Car Wash With Pigeon. Image from "I'm Looking Through You," (Aperture, 2021).
Car Wash With Pigeon. Image from "I'm Looking Through You," (Aperture, 2021). (Tim Davis)

These wry, eye-popping photos are a love poem to the streets of Los Angeles

“The camera is a machine that can see only surfaces. The world casts its spell, and the camera gobbles up its glamour, uncritically, with pure certainty, assuming there is nothing underneath.” — Tim Davis

Photographer Tim Davis’s latest book, “I’m Looking Through You,” (Aperture, 2021) is a welcome respite from all the chaos and clamor unleashed in the world right now. It’s a book about the unbridled joys of “seeing” with a camera. It’s also a love poem to the crazy, freewheeling streets of Los Angeles.

The book’s 256 pages show 159 vividly colorful depictions of life in Los Angeles. Davis’s vision is unabashedly wry; visual non sequiturs abound throughout the carefully sequenced images. I glimpsed photos framed for a recent exhibition on Davis’s Instagram account. They looked so vivid, popping from their frames, immediately grabbing my attention.

The sequences in the book have a similar effect. It’s not just the bombastic color that grabs your attention, but the little details, too, often made with more than a spark of humor (just look at the captions for the photographs). One of my favorite images shows a glass dish full of cheesy enchiladas propping up a copy of a Wes Montgomery LP titled, appropriately enough, “California Dreaming.”

The images in the photo complement each other, delightfully so — the woman on the album cover wistfully looking down into the gooey, fatty goodness. It’s so appropriately placed in this collection of sardonically luxurious meditations on the art of seeing.

Images like the one above abound throughout “I’m Looking Through You,” but the book also contains some really great writing from Davis, including three previously unpublished essays on photography. And they are so well written, employing the same wry humor implanted in the photographs.

In one of the essays, Davis examines the motivations propelling the images in the book, but also his (and other) photography, in general. Here’s a passage from the gloriously titled “The Corpse of Content”:

“I stepped out of my house into the sparkling Lambrusco of a Los Angeles March morning and headed down toward MacArthur Park. I love the utterly aimless photographic walk. There is nothing that makes me happier than having nowhere to go and all day to get there. Most of the time, when I try to go make a particular picture in a particular place, it doesn’t work. It’s sad watching the world not conform to my imagination. Part of the endless pleasure of being a photographer is the sweet-tooth shudder of the Australopithecus deep within us, finding a field of salmonberries or a freshly killed dik-dik. But sometimes you don’t find anything. You go hungry Sometimes it feels like you’re not good at it.”

“I’m Looking Through You” invites us to go along with Davis as he revels in the world unfolding in front of his lens. There’s no big, overarching agenda to the book, at least that I can see at first, or second, glance. We can just immerse ourselves in the unbridled pleasure of looking, which in and of itself is very profound. Sometimes, yes, we do need to stop and smell the roses or take pleasures in the so-called small things in life. There’s much truth to be found even in the tiniest, most unremarkable details.

You can see more of Davis’s work on his website, here. And you can buy the book here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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