Mike David’s ‘Spirit of Adventure’

How can a photographer who specializes in travel and landscape photography separate himself from the legions of competitors? How can he get the public to notice – and buy – his work, when gorgeous landscape and travel prints can be found at any local art gallery, art fair, and most of all, on the web? Self-taught, Colorado based fine art photographer Mike David has answered this question in a unique way. Tapping into his successful business and finance background, David has, since 2002, collaborated with local and international musicians and vocal artists, as well as multimedia professor Ron Howe and the students of Platt College, to produce and stage sixteen multi-media performances centered on David’s images of his travels around the world. David labels these performances “Spirit of Adventure”, and they are advertised as “an unforgettable journey of the world”.

The most recent performance of “Spirit of Adventure” was onSeptember 25, 2010at the Gates Concert Hall at Denver University’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts.  Prior to – and after – the performance, patrons wandered around the concert hall lobby in which dozens of David’s most striking prints, large and framed, were on display and offered for sale.  Also for sale were smaller, mat-mounted prints, stacked in racks placed strategically around the lobby. DVD’s of past ‘Spirit of Adventure’ performances, and David’s book of the same name, were also on sale. All items were offered to patrons at a ‘performance day’ discount. After the performance, the musicians were in the lobby to meet with patrons, and to sell their own music CDs.

The performance was organized as a travelogue, with 400 high definition images employing the latest Blu-Ray technology projected on a huge screen behind and above the musicians on the stage.  The images were grouped by location; this performance featured images of Africa, the Caribbean, China, Easter Island, Hawaii, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, the Seychelles, and concluded with images of Colorado.  Each group of images was introduced by David’s voice-over telling stories of his travels to that particular location, while on the large screen a map and animated graphics outlined his travels in that part of the world.  Then David’s images of that location were projected while the musicians played instruments or sang songs from that part of the world. The exotic music, brilliantly performed, alone would have been worth the price of admission. Together the fusion of music and images made for an enchanting evening.

However, providing a proper critique of 400 images, none of which lingered on the screen for more than 10 seconds, all of which were projected using a pan and zoom technique, probably isn’t possible; possibly it wouldn’t be fair. Still something must be said, so here it goes.

From an evaluative perspective, David’s images make no ethical judgments. He is not trying to save damaged ecosystems, endangered species, or at-risk native cultures. He is merely trying to make his viewers see, albeit through the eyes of an artist, the exotic places he’s visited around the world.

Technically, David’s images contain all of the important photographic elements. Composition, balance, rule of thirds, exquisite use of focus and blur, leading lines, tension, pattern, texture, interest, and exposure – they are all there.

But his most brilliant images, and there were many of them, feature – no surprise – light. Morning light, sunset light, misty light, fog-shrouded light, street lamp light; it is light that is the star of his best work.  In one enchanting image of a small French village store (Capicorn, St-Paul de Vence) the yellowish tungsten light glowing inside the store adds just the right touch of color, contrasting beautifully with the fading daylight of late afternoon that softly illuminates the ancient stone façade of the store and the pebbled street in front of it. These images were special in my mind for no other reason than I yearned to linger over them so that I could trace and retrace the patterns of light and dark, so that I could admire the use of lines and foreground and background elements, so that I could ponder how wonderful it must have been to be at that particular place at that precise moment when everything a photographer could possibly want in a scene was there for the taking, if one only had the skill and the patience and the fortitude to capture it.

On the other hand, it was precisely at those times when these special images were displayed that the pattern of 10 seconds and gone was most frustrating. Perhaps engendering this frustration was intentional. Perhaps it was a form of subliminal pressure to rush out and buy the print. Who knows?

David clearly sacrificed to be at the just the right place, the spot with composition, balance, patterns, etc., when special light would transform a photograph from a brilliant vacation snapshot into fine art. But light is a fickle muse. And no one, even someone as obviously willing to wait for the ‘right’ light as David is, will get that special light for every one of 400 images. So, for all their technical correctness, many of his images were little more than pretty postcards.  This is not a criticism of David’s work.  Not even Ansel Adams could fill a gallery with 400 images that were of the “Moonrise” class. The need for projecting  400 images is merely the downside of showing off one’s work in a ‘performance’ format rather than a ‘gallery’ format because the overriding issue for a performance is stretching out the affair for two-hours so that patrons, paying anywhere from $35 to $60 for a ticket, get their money’s worth.

Still pretty postcards, with images of exotic places most of us can only hope to visit, sell. And in the end, David is in the business of selling images. The “Spirit of Adventure” is his way of sticking out above the crowd and selling his images. It worked for me – I bought two of his DVDs, and have one of his prints hanging on my wall.

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