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Born in Suffolk County England on September 19, 1854, George Davison was the fourth child born to William and Eliza Miller Davison. While his mother helped supplement the modest family income by taking in boarders, Mr. Davison took to his studies in earnest, passing the Civil Service exam while still a teenager.
After accepting a position at the Exchequer and Audit Office in Somerset House, Mr. Davison relocated to London, where he met and married Susannah Potter on June 2, 1883. Within a year, they became the parents of a son named Ronald in 1884. Daughter Ruby arrived five years’ later.
Mr. Davison began taking an interest in photography in 1885, and in rapid succession became a member of the Camera Club that November and was named honorary secretary the next year. Six of his photographs were exhibited in the Photographic Society of Great Britain Exhibition (also known as the Royal Photographic Society) in 1886. By November of that year he became an active member. The always outspoken Mr. Davison frequently engaged in debates about popular photography issues of the era.
In 1887, Mr. Davison boldly opposed the rules-oriented approach to photography by championing naturalism, which won him an ally in Philip Henry Emerson and an adversary in Henry Peach Robinson. However, his relations with Mr. Emerson became permanently strained when Mr. Emerson published a scathing review of Mr. Davison’s photographs in 1889 and publicly renounced photographic naturalism. In the ensuing fallout, Mr. Davison found an unlikely supporter in Mr. Robinson, who shared his passion for Impressionist photography.
Impressionism inspired Mr. Davison to experiment with ‘soft focus’ photography that produced his most famous photograph, The Onion Field (originally titled An Old Farmstead). One of the first photographs taken with a pinhole camera, Mr. Davison won a coveted prize during the Photographic Society of Great Britain exhibition of 1890.
Professional animosities led to the resignations of Mr. Davison and Mr. Robinson from the society, and they teamed to form The Linked Ring in 1892. This association became extremely influential and its first Photographic Salon exhibition in October 1893 featured photographs by Mr. Davison as well as other popular photographers of the day.
In 1889, George Eastman named Mr. Davison director of the Emerson Photographic Materials Company’s British division. By 1900, he was Kodak’s managing director, and despite the rather meager salary of £1,000, Mr. Davison shrewdly took advantage of available stock options and soon owned more shares of Eastman-Kodak than anyone except George Eastman.
Despite his increasing preoccupation with business, Mr. Davison continued taking innovative photographs and showcasing his work. His gum-bichromate prints were first shown to enthusiastic audiences in 1898. However, by 1911, cracks within The Linked Ring began to emerge. Mr. Davison left and formed the London Secession. His last exhibition was a print of Harlech Castle in May 1911.
In later years, Mr. Davison devoted much of his time and wealth to left-wing causes. He supported several anarchist organizations, which led to his forced resignation from Kodak in 1912 and the breakup of his marriage in 1913. Mr. Davison later married his former housekeeper Florence “Joan” Austin-Jones, and they had a daughter Doreen in 1921.
His declining health forced Mr. Davison to sell his beloved Wern Fawr estate and relocate to Antibes, France, which is where he died after a brief illness on December 26, 1930. Unfortunately, George Davison is more remembered for his anarchist views than he is for his important contributions to Impressionist photography. Collections of Mr. Davison’s photographs may be found at the Royal Photographic Society and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.
Ref: Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Volume 1 (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2008), pp. 387-388.