Jack Davison’s favourite images are the unplanned ones. The shots capturing happy accidents and spontaneous moments of beauty. A man walking into a liquor store, for example, or shadows casting unusual shapes on the wall of a building. “The best pictures I take are the ones where I have least influence, where things fall into place that I can’t control – like a bit of light bouncing off a window or someone walking into the shot,” he says.
We first featured Davison’s work in 2014, when he was just a year into his career. In her Exposure series for CR showcasing new photographic talent, art director Gemma Fletcher described his work as “fresh and mature, raw yet stylised”. He has since shot series for The New York Times Magazine (see p26), Avaunt, Pop and shoe brand Bally.
Davison is self-taught. He has been taking pictures since he was 15 or 16 but studied English Literature at university. “I didn’t read any manuals … I got my formal education through looking at pictures on the internet,” he says. “It was really a case of stumbling through Tumblrs and Flickrs … and I’ve always kept a folder of stuff that inspires me.”
This lack of formal training hasn’t held him back – if anything, Davison believes it has allowed him to shoot more freely. “I think sometimes people [who study] photography come out with too many rules to shoot by,” he says. He has learned his craft through experimenting – shooting “anything and everything” – and continued to take pictures throughout his degree. “My tutor always said she knew I was cheating on my degree with photography the whole time,” he adds.
After graduating, Davison travelled to the US and embarked on a 10,000-mile road trip, shooting people, buildings and stunning scenery along the way. He set out with no clear agenda, other than to put himself in a situation where he could “shoot solidly for six months reacting to things” and produce a set of images that could be made into a photobook.
He moved to London soon afterwards and began showing his work to agencies and magazines – but says he struggled to find work without a strong portfolio of commissioned images. His breakthrough came in 2014, when Alex Petsetakis, fashion editor at Port magazine, asked him to shoot a fashion story.
“I was really lucky, they were collaborative and kind and said, ‘you do what you want to do, choose your people and where you want to shoot it and we’ll provide the clothes’. It’s quite rare to have that much freedom. I even got to come in and work on the layout with them,” he says. “Before that, I’d had maybe ten meetings and no second meetings but after that, something switched and people came back to me. I think with some people, you just need to show them what you can do.”
Through his work with Port, he also met Matt Willey, now Art Director at The New York Times Magazine. He has since shot portraits of construction workers for the Magazine’s vertical-format ‘High Rise’ issue, and the cover image for its ‘Culture’ issue (a portrait of musician Kesha, see p38).
Davison says his favourite commissions to date are those with an element of the unknown, where he can get out of the studio and experiment. On a recent shoot for Modern Weekly China, he was given two days to explore Shanghai to find inspiration, and ended up casting people on the street and shooting them in busy areas against a backdrop of passing traffic. In October, he shot a surreal dinner party series for Luncheon magazine in his parents’ garden in Essex. Working with set designer Rachel Thomas, he created playful images of people posing with glasses and forks and food arranged to form smiley faces.
When working on commissions, Davison says he is always striving to create pictures with an enduring appeal – ones that will outlast the lifespan of a magazine. He draws on a diverse set of creative influences – counting Irving Penn, Vivienne Maier, Dalí and Picasso among his biggest inspirations – and says he is drawn to powerful images that can stand alone. “I like an image that you can look at on its own or hang on your wall and it doesn’t need eight images from the same series to give it power.” From portraits to abstract shots, there are certainly plenty of those in his portfolio.