In the realm of conventional expectations surrounding English gardens—meticulously pruned hedges, precisely arranged flower beds, and picturesque walkways—the work of British photographer Siân Davey stands as a remarkable departure. Davey, with a vision to transcend the clichés, embarked on a unique artistic journey. In her latest portrait series, aptly titled “The Garden,” she sought to avoid the trap of crafting a saccharine, nostalgia-laden portrayal. Instead, her creation is a testament to meticulous craftsmanship, heartfelt dedication, and an unwavering commitment to her artistic process.
The Genesis of “The Garden”
“The Garden” took its first breath in February 2021, a period that witnessed the world’s collective pause due to the pandemic. Davey vividly recalls the moment of inception, seated at her kitchen table in Devon, southwest England, as her son Luke proposed a transformative idea. Together, they envisioned rejuvenating their long-neglected backyard into a floral haven, a canvas for Davey’s photographic exploration, where local individuals, family, and friends would become the subjects of her lens.
A Tapestry of Intimate Portraits
The outcome of this endeavor is a captivating series of intimate portraits, each echoing the unbridled, connective power of nature. Clothed or unclothed, partially obscured or unabashedly revealed, these subjects, set against a backdrop of wild colors emanating from foxgloves, sweet peas, cornflowers, and poppies, create a captivating visual tapestry. Davey’s garden served as a transitional space, allowing individuals to transcend the confines of their thoughts and delve into their hearts, revealing extraordinary stories in the process.
Recognition and a Sustainable Theme
“The Garden” has garnered well-deserved recognition and is currently shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Pictet, an international photography prize that spotlights works centered around sustainability themes. This year’s theme, ‘Human,’ resonates deeply with Davey, given her background in psychotherapy. The garden, which bloomed during the summer of 2021, became a hub of conversation and reconnection for passers-by, symbolizing the delicate balance between humanity and nature.
A Continuation of Human Stories
Davey’s work consistently weaves a narrative of human experiences. Her previous projects, such as “Looking for Alice” (2015) and “Martha” (2018), delve into personal stories, including her daughter born with Down’s syndrome. In the case of “The Garden,” the project’s significance transcends the final photographs. Davey and her son embraced a sustainable approach, aligning their planting with a biodynamic calendar and viewing the Earth as a harmonious organism. Their intent was to create an immersive garden, where visitors could momentarily lose their sense of self, a captivating experiment in spatial dynamics.
A Space for All
What sets “The Garden” apart is its accessibility. Situated on the historic estate of Dartington Hall in Devon, part of Davey’s rented family home, this project underscores that you don’t need to be a landowner or property owner to embark on such a transformative journey.
A Project Rooted in Time and Connection
Davey concluded the series in early September 2023, marking the end of three summers spent cultivating the garden. This timeframe coincided with a period of societal isolation and disconnection due to the pandemic. Despite the growing feelings of fragmentation and loneliness, she also observed an increased appreciation for the natural world. “The Garden” serves as a testament to the power of nature to heal and reconnect, deepening the relationship between the subjects and the earth.
Nature as a Profound Teacher
The project has not only altered the perception of nature for those involved but has also left an indelible mark on Davey herself. Nature, she emphasizes, possesses its own vitality and wisdom. It has taught her that staying present, curious, and interested can be a transformative experience. Nature, she asserts, is a healer, but its healing powers remain dormant if we fail to listen.