Wayne Davis broke both of his wrists in a grisly snowmobiling accident in 1980. What happened next changed his life.
At the time of his accident, Davis was a professional snowmobile, go-kart and motorcycle racer. He had major sponsors and was at the top of his racing career when his left hand slipped off the handlebars during a race in Ontario. His right hand jerked the handlebars into the track’s exterior wall (made of sawed-off telephone poles and plywood), knocking him unconscious and snapping both wrists.
During his yearlong recovery away from the racing circuit, Davis came across a camera his brother bought, but never used.
“I started reading books about photography and how to use the camera,” Davis says. “I taught myself how to process my own film and make my own prints. I loved the process and kept reading books and trying this and trying that and getting better and better and better.”
Now, more than 30 years later, Wayne Davis Photography in Plymouth has shot promotional photographs for major manufacturers such as Polaris, Yamaha, Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat, and for national publications including ESPN The Magazine and smaller niche and trend titles like Snow Goer.
When Davis first picked up the camera, it was just a hobby. He shot fellow riders on the circuit until Yamaha saw some of his work.
“Guys from Yamaha said that my pictures were way better than the people that they were hiring to do this, so ‘can we buy pictures from you?’ ” Davis recalls. “I quit racing and just did the photography.”
The southern Minnesota native, who graduated from high school in St. Charles, bought a home in Plymouth and constructed a studio on site in 1994.
“He is a hidden gem and no one would know that he’s there,” says John Prusak, editor and publisher of EPG Media, who has worked with Davis for decades. “People undoubtedly drive by his house all the time, and he just looks like he has an oversized garage. He is a guy that really does magic with the camera.”
Davis has earned virtually every cover in the 34-year run of Snow Goer Magazine, one of EPG’s titles. For Davis’s 50th birthday, Prusak presented him with a display of 50 of his covers.
“He is central to the look and the design of our magazine since before I got here,” says Prusak, editor and publisher since 1993. “One of the things that always sets us apart from our competition is really Wayne’s photography. Nobody shoots moving power sports products better.”
Davis says his experience as a racer gave him a head start as a shooter. “I have a knack of knowing where to go to be in the right place at the right moment,” he says. Davis is also in many, many places geographically. He routinely travels to shoots around the world, including Alaska in 2000 when he took part in the 40th anniversary of Edgar Hetteen’s ride across the state to prove the muster of the machine he created, the snowmobile. “It was a huge honor to go and document it,” Davis says.
Davis has shot photos out of helicopters and F16 fighter jets. He’s survived scorpion stings and even an avalanche—on a shoot for a Polaris brochure in Utah in January 2011, Davis was buried in snow after pictures of a mountain machine turned to mayhem. Davis was capturing the machine going off a cornice, where wind whips snow into a wave-shaped drift. The first time the machine went over the edge, “the whole mountain fractured and I went down the mountainside,” Davis says.
Davis was able to create an air pocket with his hands as he was buried, enough to last him the 10 minutes it took for his beacon to be located and for him to be dug out. For a career of shooting snowmobiles, Davis was inducted into the International Snowmobiling Hall of Fame in Eagle River, Wis., in September 2011.
“One of the great things for me is that I’m able to work for all the manufacturers of motorcycles and snowmobiles,” Davis says. “I’m going to do my absolute best every single time. They know that. I’ve never missed a photo shoot.”
He continues to ride many different kinds of vehicles, for both his job and for pleasure. “I love that my photography job is centered around my love for motor sports,” Davis says.