A Yak’s Family is a document of the time that Naomi spent staying with a nomadic family in broader Tibet in 2017. In the shadow of the snow-capped Zhakra Mountain on the High Lhgang Plateau, Soku and her family migrate with their yaks across the vast grasslands every summer, living at an altitude of over 3,700 metres. With no specific place to call home, the family are led by their yak herd, chasing fresh grass to feed the cattle and themselves.


Naomi was fascinated by the family’s relationship with the yaks. As well as being a symbol of cultural and religious prestige, the nomadic way of life revolves around the yak: the animals provide milk, cheese, butter and meat; their dried dung is used as fuel for fires; their hair is spun into material for tents, clothes and blankets; and their bones are turned into toys for the children. The yaks themselves are used to transport the nomads’ goods across the plateau during the summer migration.


But the yaks are also vital to the healthy development of the land itself. The animals maintain the biodiversity of the grasslands; through thousands of years of grazing, the area has been transformed into a fertile and vibrant landscape – one that is increasingly under threat from tourism and human development.


Indeed, many nomads fear that the traditional Tibetan way of life is disappearing as the Chinese government urges them to resettle in permanent housing communities away from the grasslands. The government frames this as an ecological policy: once the nomads are moved into cities such as Lhasa, the grasslands are turned into national parks such as the Qiangtang National Nature Reserve, for which 1,000 Tibetans were relocated in 2018. There is no room for the yaks in the government’s vision of the nomads’ future. But for now, Soku’s family are clinging on to their old way of life, with the yaks as the treasured core.