Establishing Priorities with Sean Davidson
We took some time to catch up with our colleague Sean Davidson recently. We met Sean back in October, and have been keeping tabs on him ever since. Sean has his hand dipped in seemingly everything, but is mainly known for his design and photography work.
Sean walks us through his habits of consumption and being a digital hoarder, viewing Brooklyn as Home, and establishing community as a priority.
MW: Sean, it’s been a minute since we caught up. You recently went to Mexico City, how was it?
SD: It was so great. It was my first time down there.
MW: What made you go?
SD: So I had just gotten laid off and had some time on my hands. I was looking for an excuse to go down there and eat and look at art and check the city out, so it just all lined up.
MW: What was the best part of being there for you?
SD: I was actually so surprised with how clean the city was. It’s the largest city in North America, and it’s an arid and dusty environment, so naturally it would give way to being a pretty dirty city. But everybody is always cleaning, always sweeping. That really just shocked me and I found it to be special that people took such good care of where they lived.
MW: Do you make it a habit to travel very often, or is it not something you get to do as much as you’d like?
SD: I mean, since moving to New York, I’ve traveled mostly for work. It’s tough, being locked down to a 9-5. It definitely restricts how much you’re able to travel. I don’t know many people who are travelling as much as they’d like to be, you know? So there’s always room for improvement.
MW: For sure. Do you have a next destination in mind?
SD: A friend of mine, Oli, and I are trying to go to Tel Aviv, potentially. There’s a lot of modernist architecture there. A lot of the individuals involved in the Bauhaus Movement moved out there. So it’s a city with really good architecture and history, but the design scene is starting to blow up, similar to Mexico City, in that way.
MW: It’s interesting to hear you mention these cities and their growing design scenes. It’s not something I’ve really thought about. How would you describe New York’s design scene?
SD: Hm. It’s tricky. Coming to New York as a designer, I would think: “Oh, there’s so much design here.” But you start to look around and realize it’s mainly just furniture shops, honestly. More concerning, even, is that there’s no real entry point. So there’s this false idea that the community has to be open because it’s so big. When in reality, it’s never quite as open as we’d like it to be.
MW: It’s tough. You talk to people who are in those circles, and you hear them address the issues of having a really high barrier-to-entry, but there’s never any way to change or remedy it. It can be so frustrating.
SD: I know. I get it. Everyone is pretty comfortable in the circles they run in, so it gets hard to invite others in, or venture out yourself. I feel like if there were more than 24 hours in a day, a lot of these issues would be solved. Most people here bust their ass all day, so to do that, then go to some gallery event where they don’t know anyone, just to start getting in those circles—it’s even more work.
MW: I don’t know though. That kind of feels like a cop out to me. You seem to be doing a great job at getting into these circles. I don’t know if I know many people who are simultaneously walking the lines of photography and design and architecture and fashion, such as yourself. So it has to be possible to some degree, right?
SD: I guess. Sleeping less. I don’t know. I’ve always been in tune with communities anyways. It’s always been a priority for me. So when people ask me how I do it, or how I make time for it all, it seems like a pretty simple solution: Just give up shit you like doing.
MW: I love that. Do you feel like being a part of these communities, being heavily involved in them.. Was that something that came naturally for you, or did you find yourself stepping outside of your comfort zone to make it happen?
SD: It’s both, for sure. Community always was, and still is, a priority for me. So, to that extent, it’s natural. But, you don’t get invested into them by just being passive. It takes active work. A level of vulnerability. So for me, that’s always talking to people, going to openings alone, being active on Instagram, and keeping it top of mind. Just making it a priority is the most important thing, you know?
MW: For sure. Do you see these practices: Photography, Design, Architecture, Fashion—do they seem very individual to you? Or is there overlap between all of them?
SD: I think in an ideal world they’re all coinciding with each other. Each practice informs the other. For me personally, there’s overlap because I like photographing whatever it is that I’m focused on. But recently, I have been so disillusioned with product design that photography has been siloed off from that process, pushing me to focus more on fashion. Ideally, my own practice would be the design and documentation of my own work as well as my friends. Running a design studio, that also serves as a mini-agency for product design would be so cool to me. But, there’s only so many hours in the day.
MW: It’s really cool to see that you’re documenting these really great events and works of other people though. Maybe it’s not your own work per se, but the documentation still is, you know? The stuff you did with Something Special Studios was amazing, I thought. So I definitely think you’re more than on your way to where you want to be, for what it’s worth.
SD: Slowly but surely, but thank you.
MW: How did you work yourself into those situations? To be able to document some pretty impressive spatial design projects or magazine releases?
SD: Yeah, I found the best way is to not push too hard. To not view these relationships as only transactional. I’ve just made friends out of the people who have worked at these places over time. Eventually, you have enough friends to where the work evolves naturally, if you want it to. But it definitely hasn’t been easy. I’ve been lucky enough to have a full-time job, so photography was always a side project, which took a tremendous amount of energy. It involved working a 9-5 and bringing all my gear to work. Setting up shoots and going there after working, hauling all my gear across the city, editing the images so they can be sent out the same night. It’s exhausting. Brutal, for sure. But, you know that’s part of it. You do it anyways.
MW: I love to hear that. How long have you been in Brooklyn now?
SD: Five years.
