The beauty of strange circumstances and iconic stewardesses in Sam Davis’ ‘Jettison’

Sam Davis’ “Deplaned”

A retro stewardess stares at the bleak and unfamiliar landscape surrounding her. The white flash of the sun casts her shadow on the ground, as she stands prim in a red tapered dress and matching cap. Her hands hang at her sides. She holds a pan in one hand and luggage in the other, as she surveys the emptiness before her.

Sam Davis' "All Call"

Something happened here, but it will remain a mystery. As with previous photographs by artist Sam Davis, the uncertain narrative of the stewardess is as open as the vastness in which she has found herself. The individual viewer, or voyeur, has only this moment, one that appears as if happening in real time, perpetually suspended.

It’s a scenario echoed throughout Jettison at Trifecta Gallery, where Davis’ 15-by-30-inch C-prints—shot with a Hasselblad XPan panoramic camera—feature different women dressed in vintage flight attendant uniforms, each carrying an element from the airplane: a tea kettle, life vests or an intercom and its dangling cord. Each of them, alone, looks out onto new surroundings with determination and a sense of duty, as if it’s just an ordinary workday, despite whatever tragedy may (or may not) have happened.

Sam Davis' "EDJ"

For Davis, who has created similar photographs of astronauts in vintage flight suits, Jettison is an homage of sorts to the iconic women who were the face of hope and reassurance in early air travel, who had command of their responsibilities and represented “adventure, education, preparedness and poise.” Here, the women are on an adventure of another kind, regardless of the bleak and sudden surroundings. They’re going to do their job, whatever that may be, without reservation. The viewer gets to imagine the rest, or stay suspended in the mystery.

It’s a continuation of Davis’ flight-inspired works—the spaceships, vintage rockets, ray guns, robots and blimps (many with a sci-fi tone) that he’s created through cast iron sculptures, gelatin silver prints and flawless laser-etched and acrylic-on-maple paintings. Each approach involves a detailed process, narrative and sense of wonderment that triggers nostalgia and intrigue. Two of the images in Jettison are framed in actual airplane windows.

Originally from Pensacola, Florida, Davis lived under the flight path of a naval air station. His works seem a natural extension of his past, drawing the viewer into a mysterious, humorous and eerie great unknown.

Jettison Through October 31; Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Trifecta Gallery, 702-366-7001.

Photo of Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson

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