Recently acquired by The Burton at Bideford, An English Eye is a collection of photographs by renowned local artist-photographer, James Ravilious. The collection provides an important record of life in North Devon between 1972 and 1997, and also represents the best of James Ravilious’ work as a whole.
Son of Eric Ravilious (war artist, engraver and designer) and Tirzah Woodward (artist and wood engraver), James Ravilious worked as an art teacher in London before moving down to Devon in 1972 where he took up photography professionally. Beaford Arts commissioned him to take images for a project called Beaford Archive, set up to capture the fast disappearing traditional landscapes and practices of rural life in Devon. During the lifetime of the project, James Ravilious took more than 80,000 black and white photographs.
The English Eye is a retrospective exhibition of James Ravilious’ work. Curated by the artist himself alongside the photographer and writer Peter Hamilton (1996-97), the series of photographs grew out of a monograph of James’ work published by The Royal Photographic Society’s Pictorial Group in 1989. It showcases James’ natural ability to perfectly capture the inner narrative of his subjects, and chronicles both the people and the landscape of rural Devon from the 1970s to the late 1990s.
Working primarily in black and white, his work was influenced by English landscape artists as well as photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Edwin Smith. He developed a distinctive technique using older, uncoated lenses on his Leica rangefinder camera. A compensatory development process gave his photographs a subtle and ‘silvery’ quality.
Last year, The Burton secured this collection for the future with the help of the Bideford Bridge Trust and the Friends of the Burton. It now forms an integral part of the Burton at Bideford’s Permanent Collection.