Hidden Histories of North Devon: Art, Memory, and Environmental Change

Sophie McCormack (Project Coordinator of Hidden Histories for Beaford Arts) and Mark Wallace (Director of Beaford Arts and Vice Chair of North Devon’s UNESCO World Biosphere Partnership).



The Beaford Archive is a remarkable collection of photographic materials documenting rural north Devon between 1870 and 1990.  For seventeen years (1972-1989) James Ravilious documented the people and places of northern Devon, amassing a collection of over 70,000 images.  James Ravilious lived in the community he photographed, and was trusted to photograph all aspects of local life: http://www.beaford-arts.org.uk/archive

Ashreigney, Bridge Reeve 08/1987

In addition, he built what is known as the ‘Old Archive’: over 5,000 copy photographs dated between 1870 and 1940, borrowed from local people: http://beafordoldarchive.org.uk/frontend.php

According to the Royal Photographic Society, it is ” … a unique body of work, unparalleled, at least in this country, for its scale and quality”.

James Ravilious’s dual role as artist/photographer and local curator gave him privileged access to an environment and community on the brink of change. Importantly, the area documented in the Archive, rural north Devon, is based in England’s first new-style UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The UNESCO Biosphere’s dual role of expert conservation and local environmental engagement provides a unique opportunity to bring together diverse narratives. In this context, it is vital to use the Archive to inspire public environmental awareness and action.

The Hidden Histories project

The Hidden Histories project is a three year Heritage Lottery funded exploration of the materials within the archive, seeking to improve our understanding of, and accessibility to, the photographs. Through modern day digitisation techniques, we are able to interrogate the negatives in the collection with a new level of detail – uncovering social and environmental change through a medium that is simultaneously evocative and deeply relevant to the communities of north Devon.

A key focus of this ongoing work is a new digital archive:  an online platform bringing art and technology together, to enhance the way that the inhabitants of the North Devon Biosphere experience their environment. Beaford.org will launch in November of this year, and by bringing together the themes of heritage, art, memory and environment in a virtual space, we will enable users to explore photography that documents the environmental change of their land. Interactive areas of the website will also empower them to contribute their own knowledge of this change to the Archive.

Through this, we expect to uncover unheard narratives about the landscape that draw directly from a visual social history created by an artist (James Ravilious). We intend to use this user generated content as source material from which to commission new creative work, reflecting on present-day versions of the same concerns documented in the Archive.

Presented by Sophie McCormack, Project Coordinator of Hidden Histories for Beaford Arts; with Mark Wallace, Director of Beaford Arts and Vice Chair of North Devon’s UNESCO World Biosphere Partnership.




Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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