another round of headshots this weekend: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of the upcoming books Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. Also my girlfriend.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

This one's probably not going to make the New York Times Book Review, but it's a great outtake:

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Ordinary Zen

Here's a series I did in the fall of 2011 called "Ordinary Zen." I photographed my friends from the Zendo meditating at home, and interviewed them about their practice. Bill Seizan Ewing I used to occasionally spend a weekend not talking. [ ... ]

Here's a series I did in the fall of 2011 called "Ordinary Zen." I photographed my friends from the Zendo meditating at home, and interviewed them about their practice.


Bill Seizan Ewing

I used to occasionally spend a weekend not talking. I’d get together with one of my friends, someone I felt comfortable with, and I’d say, let’s do something this weekend, let’s not talk. We’ll have a slumber party, and we’re not going to speak. So when I heard about a silent month retreat with the Village Zendo, I thought that sounded weird and funky and I’d love to try that.

I took beginning meditation instruction at the Village Zendo in 2002. I had no problem sitting on the floor. The instructor said, let’s do this for five minutes, just count your breath up to ten and then start over. I got up to thirteen before I remembered to go back to one!

I’ve been dancing Tango for six years. At the first lesson, you stand really straight, put your hands on your stomach, breath so that you can feel your stomach—it’s this whole physical thing. Tango is really Zen. You have to be in the moment, right there with the person you’re dancing with. Your awareness goes, not just to your center of gravity, but to the center of gravity you’re creating together. And when you connect like that, that’s Tango. The feeling is like nothing else.


Jean Yugetsu Carlomusto

I’m one of the most un-Zen people on the planet. No one would ascribe Zen to me. It’s because they misunderstand what Zen is. They think Zen is the buddha sitting strong—and that’s true. But there’s also the Buddha having a screaming fit at the dog for peeing on the rug. What elevates it is that you try to be aware of it at every moment. That’s the hardest thing.

I got into Zen through Enkyo Roshi. Roshi was my professor, and one day after I graduated I saw her on the street, and her head was shaved. I thought, I hope she’s ok. She said, we’re meditating at my apartment. I’ve become a Zen priest.

That was the early 90s. I was working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and at ACT UP. The people I was close to started to die, and there was a period of time for about a year when I didn’t want to go out. I just stayed home. And the meditation helped me recover some kind of savoring of life.


Emma Seiki Tapley

I got into Zen because my mom was into Zen. I was 23. I went to the zendo and got very formal instruction. It felt like hell. I thought, my mom obviously wants to kill me. When is it going to be over?

I can’t remember which came first, my art or Zen. I’m becoming comfortable taking longer with my work, and as a consequence the paintings are getting better. And that comes from sitting. Slowing down. People are not into that—they appreciate it, but they’re not into it.


Randall Ryotan Eiger

I’d just had a really bad breakup with a girl and I was moping around, and my roommate said, “Read this. It’ll make you feel better.” It was Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen. When I read it I said to myself, I have no idea what this is, but this is the truth. I started reading a lot of books about Zen. I didn’t start sitting, but I read a lot of books for the next seven or eight years.

I finally did begin my practice in 1989, and for years I was in intense pain. My body is the kind of body that doesn’t like to do that sort of thing. If someone had worked with me on the physical side of it that might have helped but no one did. After three periods of meditation I was scraping myself off the floor.

Some time in my 30s I became a therapist. Because I come from a Zen perspective I’m not interested in curing people. I just let them sit with their hellish problems. I’m fine if there’s no progress at all, because I firmly believe that it’s by going into the problem that you begin to untangle the knot.

Amaryllis II

A few weeks ago I photographed the amaryllis my mom gave me. It's been wilting ever since, and last night it abruptly ceded the battle to stay upright. The shape it's in now is even more dynamic than when it was in blossom.

A few weeks ago I photographed the amaryllis my mom gave me. It's been wilting ever since, and last night it abruptly ceded the battle to stay upright.

Fallen Amaryllis

The shape it's in now is even more dynamic than when it was in blossom.

A Village Zendo Scrapbook

Since, as I have mentioned recently, Zen is very much an accredited situation, my temple sends annual reports to The Soto School of North America, which itself answers to Soto Zen HQ in Kyoto. It's been pointed out to us that no one wants to [ ... ]

Since, as I have mentioned recently, Zen is very much an accredited situation, my temple sends annual reports to The Soto School of North America, which itself answers to Soto Zen HQ in Kyoto.

It's been pointed out to us that no one wants to read a ten-page report about the activities of a small Zen temple in Manhattan, much less translate it into Japanese, so we're mostly sending photos this year. I assembled a little montage and I liked it so much I'm posting it here.

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 1

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 2

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 3

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 4

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 5

Village zendo for soto shu jan 2013 6