Monday, 11 June 2012

Debating Devon: Did James Ravilious capture real reality in rural Devon?

Ivor brock carrying holly for Christmas decorations by James Ravilious © Beaford Arts
Ivor Brock carrying holly for Christmas Decorations by James Ravilious from

Tonight, Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) will host a debate on photographer James Ravilious' depiction of rural life in North Devon.  The subjects will be the pictures in the photographic exhibition of achive images from of one of the UK's most renowned documentary photographers, James Ravilious: Reflecting the Rural (at RAMM's Gallery until 29 July). 

A panel chaired by Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of the South West RDA and Forestry Commissioner for England, will discuss how Ravilious depicted rural Devon during the 1970 and 80s. Fellow panellists, Prof Michael Winter, Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research, Exeter University; Dr Mike Moser, Chair of North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Partnership; Dr Robert Fish, Exeter University, author of Cinematic Countrysides; and Mary Quicke, farmer and cheesemaker, will no doubt create a lively and frank discussion on the continuing cultural relevance of his images.

Street scene  by James Ravilious © Beaford Arts
Street Scene by James Ravilious from
The Reflecting the Rural exhibition will feature a selection of images from the 70,000 Ravilious images in the Beaford Archive as curated by by photographer Liz Nicol and agriculturalist Martyn Warren (University of Plymouth).  And James Ravilious's black and white photographs of North Devon are described as showing 'a largely unspoilt, but vulnerable, country area'.

For what it's worth, I think the thing that makes these images so striking is that they are not just landscapes - they are portraits and vignettes of the people who existed in these spaces. So often, depictions of rural life don't show much life at all. We've all seen those beautiful landscape photos or windswept trees in Dartmoor and solitary ponies standing beneath Hay Tor, but Ravilious has a way of capturing the people of these spaces in a way that is much more akin to an urban photographer like Garry Winogrand. Here the people are the focus and setting is the frame. 

Dick French and family watching the Cup Final by James Ravilious © Beaford Arts
Dick French Family watching the Cup Final

American Legion Convention, Dallas, Texas, 1964. © Estate of Garry Winogrand

The debate is on Tuesday 12 June at 7pm. £4.50 tickets can be purchased from the museum reception or by calling 01392 265858, concessions £3.00.

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