Friday, 20 February 2009's a snap

James Ravilious

This morning I had planned to visit my local church, St Mary the Virgin and photograph it's celebrated stained glass against the glowing Norman stonework.
However, the bright, clear skies of yesterday have turned into low clouds and light poor for photographing stained glass.
Such is life on this greatest of small islands.
So instead I turned to a book, a birthday gift, on the works of the rural photographer James Ravilious. James made a major contribution to English landscape art. His photographic record of a small area of countryside between the rivers Taw and Torridge in north Devon has become an essential analysis and celebration of English rural life.
He attended St Martins School of Art and a decisive moment came in 1969 when he visited an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose ability to use photography to provide insights and interpretations of the most fragmentary moments of ordinary life profoundly affected him.
The greatest stream of all the influences on him came, however, from his wife, Robin Whistler, the daughter of the glass engraver Lawrence Whistler. She was his life-long muse and greatest friend, supporting his work while bringing up their children, Ben and Ella, and latterly caring devotedly for James through his final illness.
After their marriage in 1970, the couple moved to a small cottage near Dolton, north Devon.
Over the next quarter of a century he compiled what has become an important archive of over 10,000 historic photographs - a unique portrait of life and landscape in a small area of relatively remote countryside within a 10-mile radius of Beaford.
His modesty, both of character and life-style allowed him to be an ordinary member of the society in which he was living and in turn, his presence as a photographer was accepted by his subjects as part of everyday life.
Although he did take colour photographs, James preferred the black and white medium - thereby, as he put it, avoiding the artists problem of multiple shades of green.
James died in 1999 aged 60.

His work is a constant source of inspiration and admiration for me - the humblest of amateur photographers.
I hope you enjoy his work.

Archie Parkhouse with ivy for sheep, Millhams, Dolton, Devon, England, 1975

Alf Pugsley moving a shed in case of flood, Langham, Dolton, Devon, England, 1978

Archie Parkhouse with his dog Sally, Millhams, Dolton, Devon, England, 1982

View towards Iddesleigh & Dartmoor, Iddesleigh, Devon, England, c1985


  1. Ravilious is totally new to me. His work is stunning. There's something very soothing in pastoral scenes. Thanks, Michael. Loved it.

  2. I do. oh, I do. There's a certain sweeping calm and symmetry to it all.
    And I do so love the landscape of much of England and all the quaint and wonderful 'hop ins' for cream teas. It somehow always seems to me more civilised than the land of its chaotic cousins just a pebble skip across the waters. ;~P

  3. Aaaah, green such a difficult color. So nice to know another artist admitted it. I concentrate on my beloved canyons where there is very little green if any.

    So are black and white photographers and painters of canyons cowards?

  4. You might be interested to know that there's an exhibition of his work, both for Beaford Arts and beyond, at the National Theatre in April and May: