Re-written text from the essay "The modernisation of the village centre",
published in "Sequences / Paysages" revue de L'Observatoire
photographique du paysage - 1997 (ISBN 2 85025 582 3). The 18 photographs
included in this publication were commissioned jointly by the Commune
of Saint Benoit-du-Sault, Indre and the Ministere de L'Environnement,
Paris, France. A selection of this work was also published in the
et Paysage in 2000.
John Davies visited the Canton of St Benoit on seven
occasions from April 1994 to April 1998.
I am the product of my cultural, social and historical
influences. My mother's family belonged to the last of many generations
of farmers including the Colling brothers, who bred the famous "Durham
Ox" in the 18th C., the ancestor of modern cattle. My father
was last in a generation of coal miners.
This marriage may seem an odd mix but is symbolic
of Britain's early success at industrialisation: large farms intensified
food production to feed the workers of the Industrial Revolution.
This background has influenced my depiction of the rural and urban
development of the landscape.
I see strong similarities between France and Britain.
The changing nature of French rural villages reflects what has long
since taken place in many parts of Britain. Farms have grown bigger
and specialised to become more productive and competitive.
Like many places in France the population of rural
communities has been decreasing in recent years. The communes within
the Canton of St. Benoit are also going through a transition. The
landscape is a patchwork of small fields and woods, it is difficult
to see how they are economically viable. As the traditional farming
village population leave to find work in industrial areas and cities,
the rural villages become more attractive to people wanting a retreat
from city life.
The new autoroute being built to the west of St.
Benoit has had an immediate impact on the communes that surround
it. Government grants are made available to the local communes to
re-landscape the area around the motor way. The farmers are often
taking this opportunity to remove hedgerows to make larger fields.
At the same time some villages have been transformed by road widening
schemes for the speedy passage of traffic. The new motor way will
continue to affect the area with the growth of tourism and the economic
possibilities of service and light industries already emerging.
There are other structures that have a significant
presence in these small village communities: war memorials, crucifixes,
cemeteries, schools and maries (town halls). These monuments are
not always sacrosanct. I have seen a war memorial transported from
the village centre and relocated near to the local super-market.
Sources of water have played a central role in the
traditional rural community. A feature of the communes surrounding
St. Benoit are the numerous village ponds, wells and hand-pumps.
As villages change so these icons of rural life become romantic
symbols of a by gone life style or are simply removed.
It is often the village church that is the most significant
and dominant land mark in a small community. Like the sources of
water, such icons in the landscape represent an historical as well
as spiritual relationship between people and the natural world.
It is fashionable to claim that we live in a post-romantic
age but at the same time we do not want to loose our symbolic links
to the natural world - this is where conflicts in re-landscaping
and modernising a village centre arise.
© John Davies April 1999
A selection of eight 66x99cm prints were
first shown in the exhibition, "Le Temps Vite", at the
Pompidou Centre, Paris in January 2000. These prints are now available
from Gallerie Vu, Paris.
Images may not be reproduced in any form or by
any means without the permission of John Davies
Photo and material Copyright © John Davies 1976-2011