A Northwestern State University alumnus who enjoyed a long career as a successful commercial photographer has created the first-ever endowed scholarship for a student interested in pursuing photography as a career. The Robert Davis Endowed Scholarship will be presented to a junior or senior minoring in photography with first preference given to students who aspire to become professional photographers. The student must maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
Davis of Baton Rouge began as a photography hobbyist but an elective course he took at Northwestern State pointed him in the direction of serious photography. Davis attended NSU majoring in business and participating in ROTC from 1965 until he graduated in 1968. After serving in the Army for three years, he returned to NSU on the GI Bill to pursue an MBA and enrolled in a photography class to learn the darkroom skills of processing film and developing prints.
“Photography was a serious hobby so I took the course and it taught me so much,” he said. “I eventually had a free lance commercial photography business for 38 years. It was really good to me and I always attributed that good fortune to that class at Northwestern.”
Davis’s father, Dwight Davis, was the NSU band director and, although he knew he wanted to go to college, wasn’t sure what field to pursue. The photography course he took turned him to a more serious pursuit of photography.
“When I graduated, I dabbled in some other jobs. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy unless I was working for myself, so I moved to Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge had state government, LSU and a lot of thriving industry. I got here at the right time. There weren’t many commercial photographers at the time, so I went to work and learned a lot on the job. I had lots of luck. It took off from the beginning,” he said.
Commercial photography involved broad-based subject matter in relation to advertising, public relations, brochures, reports, people shots, board rooms and working situations. He migrated to digital photography around 2000.
“After 30 years, the darkroom became a chore and I found I enjoyed Photoshop because it gives you so many opportunities you don’t have in a darkroom,” he said. The industry has changed with technology and today many graphic designers are their own photographers. He retired two years ago and dabbles with computers as a hobby. He has built three.
Davis worked with the NSU Foundation to arrange for a percentage of his investment portfolio to benefit Northwestern State. He said the ideal recipient of the Robert Davis Endowed Scholarship would be a student with a strong desire to pursue professional photography.
“I don’t have any direct heirs and I thought I ought to just pay it back,” he said. “I’d like to help a student in the position I was in at the time.”
“Through the kindness of Mr. Davis, one photography student each year will be able to use these funds to expand their learning opportunities,” said Matt DeFord, coordinator of the Department of Fine + Graphic Art. “The student will be able to purchase photography equipment, pay tuition or use it for other living expenses. Our photography students have a history of success in the field, and with this generous endowment, they will be helped on their way.”