Ashwell Farm, Ashwell, Dolton, 1977
Unlocking the Ravilious Archive
In 1972, photographer James Ravilious took on a commission from Beaford Arts' founding director John Lane to make some images which would “show north Devon people to themselves”. Seventeen years and more than seventy thousand images later, James' Beaford Archive had become what the Royal Photographic Society later called 'a unique body of work, unparalleled at least in this country for its scale and quality'.
After his death in 1999, James' negatives and contact sheets were placed in the strongroom at the North Devon Records Office for safekeeping. For more than a decade they remained largely inaccessible. Now, however, thanks to the support of Leader 4 Torridge and North Devon we have been able to unlock part of this unique body of work once more.
During the time that James worked on the Beaford Archive, he catalogued details of all the scenes he photographed such as the subjects, dates and locations. James also categorised the quality of his photographs as being either 'best', 'good', 'fair' or 'poor'. For this project, the 1700 images that he classified as being 'best' and 'good' have been digitally scanned from his original negatives.
Viewing the 'best' and the 'good' online
The digital images that you see on this site have been produced using an entirely different method to that which James would have used in a wet darkroom, and you will notice that the appearance of some of the photographs differs.
Some are surrounded by a thin black border. This is a digital representation of a technique that James used; including the negative border on the print demonstrated that the image had been composed in the viewfinder at the time the photograph was taken. In addition, bordered images have been digitally treated to approximate some of the darkroom techniques which James would have used in making his own prints.
The border on some of the images on this site differentiates those classified as 'best' from those classified as 'good'. Those classed as 'good' are shown here as untreated digital scans taken directly from the negative. For this reason, it's important to note that James would not have regarded these as finished images for exhibition; they are included here as items of record, rather than exhibits.
Hints and tips for searching the archive
The photographs in this online archive all have keywords associated with them, which are informed by records from James Ravilious’ own catalogue.
James gave each image a classification (e.g. best, good, fair), a category (e.g. Environment Agriculture - Buildings Sheep) and the date the image was taken.
Keyword terms relating to the image have also been added to the image records, along with the location that the photograph was taken, and a ‘geo-tag’ which has allowed the photographs to be positioned on an interactive Google Map™
You can use any of the data to search for images which interest you, either by date, location, content or style. The image categories have been turned into links for you, allowing you to browse the images in the collections James gave them.
Other search tips:
By default only images that match all search terms are returned, the more terms you include in your search the fewer results you are likely to have returned. The keywords 'and' and 'or' can be used to filter results. Part words will be included in your results so 'village' also finds 'villages', but ‘farmers’ will not find ‘farmer’. Any punctuation marks/characters will be ignored. The minimum length of a search term is 3 characters.
Mapping the images across North Devon
The detail held within James' catalogue has allowed us to map the locations that he photographed so that visitors to this site can search through his images using the geographic locations in which they were taken. Using this information, and as a case study for this project, a 20 page visitor resource has been created, in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust (www.devonwildlifetrust.org), documenting a walk around familiar Ravilious sites in Dolton, where James lived throughout the 1970s. Please download your own PDF copy or email your name and address to .
All of the images on this site have been geographically placed on an interactive map, and in some locations such as Dolton, a photograph will have been as accurately sited as possible. In other areas however the images have been placed to the centre of a town or village. It is our aim to continue work on specifically locating all of the images and for this we need your help. Please see the getting involved page for details.
We are pleased to be able to offer a print-making service from all photographs shown on this site. All images ordered as prints, whether they are 'best' or 'good', will be digitally processed and bordered prior to printing in order to approximate digitally the look and feel of a James Ravilious print. Prints are supplied with a printed accreditation below the image. See an example.
Of course, this will only ever be an approximation. Part of the artistry of James' work came from his mastery of the darkroom; his true vision can only ever be fully seen in the prints he made or supervised himself. That said, this digitisation has been carried out by Devon photographers who knew James and his work and who have worked hard to remain faithful to his style. Beaford Arts is grateful to Focal Point (www.focalpointphotographic.co.uk) for all that they have achieved.
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Devon EX36 3LH
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