#minibookreview – In just about every photograph the weather is great—except for the one of ‘Ladbroke Grove, London 1985.’ However, I was already halfway through John Davies’ book “The British Landscape” before I realized this.
Their unresolved ambivalence may well be what is so fascinating about Davies’ photographs. The weather is great, but the grey tones of the black and white photos have the rich subtlety of a dishcloth that has been re-washed too many times. The text describes a range of historic and contemporary events that have marked that landscapes in question, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if they read like a call for environmental protectionism or like the annual report of a chemical manufacturer. Each photograph is so carefully framed that its composition seems completely obvious, a property that allows an easy ‘reading’ of the landscape, while at the same time belying the care that went into its creation.
Whether depicting Scotland’s deforested hills, the defunct rail lines of Derbyshire, the former coal mining towns of Wales, or the mega-malls of Manchester, Davies’ photographs draw a viewer in and invite them to dwell in their detail and incongruity. At the same time, they are rather mundane. I imagine this ambivalence may well be how Davies feels about the landscape of his nation, deep love mixed with deep horror, fascination with disgust, a distant intellectual curiosity melding into an emotional transcendence.
Photography is a funny art in this way. So much of its power bubbles just under the surface, affecting viewers so subtlety, that most never even realize how or why they have been worked upon. They may never notice the strange irony of a book called “The British Landscape” that only shows one rainy day.
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