Megan Davidson and her “Love Bombs”
Meghan Davidson’s photography celebrates the authentic beauty of imperfection. Though she is an accomplished psychologist and professor, the persona of a driven academic fades away in her photographic work: here, she is creative and loving, a woman who energizes and supports all in her orbit.
Tell us a bit about your journey into photography.
Growing up, I did not consider myself a creative person. I was shamed by an art teacher in 2nd grade. On my report card she wrote, “Meghan has no artistic ability whatsoever and should stick with academic pursuits.” That criticism imprinted on me. I felt I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t do art. I got validated for doing well in school, and that is what I did.
10 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really took stock in life. So much of my success was measured by academics, getting a PhD, becoming a psychologist, a professor at a university. Cancer made me recognize “this is it.” I always loved art and music and surrounded myself with it, but I had to give myself permission to create. I started with a DSLR and a basic class and quickly moved to film.
Why are you drawn to film and Polaroid photography?
Film feels real to me. Taking 35 shots to get a picture that is “just so” isn’t my way. Film helps me remember and see beauty in that exact moment without redoing it. Accepting that the shot is what it is helps me be present and mindful.
There are imperfections in my photography that I like and want to keep. For example, I have a light leak in my camera — the lab repeatedly points it out — but I like my light leak and the dreamy feel it creates.
The imperfections become perfect in their own right.
Do you still feel the insecurity from being labeled not artistic as a child?
Yes — totally. But of course it is less than before.
How do we determine who we are and not let the words and judgements of other people identify us? Other people have a lot to say about how we live our lives, but those are just projections.
As a psychologist, I am invested in working with other people and this has translated to my own self-growth. We work together to come into who we are and who we can be.
What is your process for photographing others?
A lot of people aren’t comfortable having their picture taken. The first part of the process is getting them to say okay. I’ll tell them, “I just want to shoot. The photos don’t have to be for anything. I don’t have to post them, you don’t have to post them.”
Then, if someone lets me shoot them, I ask: “Can we play?” With film and a prime lens, I have to be moving, closer, farther away.
Sometimes I make up a story and ask people to get into a role, a character. I shot a couple next to an old vintage car and told them to think, “We’ve gotta blow this town!” Stories help people get out of their head and just play.
Or I ask them to go to an emotional place, whether it’s fictional or a really happy memory, or to think of someone they love. I have them make the internal space connection first. Then I say, “Look at me” and take the shot.
What can students expect from your classes?
I create a comfortable and safe place. Writing and self portraiture can feel scary.
I create grounding first, and I share equally. I am along for the ride too — I share my writings, struggles, victories, and photos. In my classes, people always have the choice to share or not to share. It’s fun, I use a lot of humor. I hope campers will laugh and discover something new about themselves, explore part of their creativity they haven’t before — just try it on and play.
Last year at camp you were an enormous part of the fun, positive supportive energy at camp. Campers adored finding your “love bomb” sticky notes in unexpected places. Do you do this wherever you go?
There are different ways that we feel love and show love. For some it’s service, for others quality time, gifts or physical touch. For me it is words of affirmation. That is how I feel love and how I give love. When I was going through a divorce, when I was feeling low, I would write to friends across the country. It helped me focus on love.
My sisters (I call my female friends sisters) across the country and in Canada responded. They gave me so much love. I had to practice saying yes to take the love in. I went on a Love Campaign (a friend gave it that name). It makes me feel good — it makes me happy to send out cards and notes. Everyone is so happy to get a love bomb in the mail.
You really brought that to camp in a wonderful way.
Last year at camp, people received it. It was a reciprocal thing. I can create the space and then other people have to step into it. The campers co-created an upward spiral of love and community.
Read more about Meghan’s classes: