Jack Davison’s Transfixing Photographs of China’s Miao People

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Jack Davison Song Flowers Marni Maio South China
Song Flowers, 2020© Jack Davison 2020 courtesy Loose Joints and Marni

British artist Jack Davison was invited to photograph the Miao people of south-east China by Marni, now published in a book entitled Song Flowers

For Song Flowers, a new photo book published by Loose Joints, Jack Davison was invited to photograph the Miao people of China by the Italian fashion house Marni. The Miao communities live in the mountainous regions of Southern China, and are known for their storied artisanal work in embroidery, lace, pleating, weaving and silverware – the intricacy and skill of which is something that inspired Marni’s creative director Francesco Risso, who announced a collaboration with Miao artisans in October of last year. Davison’s new publication – his second monograph; his debut Photographs was published in 2019 – comprises transfixing photographs taken of the landscapes, materials, techniques and people of the Miao communities in south-east Guizhou.

Davison hones in on the quietly exquisite details that inform and illustrate the way the Miao people live – the indigo-blackened hands of an artisan, hints of vibrant clothing and accessories (Loose Joints writes that the Miao are known for “boisterous and imaginative festivals and myths”), misty views of the region’s sublime landscapes and flora – and renders them in his signature warm, rich photographic style. The ‘song flowers’ of the book’s title allude to an ancient storytelling tradition of improvised poetry, today incorporated into performances of the folktale Butterfly Mother, which tells the story of the Miao community of south-east Guizhou’s founding.

“The images in Song Flowers illustrate many of the traditional skills that continue today and how they sustain their beauty and functionality in an era of globalisation and socio-economic change,” writes Mark Bender, whose essay Silver, Indigo, Tin, Silk features in Song Flowers. For Davison, who has contributed to AnOther Magazine, Song Flowers’ blend of documentary, fashion and art photography reflects his wide-reaching practice. “People want to be able to call you an art photographer or a fashion photographer. It’s easier for them to put a tag on you. But I don’t necessarily feel comfortable in any of the realms,” he told AnOther as Photographs was published. “I’ve always said I want to keep people confused forever.”

The Miao’s is a culture steeped in important traditions, nestled in some of China’s most extraordinary landscapes. “The encounter and collaboration with Miao communities opened up surprising paths and led me on to question how we live the present. Their interpretation of time makes you wonder whether we shall revisit our understanding of luxury and envision a different purpose, that goes beyond hasty consumption,” Risso said in October last year, words that feel especially pertinent in a newly normal context of lockdowns and pandemics. “Working on this project motivated me in reclaiming time as a safe space for creation.”

Song Flowers by Jack Davison is out now, published by Loose Joints.