By Ellen Zoe Golden
No one could argue the fact that Sean Davis is a smart, complicated man. However, he might take up the gauntlet in that fight, since arguing is one of the things he enjoys most. Those activities number more than one: The 47-year-old is a successful photographer, but has also been a chef both back in Colorado and here, a magazine designer for Hacienda Pinilla, local hotel manager, writer at the old Flyswatter magazine and world traveler to places like Cuba and Cambodia. Recently married to another photographer, Genna Marie, Sean is planning a big reception, where he is excited to see his mother for the first time in 20 years.
THE Tamarindo News talked to Davis, who has lived in Tamarindo for 13 years, to understand his complexity.
THE Tamarindo News: While you have a great capacity for love, you do tend to take the contrary view in a discussion. Why?
Sean Davis: I like to debate. It was a family sport, when you grow poor you have to entertain yourself. I don’t know what to say about that, except that I’m generally right. I do what most people do, push our agenda, push what we feel is right, especially here where there are so many different cultures and people who put out what they feel is right, or have a tendency to sell out. Even I have sold out at times.
TTN: Like when?
SD: I told myself I would never, ever enter Pacific Park, you could have tattooed that on my forehead. But just last week, I was inside, on a job photographing the penthouse. It’s just that things you believe to be true, that should not be violated, sometimes clash with making a living. We balance on a tight rope here.
TTN: You are very smart. Did you have a formal education, you know, college, etc?
SD: I had no more education than a potato. But I’m autodidactic, I study stuff all the time.
TTN: Are you an anarchist?
SD: Depends on your definition. I don’t believe in violence, I grew up in the Quaker church. There’s the anarchy of punk rock, which is not really it, and then there’s Murray Bookchin, an organizer who is a classic anarchist. Anarchist is a bad word to some people. People should have the right to self-rule, that makes sense to me.
TTN: Will you vote in the US elections?
SD: Oh absolutely, this will be the first time I’ve voted since moving here. What a s**t show there.
TTN: For a Democratic candidate?
SD: My God yes.
TTN: Can you describe what it was like growing up poor in Pennsylvania?
SD: It was a hard point in time, we had a kerosene heater, and no hot water and ate potato soup. For fun, we made fun of people. Dad was, at first, an electrical engineer, but then he became homeless and went nuts. I lived with my father and sister for a couple of years, and then my sister moved in with my mother. That is when my pop really lost it. He rode his bicycle to Florida and lived in a bus and was strangely happy. Actually, that was the reason I ended up moving here because he could not work in an office, and neither can I. When I was 13 I got a job as a dishwasher in a French restaurant. Then one day the chef said I could peel veggies. He trained me to cook, well beat me up, but I learned.
TTN: Before Tamarindo, you lived in Colorado?
SD: Yes, when I was 21. I was already a photographer and got a classical apprenticeship in a photo studio. I became a product photographer and also did some corporate stuff. But, I cooked in Colorado because I was a s**t business man. Most of my tenure in Colorado was cooking, because I was an overwhelming failure as a photographer.
TTN: How did you end up in Costa Rica?
I saw an ad on Craigslist for a chef’s job with Derek (Furlani) who had the original Lazy Wave restaurant here in Tamarindo. He hired me because he thought I had a funny email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. That server no longer exists. He would have hired me even if I couldn’t cook.
TTN: How did you get back into professional photography?
SD:. All the chefs here got taken out, either by drugs or by immigration. Immigration came and I had to stop working at Lazy Wave.
TTN: How did you get the word out you were shooting again?
SD: You, you booked me a photo shoot even before I had a camera. There were a couple of really lean years, but then I started working with Fernando Carcamor, and he got me doing some jobs with the Four Seasons. It got better from there.
TTN: Your photos are stunning. Can you describe your process?
SD: The actual photo begins by putting the end product in mind’s view before the lights are even set up. It takes patience and having an idea and creativity and years of stuff not coming out. Eventually, you come to believe that you can do what’s in your head.
TTN: One of the most interesting shoots was the one you did with Echo tools, their chain saws, blowers, and other equipment photographed with beautiful women.
SD: You will notice that all of the women are clothed and I shot them at a low angle so they look heroic. No bikinis. The clients liked it, but at first they didn’t know what was going to happen. There’s no jiggle and it was outside of the client’s comfort zone.
TTN: Which of your shoots was the most challenging to photograph?
SD: I agreed to do a sporting goods calendar in Colorado. I had to climb the ice and I don’t like heights. The idea was intense: imagine climbing up a frozen waterfall and going above the model and then shooting them. I had to get strapped in and hang upside down. It came out pretty good.
TTN: What is your favorite place of all the places you’ve traveled?
SD: I love Cambodia. I went there because I dig the music. It was like pop music from the ‘60s. No one there actually heard the real ‘60s groups, so they would copy the people who were copying the ‘60s music. It was a whisper down the lane. I liked the music, went there, and I liked the country.