John Davies

Slowing Down Change

At the end of the 18th century, England’s population exploded. Since traditional three-field crop rotation no longer provided enough food for the growing number of people, new machines and production techniques were developed. Thanks to these inventions, England became the first country in Europe to transform from an agricultural to an industrial society. This change also had an impact on working and living conditions: factories and industrial plants were built, urban centers and workers’ housing areas sprung up as people moved to be near to the factories in which they worked. Even today, the changes in working conditions and factors of production still shape the social fabric in England – and the way cities and the countryside look.

John Davies is fascinated by these industrial and post-industrial landscapes. In his photographs, he explores the transformation that the demise of industry has wrought on rural and urban areas: “I like the history of places and the traces of habitations. I’m actually quite fascinated with the layers in the landscapes.” With his camera John Davies literally scans the terrain to reveal these layers. The series of black and white photographs taken between 1979 and 2005 is called “British Landscapes”. His pictures are suffused with evidence of the social history of Great Britain from the first industrial revolution onwards; they document in photographic form a society in a permanent state of flux and how this is mirrored in urban development. In his photographs, John Davies, who lives in the industrial city of Liverpool, freezes the dynamics of transformation for a moment and slows down the continuous process of change.

In “British Landscapes”, Davies depicts how industry and urban society have shaped each other over the course of time and the tensions that result. “I quite like that sense of chaos and the clash between the natural and the man-made elements. I am interested in the tension that is created.” Man is omnipresent in Davies’ “British Landscapes”. What impact does urban change have on social interactions? John Davies doesn’t give an answer: “Most of my pictures ask questions. I’m not saying anything is right or wrong, but I’m questioning values.” By skillfully composing his pictures and playing with daylight to create a unique atmosphere, John Davies invites the viewer to join him on his search for traces of the past. And to speculate about what these landscapes might look like in future – because change is inevitable.

Biographical information

1949

born Sedgefield, England

1974

graduated from Trent Polytechnic Nottingham

1978–1981

Visiting lecturer at Blackpool College of Art

1985–1989

Visiting lecturer at West Surrey College of Art

1989–1991

Visiting lecturer at Trent Polytechnic Nottingham

1993

BBC Wales Arts Award in visual arts

1997–1998

Visiting lecturer at Swansea Institute of Further Education, UK

2008

shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

Since 2001

lives and works in Liverpool, UK.