© Colin Jones - Liverpool Docks, 1963. Courtesy of the Michael Hoppen Gallery.
Through the eyes of three Great British analytical photographers, this exhibition documents British life across the twentieth century. The pictures seem to capture the simplicity of a bygone era; however, in doing so they also challenge the changes taking place today, forcing us to interrogate our individual responsibilities towards the country we live in.
In this increasingly uncertain world, in which the individual is so often governed by forces outside the remit of his or her control, we are reminded of life’s basic essentials: food on the table, a roof over our heads and a job that provides an income to support oneself or a family.
Once again, a new world order, a New Jerusalem, has been promised by politicians and economists. But the journey will be a long one. Globalization forces a need for shared responsibility, and yet the rate of change within both the microcosm of individual countries and the larger global community leaves little time for reflection.
Charles Jones was an English gardener and plantsman who worked on private estates in the 1890s. As if they were carefully crafted objects, he diligently photographed the vegetables, fruit and flowers he grew. In the era of the supermarket, they appear as a eulogy to a lost time of intimacy between producer and product, the simplicity of the forms paralleling a seemingly less complex age. Although his work wasn’t discovered until 1984 (in Bermondsey market by Sean Sexton), his life’s work is now considered to be on a par with the spare, modernist photographs of Karl Blossfeldt’s flowers and Edward Weston’s vegetables. All his negatives would have been glass and each gold toned print would have taken many hours to complete. The prints are beautiful and unique and show an adept hand in what was a very complex ‘hobby’. His work is in public institutions worldwide.
Colin Jones started his adult life as a dancer with the Royal Ballet in London. In 1963 he swapped his ballet shoes for a camera. He took as his subject the demise of the industrial North: shipbuilding, coal mining, factories and the gradual dissolution of these forms of commerce. Comparing the miners to the dancers he had once worked with, he said, ‘there was the same dependence on strength and physical fitness and the ability to keep going to the limits of endurance; the same reliance on teamwork; the same comradeship of a tightly-knit community doing a job that few in the outside world could understand’. Often moving just ahead of the bulldozers, he puts a face to communities on the brink of extinction. Colin makes all his own prints in his darkroom and his non-judgmental work has garnered many awards and fans.
John Davies has been photographing the changing British landscape since the late 1970s. His seminal book, A Green and Pleasant Land resides on the bookshelves of almost every photo historian as an important document on the United Kingdom. Some of the pictures – Nature in its element – evoke an eerie timelessness. Others, very much of the period, depict vast quarries, allotments, railways and brutalist post-war architecture. Davies, with his perceptive, unassuming gaze, documents the harsh impact of social evolution upon the environment. At the same time, he pays homage to the rich tradition of British landscape painting, producing photographs that evoke the Romantic heritage of the places he depicts. His work has amassed plaudits from around the world and is collected by many international museums. John Davies makes all his own prints in a traditional manner at home.
Vignette : © Colin Jones - Liverpool Docks, 1963. Courtesy of the Michael Hoppen Gallery.