The Recent Past by James Ravilious

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The Recent Past by James Ravilious

Category: Art
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: James, son of the war artist Eric Ravilious, inherited his father's artistic talents. Although he was a gifted painter, his main career was to be as a photographer. This volume of 75 of his images really is a sumptuous piece of work to which it is difficult to do justice in words.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 132 Date: November 2017
Publisher: Wilmington Square
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781908524935

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James, son of the war artist Eric Ravilious, inherited his father's artistic talents. Although he was a gifted painter, his main career was to be as a photographer.

After a false start studying accountancy and deciding it was not for him, and then trying to make his way as a painter like his father before him, in 1972 he and his family moved from London to North Devon, his wife Robin's childhood home. His appetite had already been whetted by seeing an exhibition of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Now, in their new home, he was employed by the Beaford Centre to start a photographic archive recording the landscape and people of the area. His widow, who worked closely with him, has simultaneously published a biography, James Ravilious: A Life, to which this splendid book is a companion volume.

While working for the centre in a post that lasted for fifteen ill-funded and often precarious years, he took nearly 80,000 black and white photographs. As Robin says in her introduction, the archive soon came to rule their lives. The art of photography was a very different beast in the 1970s and 1980s, when the artist either pressed the camera button at the right moment – or he hadn't. There was no Adobe Photoshop programme to apply quick fixes afterwards at leisure to images that needed major improvements in those days. After taking the pictures came the tasks of developing the film, choosing the best images available, printing on light-sensitive paper that had to pass through three different baths of chemicals before being washed and dried, locked away for hours in a darkroom breathing obnoxious fumes. It was not the ideal environment for a man who had been diagnosed with a form of cancer early in life, and one that would return with a vengeance towards an all too early end.

Prefaced by an introduction from travel writer John Hatt, who has selected the photographs, and a full introduction by Robin, this book presents 75 of Robin's images from rural north Devon. There are several of agricultural life, one of the most striking being one of a farmer with his ewe rescuing her lamb in a blizzard during the sudden thick shows of February 1978 (an occasion this Devon reviewer remembers all too well), another being the removal of a sick ram being dragged home in a bathtub as it was too heavy for even two burly men to carry back. There are some marvellous landscapes, such as one of a farmhouse dwarfed by the sweeping panorama of the fields that comprise the Exe valley, another of a bridge over the river Taw with sunlight catching the arches over the water in spectacular fashion, and another of gateposts near a church that looks as though, to use a cliché, it is miles from anywhere. Rural life is represented by a horticulturist standing proudly alongside his prize-winning chrysanthemums, groups of bellringers and of military veterans on parade at a war memorial on Remembrance Sunday, and a Salvation Army Band playing in the centre of Bideford for a group of Christmas shoppers. The one that probably caught my eye more than any other was one of an oak tree in Marsland Valley, with an astonishing structure of twisted, gnarled branches completely dwarfing the stumpy trunk from which they have all grown.

All in all, this really is a sumptuous piece of work to which it is difficult to do justice in words. Typing Beaford Archive into google will produce another selection, but not necessarily a substitute for owning this wonderful volume.

As referred to above, publication coincides with Robin's biography of her husband, which is naturally recommended. Also well worth your attention is another title of the rural life, In the Country by David Gentleman.

Buy The Recent Past by James Ravilious at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Recent Past by James Ravilious at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Recent Past by James Ravilious at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Recent Past by James Ravilious at Amazon.com.


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