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Retraced 81/19

Retraced 81/19

by John Davies

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Photographer John Davies captures the landscape in a perpetual state of change. Retraced 81/19 brings together his early images alongside new contemporary works revisiting the same landscapes – mapping both equilibrium and change. These pairs of images, made from the same vantage point, tell of the alterations made by human activity and bear witness to cultural and social change over nearly four decades.

More about this book

Since the early 1980s, Davies has documented locations, both rural and urban, associated with the industries of coal mining, cotton textiles, shipping, docking, and steel, as well as the railways, roadways, canals, and rivers alongside the towns and cities intertwined with these industries. This book reveals the changes in our urban infrastructure and gives examples of how the distribution hubs of a city are in a process of transformation.

The earliest photographs in the book are from the UK in 1981 when Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for two years, and many of these large-scale industries were in decline. These early black and white photographs show the evolution of the landscape shaped by economics, industry, construction, politics, and nature. In Retraced 81/19 by revisiting the sites, Davies shows how regeneration or abandonment and history have all impacted the landscape in a quietly powerful statement.

Retraced 81/19 includes photographs made in sites across the UK including Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Rochdale, Salford, Sheffield, Stockport, and Sunderland. The opening images in the book are of rural France where motorways now dissect the countryside, and the book closes with images of the area surrounding the Berlin Wall. These photographs, made before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1984 and 2019, show the wide area known as 'no-man's land' that separated East from West Germany for 28 years now transformed by commercial buildings and human presence. Thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, these historically loaded landscapes have transformed and changed just like any other.

'These landscapes are not just about surface appearances and architectural features; they are symbols of human endeavor. They are about the actions and legacies of people within a culture shaped over generations. And they reflect the individual and collective impact on the environment that continues to shape our world. These pictures represent a human story of effort and achievement but also the many, often untold, histories of conflict and exploitation. The photographs capture a specific place at two moments in time. But perhaps the real subject of Davies' pictures is the suggestive space of time between those moments. His vision is undiscriminating in the best sense, compelling the viewer to draw their own conclusions.' - Martin Barnes. Senior Curator Photographs. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Published November 2019
215 x 265 mm, 192 pp
92 duotone images
Hardback clothbound, foil debossed
ISBN 978-1-910401-34-7

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  • Born in County Durham in 1949, John Davies grew up in coal mining communities until he moved to Nottingham in 1972 to study photography. His early career included work at Sotheby's making pictures of auction lots and teaching photography in Blackpool, whilst pursuing his interest in photographing the landscape. In 1981, he won a research fellowship at Sheffield Polytechnic art school, and his first book of urban scenes "A Green & Pleasant Land" (Cornerhouse 1987), was published alongside a touring exhibition of the same work organized by the Photographers' Gallery, London.

    His first commission to work outside of the UK was in 1984 in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, an area dominated by the Berlin Wall. In 2019, he revisited Berlin to retrace his earlier images, thirty years after the fall of this powerful symbol of the Cold War. Since 1986, he has been invited to work on many landscape commissions for cultural organizations throughout Europe. His work is in major public and private collections including the V&A, London; MoMA, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Deutsche Börse, Frankfurt; FNAC and Pompidou Centre, Paris. In 2001, he moved to Liverpool, where he continues to work on monographs and exhibition projects. In recent years, he has become increasingly politically active in community campaigns to save open and green space on Merseyside.