When you take pictures that are as exciting and beautiful as the ones that David Silverman took in Africa this year, it’s hard to take him seriously when he protests that he’s not an artist.
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it as art,” Silverman explained. “Mostly, what I do is wait and then capture the moment rather than have something posed.”
You can make up your own mind from now until Aug. 1 at the Pitman Street branch of BankRI in Providence, where a selection of his African pictures are on exhibit. On Aug. 2, the exhibit moves to the BankRI gallery in the Turks Head Building through Sept. 5. The exhibit is part of an ongoing program at BankRI to introduce Rhode Island artists to a broader audience. Ironically, Silverman welcomes the exposure even as he is reluctant to call what he does art.
Obviously, his pictures wouldn’t be worth looking at if they were not so strikingly beautiful, but Silverman insists that it is the viewer’s taste that dictates any of the art that is in his pictures. He certainly has an eye for the telling moment but he relies on the viewer to bring something to the image.
“Whatever you like is what I like,” said Silverman, casually assuming the air of a strictly business guy. He says he learned the beauty is in the eye of the beholder lesson in his photography classes at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale more than 25 years ago.
“I used the same picture in two different classes,” he explained. “In one class, the teacher gave me a D for the same picture I got an A for in another class.”
But, if photography is art by accident and luck, Silverman has done an artistic job of putting himself in places where those happy accidents happen. He has a knack for being in the right place. When he became interested in photography at East Greenwich High School, he had a friend and neighbor whose grandfather worked for Kodak and had decades’ worth of technical notes and equipment. He got very good at it and set his mind on a career of taking pictures.
“Photography was the only thing I knew I wanted to do,” he said.
Silverman, who now lives in Cranston, began doing freelance work, mostly in sports, and built up a reputation for coming through with superior action pictures for local newspapers, including the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald. He also garnered steady work from organizations like the New England Patriots, Brown University, Yale and MIT.
Although known for his sports photography, Silverman said his primary duty with the Patriots for the last 20 years has been following the owner, the coach and the team around to take pictures that are strictly for in-house use, although Silverman is somewhat tight-lipped about what he has seen and photographed, don’t expect any bombshell backstage stories about the Patriots, or any of his many clients, to appear soon. Discretion is one of the reasons Silverman has kept his clients over the decades.
“Even if I did [have something to reveal], you wouldn’t know about it,” he said, with a sly grin.
The one thing that Silverman really likes about his job is the opportunity to travel.
“His first trip was to Alaska, his models grizzly bears. Then he was off to Africa and the wildlife preserves in Kenya and Tanzania. Lions, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs and hippopotamus were his inspiration; the Serengeti and Masai Mara his landscape,” according to a BankRI press release. “The exotic locale and unusual subject matter combined to give Silverman a new opportunity to communicate what he sees.”
Click here to WATCH a video slideshow of Silverman's safari photos
The photographs from his African trip seem to have been taken so close up, you imagine he put himself in physical danger but Silverman makes no such claim.
“I was in a truck, shooting through the window, so I was never in any real danger, although, when that lion jumped over a log and came running at us, it was exciting,” he said. “The window was open but we were pretty safe.”
In spite of his roots in Kodak technology, Silverman said he has been totally digital since 2000 but, unlike many other photographers, he uses Photoshop manipulation very judiciously.
“I don’t like to retouch,” he said. “I try to be as true to life as possible, although I will remove a fly from a lion’s face. A fly in a picture can be ugly.”
There will be a Gallery Night Providence reception Thursday, Aug. 16 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. with live music by guitarist Mark Armstrong and refreshments. Exhibit hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact www.bankri.com or call 456-5015, ext 1330. Visit dspics.com or facebook.com/davidsilvermanphotography.