John Davies

zoom interview

Published in July 1997 by Zoom America Inc.
questions were not published.

People do not appear in your photos - why?

The presence of people dominate my urban and landscape scenes. The subject of my photographs are the products of humans and my images are very much about what people do to our landscape environment. For most of us, we will be remembered for what we have achieved in our lives, what example we have set or what we have made or created. Most of us will not be remembered for our dress or appearance. So, for me, it is not necessary to show what people look like but rather to show what people do, what we produce and how we change and effect the environments in which we live. I am well aware of the potency of images of people and, where ever possible, I do wait to include people in my landscape scenes.

Why Black and White and which lens do you use the most?

I find colour to be a distraction. We all enjoy colour because of it's tactile and sensuous qualities. The impact of colour can be too dominant - one can be so easily seduced by the way colour can create abstractions within an image. I enjoy sensuous distractions as much as anyone but the qualities of colour can often detract too much from the image/subject for me. It is also much easier for me to control the contrast, tonal range and fine grain structure of a B&W image ! I always use a wide angle lens to create panoramas. Where one can capture the relationship between features in the landscape - to show how human structures inter-relate within the context of their surroundings.

Which are the main differences between urban and landscape photography in Europe and USA ? Tell about short history of this kind of photography in GB ?

Like many other contemporary landscape artists and photographers working in Britain I have been influenced by both American photographers and the European traditions of poetic social realism and surrealism. It is difficult to compare landscape photography between Europe and USA - they have both influenced one another. One could say that American's tend to be more concerned with pictorial elements than with social elements - Europeans tend to understate where Americans heighten and exaggerate the features of the landscape - American landscape photographers are more self reflective in seeing images while Europeans are more content at looking and examining the external reality. Sweeping generalisations like these are misleading and one could find many examples of where the opposite is true. The most notable photographers in both continents are individuals who realise the truths and realities of their own position.
When I was a student, it was contemporary American landscape photography which was so influential in it's clarity of vision. In part, this was because the best photography books were produced in the USA. Now, the reverse is true. Within the last 15 years or so, in Britain and in other parts of Europe, their has been a rediscovery and encouragement in landscape photography and art. New ways of seeing the landscape have emerged with a rich variety of forms and styles that are relevant, fascinating and challenging.

What do you want people to read in your photos ?

At a basic level all photographs are documents and I enjoy the knowledge that people will bring their own experience and interpretation of a view I have chosen. A fundamental aspect of landscape is the sense of power it can symbolise and evoke. Images of land, water and sky can become metaphors which reflect our emotional and spiritual states. But the landscape can also represent power in terms of land ownership and material wealth. It is this dual and often ambiguous representation of the metaphysical and the material in the landscape that I wish to reveal. My work is about observing the social and industrial transformations on the landscape and I wish to celebrate as well as question the forces of change on our environment.

How do you develop a project ?

When I am asked to work on a landscape project it is normally for art or cultural organisations. I very rarely work directly for industry as I wish to explore both the negative and positive aspects of industrial development. My basic approach to photographing the landscape comes initially from a social and documentary perspective and most of my assignments or commissions are linked to an exhibition and/or publication relating to a specific geographic area. I develop an approach to understanding the landscape by first researching the topography and recent (industrial) history of an area. Within this analytical documentary framework I try to make images that go beyond being purely factual.
John Davies 1997
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Photo and material Copyright John Davies 1976-2011