Book Review: Jen Davis’ “Eleven Years”

On a recent trip to the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center for their annual photo book fair, we stumbled on a wonderful talk by photographer Jen Davis, detailing her recent book Eleven Years. In this 120-page full color photo book, Davis explores ideas of beauty, intimacy and self-perception. Working with insecurities revolving around her physical appearance, Davis lays bare her personal struggles saying, “It was about opening up, like looking under the rug and trying to see what was buried deep under there.” Working with a large format camera, Davis enacts intimate scenes from her everyday life. In one photograph she sits on a bed in her underwear looking directly at the camera, confronting the viewer and herself. As the book progresses Davis introduces male subjects to explore her fantasies of intimacy. She explains, “In the work what I kept returning to is: What is love? Am I loveable? Can someone find me attractive?… At home with Mundane surroundings, I treated the camera as if it were my lover, the camera desiring me, providing me the glimpse of what was missing in my life.” In one spread she juxtaposes a photograph of her lying alone in bed, while on the other page a man’s arm wraps around her, again her face staring into the lens, as if to ask “Is this what ‘it’s like?” Eleven Years is a quietly bold, honest and visual stunning body of work.


Jen Davis (b. 1978) is a Brooklyn based photographer. For 11 years she has been working on this series of self-portrait’s dealing with issues regarding beauty, identity, and body image. Davis has exhibited widely including at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Center for Photography at Woodstock; Light Work Gallery, Syracuse; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne. Davis’s photographs are in many public and private collections, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Sir Elton John Photography Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Library of Congress among others.