MW: Does Brooklyn feel like home to you? Or is it still an elusive thing?
SD: Oh god. It’s weird. I think it does. Community-wise, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The city offers so much as far as a close-knit community. Being able to walk down the street and see your friends, or easily travel and jump to another neighborhood and get there in a few minutes. It doesn’t feel like there are any boundaries or barriers as far as getting there. But coming from North Carolina, everything there is just much slower. You have a car, life feels a little more structured, you know? So, from that perspective, everything in Brooklyn feels hazy to me, and I’m starting to lose grip on reality in a sense. I’ve been talking to my friends about this recently, but it just feels like my grasp on the future is gone. Growing up, going through college, you always have a clear idea of: This is what I want to do and this is the path I have to take to get there. There has to be that structure or you lose focus, I think. And then I moved to New York City. And now it’s like, I don’t really have enough time to be able to sit and think about the future, or what I want to be doing, because I’m too swallowed up by the present. There doesn’t feel like much time to slow down at all. And maybe that’s just a personal problem.
MW: I don’t think so. I feel very similarly out in Los Angeles. I’m very fortunate to have a close group of friends out here, who have my best interest in mind and care about me, but the city doesn’t feel like somewhere I could be indefinitely. Moreso I’m here until I’m not, sort of thing. So in that sense it feels almost like I’m in limbo.
SD: Yeah, exactly. Those exact words.
MW: I want to switch over and talk about your resourcefulness for a little bit. We’ve already talked about your multidisciplinary practices, but I’m curious where you’re drawing your inspirations from. Are there any resources you constantly go back to?
SD: So, growing up I was a Tumblr kid. I was constantly eating up imagery, looking at like thousands of images a day. And now that’s just transitioned into Instagram and Are.na. And I used to read so much more than I do now, but I still devour magazines. But active inspiration is tough. It feels like a contemporary purgatory. There’s so much information that it becomes a problem. When the time comes to make the work, the inspirations that I’m looking at don’t necessarily inform what I’m doing. So in that sense it’s really process-driven. I’m really devouring all this content to keep my mind moving forward, like fuel to an engine. And that’s one of the big appeals of photography, for me, is that the process is so instant. The issue I have with design comes in the form of its timeline. Three weeks on ideation, six weeks on sampling, and then like a year before you actually have a thing. It can be really frustrating, and you lose inspiration along the way.
MW: We have this running joke at the office that you’re just the master of Are.na. You and CAB are both at the upper-echelon of that application. I’m just constantly blown away by how much stuff you’re throwing in there.
SD: So much about what makes a tool like that good is how you enter information into it. I had Are.na for about a year and a half and didn’t really use it because it was so time intensive to add anything. Then I figured out that they had an extension for Chrome, and it was an absolute game changer. It makes it so simple, and really opened the floodgates. Now if I have an extra hour on my hands, I’ll go through my saved page on Instagram and upload like 150 images at a time. There’s this great website I often frequent called Hacker News. When I was at a 9-5, it was my daily download. There are so many technically-minded essays, articles, weblinks. I have a “read” channel on Are.na, and anything that sparks my interest when I see it gets saved there. I really use Are.na as a large container. All my channels are “/ related”. So I have “Photo / Related”, for example. An image I like, for one reason or another, goes into that channel to later be sorted into a more specific channel. That type of organization, using these “master” channels, seems to work really well for me.
MW: I feel like we could talk about organizational behavior on Are.na for this entire thing.
SD: Probably so, there’s a lot to cover.
MW: I see this trend in our parents, where you start to see them developing habits of hoarding, and there’s this real fear of missing out or losing something. Do you ever think about digital hoarding, especially now that tools like Are.na exist?
SD: It’s just always how I’ve treated the internet. And I think we’d all be lying to say we don’t see that in ourselves, to a certain extent. That’s how I was on Tumblr a decade ago. Anytime I saw something that made me stop, even for a millisecond, I liked it and would sort it out later.
MW: It’s interesting to hear you use this pretty aggressive vocabulary in regards to consumption: Devouring or eating up content. How do you actively consume information instead of passively? I feel like I’ll catch myself passively going through Are.na or Instagram, and it’s such a waste of time.
SD: I’ve found the best way for me is to switch over to something else. So much of my focus and personality is consumption-based. I’m just so hungry for information. But it’s easy to get distracted or lose focus when you’re like that. I’ve found that my biggest problem I’ve come across is the ability to finish a project. So I’ve been trying to actively reduce the barriers to finishing.
MW: What does that actually look like for you?
SD: Trying to keep ideas at a surface level and just seeing what comes from them being made. It’s just more shots on the basket, you know?
MW: For sure. I’ll catch myself critiquing work a lot. Regardless of whether I like it or not, I’m always impressed when someone is able to start and finish something. And if you think about it in terms of process-driven and not product-driven, it’s kind of amazing that so much work actually gets made.
SD: I’ve always thought that way too. I’ve never connected with people who are hyper-critical of movies. For me, to see that someone got a huge crew together and made this movie, in terms of production, is a real feat. And maybe the storyline fell flat or whatever, but who cares? I try not to get too caught up in those details.
The remainder of this conversation was spent catching up and checking in on each other. You can stay up to date on what Sean is working on here. Drop him a message, tell him we sent you. He's always more than willing to talk.