‘A Photographic Friendship’ – A celebration of 50 years of friendship between two photographers

Mike Rego

Anyone interested in rural life in Dartmoor and North Devon over the past 50 years must surely already be familiar with the photographs of Chris Chapman and the late James Ravilious, who together have been an incredible historical record of daily life and agriculture. convenient in and around the area.

A new book has just been published combining, for the first time, a selection of the photographs of Chris Chapman and James Ravilious, as a celebration of their friendship and their photographic work.

What makes ‘A Photographic Friendship, James Ravilious and Chris Chapman’ unique is that it not only contains a number of never-before-seen photographs, but by displaying a photograph of a broadly similar image taken by each photographer on a double-page spread , it allows a direct comparison to be made of their approaches to recording the apparent ‘normality’ of what was, and is, everyday life in their communities.

The book saw the light of day in a private ceremony held last September in Chulmleigh when a blue plaque, organized by the Devon History Society, was unveiled above the front door of the late James Ravilious’s home . Two friends, Simon Timms and Richard Westcott, fell into the conversation and realized that 2022 would mark the 50th anniversary of the start of their photography projects in Devon by James Ravilious and Chris Chapman. Throughout the year an anniversary group was formed to produce a new book celebrating their work edited by Mark Haworth-Booth and with a foreword by Michael Morpurgo.

Great care was taken in selecting the images to pair, whether landscapes, agricultural practices, community events or portraits. What is immediately striking is the similarity of their approaches to their subjects, to be observed without indiscretion or intrusiveness. As Mark Haworth-Booth, who edited the book, puts it in his introduction “An unusual flair for photographing the usual”. What makes the photographs of Chris and James so special is “because they both photographed the characteristic and the typical, as well as the remarkable and the extraordinary”.

Their photographs display a straightforward honesty without mocking or mocking their subjects and therein lies their strength, recording real life as it was, in available light, rather than photographic manipulation.

Chris and James had a close, collaborative rather than competitive friendship, and the section of the book with Chris in conversation with James’ daughter, Ella Ravilious, reveals many details about their individual approaches to photography as well as how they worked and experimented together trying different lenses and films to achieve the desired results.

They both had many discussions about the ideal tones they were looking to achieve. James was a firm believer in using uncoated lenses and different developers to achieve a greater range of tones for his black and white photography, and he and Chris had frequent discussions and experiments to achieve their ideal tones.

Chris recounts in the book how, in the 1980s, there was an accusation that his photographs and those of James were seen as sentimental and not seen as avant-garde, and yet it is this very quality that makes their photographs so specials today and will. in the future, and so popular if demand for past (used) Chris and James books on eBay is anything to see.

As Michael Morpurgo says in his introduction, village and rural life stands at a crossroads of change, modern farming methods have swept away many ancient traditions, and memories are fading, but not photographs. He describes Chris and James’ photographs as “the most extraordinary record of village and country life” and how “…their world as it was will live on, and it is through hard work, insight and the foresight, dedication and talent of James and Chris. We owe them both so much.”

For anyone who appreciates the art of photography, the book is a masterpiece not only in the photographic composition and style of two remarkable photographers, but also in the observation of the ordinary, which too often we take it for granted until it’s too late and then we realize we’ve lost it forever.

Glimpses of a pastoral life to cherish, the visionary work of two great photographers. Each page of this marvelous book is a revelation and a joy, a stirred memory. Michael Morpurgo.

The official book launch takes place at the Burton Gallery, Bideford, North Devon on the evening of Tuesday 29th November, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

The book ‘A Photographic Friendship’ is published by Skerryvore Productions Ltd, ISBN 978-1-3999312-0-5 and is currently available from the following retailers, retail price is £25:

Astor’s, 70 The Square, Chagford, Newton Abbot, TQ13 8AE

Beaford www.beaford.org/store

Bookshop, 3 Market Street, Tavistock PL19 0DA

Skerryvore Productions Ltd www.chrischapmanphotography.com/Books

The Bookstore, 21 High St, Crediton EX17 3AH

The Burton Art Gallery, Kingsley Road, Bideford, Devon EX39 2QQ

The RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) shop, Queen Street, Exeter EX4 3RX

Walter Henry Bookshop, 12 High Street, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2AA

Michael E. Marquez