James Ravilious: A Life by Robin Ravilious, Wilmington Square, 248pp, £17
Some people’s lives are worth remembering not because they have played a major historical or artistic role in society but because they have lived out their vocation in life with integrity and dedication. Such is the life of James Ravilious, the photographer of rural North Devon.
Written by his widow, Robin, this memoir describes the world he grew up in, the early loss of his parents and how he came to be a photographer.
The son of the war artist Eric Ravilious and parcelled out in his youth to relatives and friends, James was initially directed towards office work. Then, wondering whether to take up art, he discovered the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and intuitively realised that this was his task – to spend endless hours watching and waiting with his camera for le moment critique when a seemingly mundane scene would be forever caught on camera in all its hidden richness and beauty.
Robin Ravilious had inherited a cottage in Addisford, north Devon. This was where they went to live in 1970, where they raised their two children and where James became associated for 17 years with the Beaford Arts Centre.
The then director, John Lane, was looking for someone “capable of showing North Devon people to themselves”. James, who shared his vision, wanted “to capture, to pin down, the essence of a loved but vulnerable piece of England”.
Recording the work of hedgers, basket makers, thatchers, carpenters, farmers and others, James never romanticised his subjects. “Out with his camera on a Devon morning in spring … he would exclaim ‘My God, is this work?’” This is a warm and life-enhancing memoir.
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