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Wednesday, 11 March 2009


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Haven't been to Corbis to see his work, but to his website:


Wonder who's looking after the website? His widow?

You are quite wrong about "An English Eye" It is a little gem of a book. The pictures are well printed , one to a page, uncropped, with a white border. The first half of the book is a fascinating study of his life and work for the Beaford Archive. (which is probably where his archive resides) There is also a chapter devoted to his Leicas and photographic techniques.
Well worth looking out for too, is his other book "The Heart of the Country" Not as well printed, but still worth having as well.
I never met James regretfully, but I did own one of his old 35mm Summicron lenses - he had found it "too sharp"! I somehow think that if had lived, he would not have been a "pixel peeper", like all truly great photographers, he technique and skill was above such nonsense.

Looking at the Corbis collection of Ravilious photographs, I'm really struck by the uniformity of focal length and viewpoint. Seems like every picture was shot with a moderately wide angle lens, and almost every one from standing height or above. Of course they're lovely, with a beautifully judged background context and composition.
Seeing the superb work various photographers have done with a single focal length, I sometimes find myself staring into my camera bag packed full of lenses, wondering what I'm doing wrong.
The feeling passes eventually. Still, there's a lot to be said for learning intimately the virtues of a single focal length, and using it well, rather than spending half the day swapping lenses in a futile attempt to "get something".

I also think the book shows him off pretty well...

I "discovered" James Ravilious a couple of years ago when I stayed in "No Place", in Ebberly, now a guesthouse, but a farm when he photographed it. It's in the book, so they had it on the table.

So I looked in the bookshop in Bideford, just for a laugh, and they had a copy for twelve pounds.

I've never seen another.


The Bardwell Press has reprinted Down the Deep Lanes and will offer An English Eye as a reprint in April.

An English Eye is currently being reprinted and will be available from mid-April.
If you would like to be informed when the book is available send an email to: [email protected]

An English Eye: The Photographs of James Ravilious can be found on the UK Waterstones site:

An English Eye: The Photographs of James Ravilious

As a reprint available to order, for £18

I'm about to order a copy.

Perhaps you've already seen this - http://www.bardwell-press.co.uk/englisheye.htm

Might they have a copy of the book you're looking for?

I think James Ravilious' devotion to his Devon project made him the somewhat 'quiet man' of English photography, but who, nevertheless, had a far greater impact on enthusiasts and documentary photography than can be quantified by the coverage his work achieved. His techniques for capturing the scene created astonishing snapshots (and I am not being derogatory) of a way of life in rural Devon which inspired others ,such as Chris Chapman, to extend this way of seeing to other worthy projects. I am sure there are many, many people, well known and otherwise - like myself - who would put him forward as a primary direct influence and inspiration to their work because they either met him or had happened upon one of his books.
For me his photographs are a source of great warmth and reassurance that great images can be made from the everyday if you only give yourself time to quietly observe and notice what is in front of you.
As for availability I saw a copy of 'An English Eye' in Waterstones, Aberystwyth a couple of months ago and 'Down the Deep Lanes' ( with Peter Beacham, 2000) is probably still available from Devon Books, publishers to the County Council. I have also seen some nice examples of his work on semi-permanent display at the National Trusts' Killerton House in Devon.
You are right, though, Mike I think a major exhibition and published overview is long overdue and I feel lucky to have had my Ravilious 'revalation'.

I love his photography. Thank you for introducing me to it. I look at a bunch of photography and you always seem to turn me on to the best work. Thanks!


There is an exhibition at the National Theatre in London (bit of a trek for you I know) from April 6th. Here is the link:


According to the publishers, the book is to be reprinted in mid-April, presumably to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. Link here:

I saw the BBC Four program on his life, and I was really impressed. Although, even I was struggling to understand the thick Devon accents during the interviews.


