James Ravilious's great arcadian elegy of Devon is surely one of photography's great accomplishments, a monument like August Sander's People of the 20th Century or Eugene Atget's Paris streets. It stands as a collective masterpiece and a high water mark, like the string quartets of Haydn or Ella Fitzgerald's songbooks in music.
The only problem I have with Ravilious is that he's difficult to see. What we need is a master set of monographs of "the work of," compiled by a conscientious curator and given the best, most responsible reproduction possible. Is anyone looking after this man's archive, I wonder? Where is the archive? Does the widow still hold it? I certainly hope she hasn't turned over the negatives to Corbis or some other agency. What is the British scholarly-curatorial photography community doing about this?
I haven't seen Ravilious's major out-of-print book, An English Eye, although I suspect I know the type of book it is...nondescript duotones and a "layout": that is, the pictures cropped, and bled, and sized according to the designer's interest, now and then falling across the gutter. (Am I wrong? Somebody who has the book could tell us.) [Update: Okay, I am wrong—see Andy's comment below.]
At any rate, you can see the biggest selection of Ravilious's work online by going to Corbis and typing "Ravilious" in the search box. The pictures there aren't mean for viewing, they're meant for selling; you have to click on each thumbnail to see a somewhat larger, watermarked version as a so-so JPEG (some good, some not so).
I want to see James Ravilious's pictures better. I suspect the only way to do so might be a museum show, in person. It's high time to modify the standard story of Ravilious being "great but little known."
ADDENDUM: I apologize—I thought I had put a link to the photographer's own website in the previous post, but I see that I didn't. It's good enough, just a bit scant. Also, there are some much better JPEGS (although again only a few) at the Beaford Arts site. (Thanks to bobdales for that tip.)
Featured Comment by Andy: "I'm fortunate to have a copy of An English Eye and his much earlier monograph The Heart of the Country.
"Both books have generally one picture per page, full image with a thin black neg border. They are not cropped at all and the printing quality of An English Eye is very good.
"Mike, seek out a copy of An English Eye, you will not be disappointed, well that's if you can find a copy!"
Featured Comment by Mark Wallace: "I'm the current director of Beaford Arts, so I hope I can answer a few of your questions.
"There'll be an exhibition of James' prints at London's National Theatre from April 6th–May 16th. It then goes to the Burton Gallery in Bideford, north Devon, from May 26th.
"We're currently reprinting An English Eye using the same specialist printers as for the recently-sold-out second edition. We hope to have it in print to coincide with the National Theatre exhibition.
"James' final work, Down The Deep Lanes, which he authored with English Heritage's Peter Beacham OBE, is in print and can be ordered from the Beaford Arts website.
"As to your biggest question—the Beaford Archive comprises 80,000 images. Making all of these generally available is a big project which has had some knock-backs, but we're actively working on it."