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Poet and you know it

Rhiannon Mhyre '25

May 5, 2023

In honor of National Poetry Month, Mercersburg Academy’s Burgin Center for the Arts exhibited a unique show created by photographer Dean Davis. In 2019, Davis gifted his collection of Pictures of Poets to the Class of 2019 for Mercersburg’s permanent collection. 

Sydney Caretti, a member of the arts faculty at Mercersburg and self-described long-time fan of Davis said, “He’s not only technically spot-on in his mastercraft of photography, but also has elevated sensibilities in the week and gauge is the poet, capturing their personality and relatability for the audience. This interactive exhibit is an experience to not only meet each poet…larger than life, but to utilize the QR codes and listen as [they read] poems to you.” 

Davis said, “[Creativity] is a difficult thing to pinpoint. I am inspired by the books I’ve read, the art I collect, the music I listen to, the places I’ve traveled to, and the people interact with… As a commercial photographer, I find it selling to have personal projects outside of my commercial work, too. This one started as a portrait project inspired by the artist Chuck Close, as well as the documentary. I watched a British photographer named Platon.  I spent six or eight weeks working on a look and feel before landing on my subject. This was after hearing a poet, one night read a couple of homes at an awards event. I woke up in the middle of the night after the event and decided poets would be my subject. When I woke up the next morning, I added the idea of recording them. I’ve spent more than five years photographing and recording poets now and while I have other personal projects, I plan to continue the pictures of poets project for the foreseeable future. I have approximately 195 poets on the website now.”

Davis’s approach to creating Pictures of Poets is not the only fascinating thing about him. What led him to Mercersburg was to meet his half-brother Dan Walker, a member of the history department, and his nephews Colby ’19 and Holden ’23. Said Davis, “This is a story in itself. Here’s a short version. After 35 years searching for my biological father, I found him. I used and found Holden Walker. His grandfather is my biological father. This was quite a revelation for everyone. Dan Walker is my half-brother. When this came to light, in Mercersburg, many friends and colleagues of Dan found me on the internet as I have several websites and of course I’m on Facebook. One of those colleagues is Sydney Caretti. After viewing my work online, Sydney contacted me and offered me a show. 

“I will always have a spot in my heart for Mercersburg. My first visit there nearly seven years ago coincided with meeting my biological father for the first time. Dan and [his wife and science teacher] Nikki offered to host this epic first meeting. It’s hard to put into words what that was like and how fulfilling it has been. I have traveled back east a dozen or more times now over the past seven years and have developed a strong bond with all of my ‘new’ family. Dan in particular.” 

Dan Walker said, “There was a spectrum of emotions in the month leading to meeting [Dean] in person, but five years later, it seems like he has been with our family forever.” According to Caretti, Davis’s work will continue to be displayed every four years.

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