Wednesday, 6 April 2011

John Davies: Great British Landscape Photographer

John Davies                           New Street Station, Birmingham
                                          From The British Landscape (2006)

I came across this photograph by John Davies whilst doing research for my current photography assignment. It really stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended!), as I had taken a broadly similar photo whilst in Edinburgh last summer. Not that I am trying to compare myself to JD - that would be extremely arrogant - but it did give rise to some thoughts I had had when taking my photo.

Davies' photograph, commissioned by Birmingham Central Library and first exhibited at the National Media Museum (later also included in the book, The British Landscape), could almost be viewed as a modern interpretation of the gates of hell. With it's railway lines leading into some underground cavern beneath the high-rise metropolis of heavenward reaching buildings, it starts to take on a sinister quality that I'm fairly sure the photographer had not intended. Or maybe he had. The glass structures in the foreground look like space ships ready to take off and start scooping up unsuspecting sinners; the waiting train empty, ready to be filled with those sinners and transport them to the depths of hell only metres below the pavements of the city. The old, pre-industrial buildings are dwarfed by the modern structures, stretching and straining ever skywards to heaven and away from the horrors of what lies beneath. Construction of ever taller blocks continues in the background as the quest for salvation never ends. Of course, it could just be a well-constructed, well-lit, interesting photograph of our urban landscape, taken by a highly skilled and creative photographer. It's up to the viewer in the end. Once the work of art is created it is up to the imagination of the audience as to what it represents. I just wish I could have seen the original, full-size version when it was first shown to the public, but that's a subject I have already visited, so we shan't go there again.

A few weeks ago I had the amazing honour of meeting John Davies when he came to talk to the photography students at the University of Bradford. We are only eight in number, so we were able to have quite a decent chat with him after his talk, and it struck me that this world renowned photographer who has been published and had work exhibited in several countries, was really very humble and totally immune to the celebrity that followed him. It was a real thrill to meet someone whose work I have admired for many years, and satisfying to be able to talk to him about things other than photography. I hope we get to meet him again over the next couple of years as I feel sure I will want to ask him more questions about his ongoing work.

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