Friday, February 25, 2011

Manure Grows the Best Flowers: A story of National Geographic Image Collection Photographer Greg Davis

I met Greg Davis through a mutual friend of ours.  My friend promised that I would be bewildered by Greg’s story, and she was right. Greg lost it all before finding his calling.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you are in a mood for a fascinating roller coaster tale or need a boost of inspiration, then this story is for you.
Greg was born and raised in a small town in East Texas. When he was in high school, he didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life.  His dad sent him to Baylor University to earn a marketing degree.  After college, he started to work in the sales department at Dell, one of the largest computer companies in the world.  For over ten years he was selling computers to IT executives using his splendid conversation skills.  And then, tragedy hit.  In early 2000, Greg lost several family members, was laid off from his job, and soon thereafter, learned that his girlfriend was cheating on him.  “I found myself at home, unemployed, brokenhearted, three family members had died and another in a bad shape.  I wasn’t doing very well.”  It was then that a friend of his called and arranged for a job interview at Compaq, now Hewlett Packard, in Colorado Springs.  Two weeks later Greg flew to Colorado for his new position.  “It wasn't long after I arrived in Colorado that I was attacked by a gang and nearly killed, which was weird.  Colorado…. hippies, snowboarders, peace, love.”   He received forty stitches to the ear and neck from a bottle being broken over his head during the attack.  Emotionally, he was lost and began to drink.

After a few months, he began dating a young woman who was a Reiki master and massage therapist. A couple of months into the relationship, she offered to give Greg his first massage.  He gladly agreed.  During the massage Greg felt something unusual: a warm and loving energy that flowed through his body.  Greg told me more about his experience, “Never having been aware of what Reiki was, I didn't know what I was experiencing at the time, but it was the most amazing thing I ever felt in my life.  I was raised to believe that God sat on a cloud, wore sandals and a robe and judged us.  Through this experience, God came down and started living within us, all of us, in all living things.  For me it was my spiritual awakening.”

“At that point I hadn't stop drinking.  I was still drinking pretty heavily, still running from all of the pain that I was feeling.  Brooke [his girlfriend at that time] was in Alcoholic Anonymous and had been sober for seven years.  She was attracted to me but at the same time, she was disgusted by me because she saw her old self in me.”  One day, his girlfriend eventually said, “Greg, you need to stop and look in the mirror.”  Greg: “Without my love and respect for Brooke, I would have said “whatever,” but she had given me this gift of awakening, so I listened and looked in the mirror.   I quit drinking in January 2004 for six months and although I still drink, I now drink for different reasons. Back then it was to ease the pain.  As soon as I made the decision to get sober, I started to recognized what I call ‘God winks" or coincidences.  I started following these my 'God winks'  instead of just saying ‘Oh, that's weird, what a coincidence!’  Once I started recognizing them, it was clear to me that I was suppose to quit my job, sell everything and travel the world.  So that’s what I did.  I had to make a lot of tough choices. I had to give my dog away, (I had raised Lacy since she was seven weeks to a year and a half). There was definitely a sense of anxiety, but you have to trust to what you are being 'told.'   It wasn’t clear like ‘Dude, I need you to do these things,’ but I felt that I had gone through so much, that this was a gift to myself.  Fortunately, I had no debt, no wife, no children and a little bit of money saved up….I was free to go.” 

With $17,000 to survive for a year and a simple point-and-shoot camera, Greg departed for his trip around the world.  He spent every dime, came back broke and started all over again.  He said that he experienced a big cultural shock upon his arrival to the US. While his peers were having families and a career, he started working as a bartender at a local bar in Austin.  In spite of all the difficulties and sacrifices that the bar job entailed, it was during this time that he discovered his photographic talent.

The owner of the bar heard that Greg had just returned from a trip around the world and asked if he had any photographs from the journey that he would like to hang up in the bar.  Greg printed a few of his images, placed them in simple frames and hung them on the walls.  A week later somebody stole one of those photographs.  Greg perceived it as a compliment – jokingly "If it is worthy of stealing, it means that people are interested in my work." He then followed the advice of his new girlfriend and began exploring opportunities to sell his photographs.  He discovered an outdoor art market on West 6th in Austin.  For twenty five dollars a day he was able to rent a space to exhibit his photos. The first weekend he made about five hundred dollars, the following weekend, a thousand.  Soon after, he resigned from his bartending job and began focusing more on his real path, his new life as a photographer.

In four years of consistent networking and interaction with collectors and through exhibiting his work at different art festivals and exhibitions around the nation, he has risen to the level of National Geographic Image Collection Photographer.  Greg is now a full time photographer and independent artist.

Greg has exhibited his work at various museums as well as been published internationally in England, the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Mexico.  His work has been published by National Geographic.com, PDN Magazine, Professional Photographer Magazine, MSNBC.com, Itchy Feet Magazine, Today's Machining World, Insite Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, and the Austin American Statesman, among others.  He is also a founding member of the Austin Center for Photography, a member of the Texas Photographic Society and Professional Photographers of America.