You queried the fate of James Ravilious's negatives - in the book "An English Eye" it states that the 80,000 negatives he produced for the Beaford Archive (an arts project based is a small Devon village) were given by him to the North Devon Archive, along with some of the 10,000 prints he produced. Unless anyone knows anything to the contrary, we must assume they are still there. Last week I was in the small town of Chulmleigh, where Ravilious spent the last few years of his life - the surrounding area made me realise just how well his pictures capture the essence of this still rural and beautiful part of England.

There's a documentary film about Ravilious' work called 'A World in Photographs' which has been shown twice on BBC 4 in the UK, most recently last Saturday (07 March). A brilliant program with extensive interviews with his widow and the subjects of his pictures taken around North Devon. Here's the link to the webpage.


The photographs were marvellous and there was even a spot for gearheads, where his widow, Robin, showed one of the taped and beaten up M3's that he used together with modified lens hoods. Apparently he favoured early uncoated Leitz lenses (hence the hefty lens hoods!).

Mike, sorry please ignore my post earlier as I've just read your previous posts and see that you've already got the info. That'll teach me to check before plunging in!

I am reasonably sure that the Beaford people hold his archive (they say so on their web site).

I live, some of the time, rather close to there: I might try and go and talk to them to see what their plans are.

I'm slightly disturbed that, despite living basically next door, and owning at least one book with his photographs, I didn't really know who he was until seeing the BBC thing the other day.

His pictures are extrremely evocative of the west country I remember from my childhood.

Hi Mike
Thanks for reminding me of these wonderful images.
It seems the National Theatre in London is going to have an exhibition of his work in April-May this year.
And 'An English Eye' is being reprinted according to one of the UK retailers, Waterstones.

"arcadian elegy"?...
Do you know you're the only online writer who regularly makes me look up new words? Well done, don't go changing. Your writing is always worth it.

BBC4 also broadcast a documentary on Lartigue in the same week. You can find it on Youtube in chunks: the first is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=By5zjQQ4VzY&feature=related

I agree Ravilious is overlooked. Something the programme mentioned but only in passing was his affinity with artists such as Samuel Palmer: Palmer was an artist and engraver, and so was Ravilious's father, Eric, and in Eric's work you can see the link to Palmer very clearly. James Ravilious married the daughter of a great glass engraver, Laurence Whistler, some of whose work is of astonishing beauty and power.

All of them, from Palmer onwards, worked in a tradition I think you could loosely call "English rural mystic". What makes James Ravilious interesting is that he took that background into documentary photography, and so you can see a documentary photographer at work with a long aesthetic tradition behind him. I think this is what lifts his work from a hundred other projects that document a community.

A lot of it comes back to William Blake.

If you like his work, you might also like a lovely book called Remains of Elmet (recently republished just as Elmet), a collaboration between Fay Godwin (the "quiet woman" of British photography) and the poet Ted Hughes (who no-one could call quiet). Less documentary, more landscape, but the same traditional at work.

Should be looked at while listening to something by Vaughan Williams (nb NOT Elgar, please!). VW was also influenced by Blake.

I have three of Ravilious's books and enjoy looking at his work enormously. However, having just gone through the 260 images on the Corbis site, I see that there are many superb images that I have never seen before.

I know the archive is vast, but if Corbis can scan so many first class images and get them on the web, why can't the managers of the archive get a high quality momograph out with 200 well-chosen images?

Please, hurry up!

I count myself fortunate to have known James over many years and indeed, to have contributed relative to archival darkroom and other techniques on various occasions. On his visit to my former photo centre in Snowdonia (after some 17 years in Devon), just a few months before he sadly lost his battle, James was keenly adapting a camera owned by Edwin Smith, to whom he was related. Again, I am fortunate to have personally-signed copies of his books and to have seen most of his original work in prints, both at the Beadord Centre and elsewhere. I also have what was probably the last print that he was able to make personally, for my wife. To me, James was always a superb photographer and a person that I feel priviledged to have known. Perhaps James' greatest friend and colleague is Chris Chapman (also a friend) who is also a superb photographer and who also deserves more attention. http://www.chrischapmanphotography.com/

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