A crossing of paths and minds

Many years ago, one of my first paid commissions was to take a few photos to finish an unfinished set of black and white images of the Mendip Hills for Somerset County Council

The set had been started by James Ravilious, a photographer who at the time I had never heard of. He is now one of my favourite photographers and has been a huge influence on my work over the years.

Mr Ravilious sadly died in 1999

There have been many crossings of paths over the years. My first exhibition at the rural life museum in Glastonbury was spurred on by seeing an earlier exhibit of his in the same venue, preceding one by Xhris Chapman, one of Ravilious’s best friends and colegues.

Subconsciously, my work has always been inspired by Ravilious, but I’ve never realised how much.

Last month, I went to an exhibition of his work at The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. Lovely as this always is, there were some of the classic images (some of which I’m lucky enough to own signed originals of) and some new ones I’ve never seen. He did after all take around 20,000 images for his project for the┬áBeaford Archive in Devon.

Neatly tucked in between some unseen images was one that gave me a proper tingly spine moment.

As I said earlier, my first commission was to finish his last unfinished job. At this point, I had never seen any of his images other than the few already done for this job so was really winging it.

The photo in question is a simple one of a chap ploughing with his old tractor somewhere in Devon. A fairly inconsequential image, but hopefully you’ll see why it stopped me.

John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon. James Ravilious 1976
John Ward ploughing, Parsonage Farm, Iddesleigh, Devon.
James Ravilious 1976

In a previous post, I have shown an image taken at Mendip ploughing match which was one for this project. Although there is 30 years between the images, the similarity is obvious. Some things don’t change. Farmers still plough using tractors from the 50s. they still wear flat caps and most importantly are meticulous about straight lines. This is something you will never get with digital.

To me, one of the best things bout these two images is that because they were both shot on 35mm black and white film, processed in the same way, unless you had my notes, it would be impossible to date either image o the nearest decade let alone year. This became apparent last year when one of the producers of BBC’s Countryfile rang me and asked if they could use some of my “antique” photos in their programme on the ploughing matches. They were shocked when i told them that there were not antique, but only a few years old.

Below is my image. I hope you will see the similarity and why it had the effect on me to see the one in Bristol.


Mendip Ploughing Match
Mendip Ploughing Match