The Other Photos of Paul Nash

In the Archives of the Tate are over a thousand photographs taken by Paul Nash that were donated by the Paul Nash Trust in 1970. Many of the photographs by Nash where studies for paintings but on their own they are surreal marvels. Mostly taken during the 1930s and 40s, the photos sometimes have no date and a guessed idea of the location.

Below are my favourite out of all of the pictures processed, I chose 17 in all. A good deal of them have not been editioned in books or as prints. I have tried to order them in a way I think looks pleasing.

The text I have taken from the large Fischer Fine Art folio of 25 prints by Paul Nash in 1978, in the 25 photographs John Piper picked out, it’s curious how I have selected none of the same images. I have included it as it’s the best and most brief summery of Nash’s talents, and it’s always nice to hear from John Piper.

Paul Nash took photographs for the last sixteen years of his life; that is to say, from 1930 when he was given an American Kodak. The camera was adequate to his purpose and he never became involved enough in the technique of photography to buy himself a more elaborate one or bother with wide-angle or other lenses or even to use a tripod. But his snapshots were neither indiscriminate nor trigger-happy.

As in everything, he was as professional as he needed to be. If he wanted to take something and the sun was not out, he would wait for it; if he wanted a shadow at a certain angle, he would wait for it. He would stalk the Uffington White Horse or Maiden Castle or the stones at Avebury until the place and the light were right and his friends who drove him would have to wait and stalk too. It was often anxious for them and difficult for him since he was seldom well and that kind of effort and concentration was exhausting.

Paul had an economical and obsessive eye and his new toy at once became a valuable weapon. The very first photographs that he took on the way to the United States related to the preoccupations of his painting; a ship’s mast and rigging was a slender echo and anticipation of the open cage structure he often used, the complicated interplay of hard edges and hollowed shadows within the curve of a life-boat proclaimed his interest in the mystery of ordinary things seen from unordinary angles.

No one could have been a less doctrinaire or literary surrealist but he had a punning vision which, with his aptitude for analogue, made his instinctive reaction to the world very close to the more self-conscious and sophisticated surrealist one. His wit with the camera was a natural extension of the wittiness of his words and of his attitude to life. He loved to see the funny side of things without being destructive so the objects that he photographed at Swanage, for example, for his article “Seaside Surrealism” – absurd concrete seats, huge pretentious lamp standards, three concrete steps isolated in a bed of pebbles – all have a double life of incongruity and of beauty.

While on the one hand he used his photographs as immediate aides-memoire to pin down a fleeting glimpse of the famous “Genus Loci” or to record the particular lie of a dead tree or a shadow on a wall, on the other hand he recorded aspects of the countryside that he was never tempted to paint directly but whichhe translated into the magic of his painting. Stone upon stone in miles of dry stone wall, the endless meeting and parting of furrows in an enormous field, layers of cork drying, stacked and roofed like rows of stone fishing huts, the invisible but eloquent bones of a landscape under stretches of featureless grass, all these ancient repetitions, natural or man-made, extend the more immediate subjects of his work and give them their timeless quality.

Paul Nash always had a feeling for the horizontal, at once boundless and embracing, and this is especially noticeable in his photographs. His Kodak, whether by chance or intention, took an exceptionally wide picture. But he always expected things to work for him and they usually did.

– John Piper. 1977.

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 White Horse, Uffington

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 A Woman on a Lawn, Raffia in Her Hair

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 Nest of the Skeletons, Maiden Castle

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 Vickers Wellingtons and steam roller

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 Study of Waterlilies, Hungerford

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 Demolition Landscape

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 Oast House Roof

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 Mrs Bertram and a dog in the garden at the Manor House

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 The Cowley Dump (WWII Aircraft Recycling Centre)

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 Study of Wood Fencing

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 A Woodstack and Barn, Rye

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 Diving Suit, Drying

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 Snape Maltings

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  A Ploughed Field

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 Building Site, in front of St Pancras Station

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 The Rock of Gibraltar

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 The Nest of Wild Stones

Piper in Terrington St Clement

Here are two photographs by John Piper and two paintings, both in different styles. They focus on the such of St Clement’s, in Terrington St Clement. A large village in Norfolk, England. It is situated in the drained marshlands to the south of the Wash, 7 miles west of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, and 5 miles east of Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, on the old route of the A17 trunk road.

As well as showing the different artistic techniques for one subject, it also shows how Piper used his photographs as a visual reference when back in his studio (as I noted in the post ‘Lens and Pens’).

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 John Piper – Terrington St Clement Church, 1975.

Five years apart between them both, the 1975 painting is a classic Piper picture and I am amazed it wasn’t editioned into a screen-print as the levels of detail in it are remarkable, the blocked out lighter panels of the windows and reversed light outline of the bell tower against the typical Piper sky.

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 John Piper – Terrington St Clement Church, Norfolk.

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 John Piper – Knowlton Church, Dorset, 1938

The picture below from 1980 is far more abstract and wild with colour. It is looking more like a study of a painting. The outlines and abstracted features of the building draughtsmanship are typically Piper. Although the colouring may not look like his works at that time, I would suggest they are a throwback to when Piper used collage in the 1930s. As with the Knowlton Church collage, blocks of colour are used with outlines. It makes an interesting marriage of new and old techniques.

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 John Piper – Terrington St Clement Church, 1980

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 John Piper – Terrington St Clement Church, Norfolk.

Below is a video I found on Youtube of a drone flight around the church, I wonder what Piper would have made of such a technology?

John Piper – Lens and Pens

Rather like many artists, John Piper used his camera to record places and subjects for later work. Piper began taking the photographs when he worked with John Betjeman on the Shell County Guides in the 1930s.

The subjects before the war were often objects – ironwork, lettering, marine apparatus – bus since then have been more usually of buildings in landscape. The primary purpose has always been to record topographical information. ‡

The landscape photographs are very often to hand when Piper draws the same subject in the studio, along with sketches made at the place and any other available information, but they are not copied. Only in very rare cases – some of the mountain sides in North Wales in the later 1940s and of the Château of Chambord – were photographs squared and transferred to drawings.

Most of the pictures before are editioned as lithographs or screen prints, some of them are paintings while Piper was working on the Recording Britain project.

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 John Piper – ‘Ruined Church’, Bawsey, 1982. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – ‘Ruined Church’, Bawsey, Near Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

The importance of Piper’s photographs lay less in their technique, which was often little more than competent, but in their subject matter. As in his painting, for which his topographical photographs often acted as preliminary studies, Piper had an unerring eye for exciting what the architectural historian John Summerson called “a new curiosity about unnoticed, unlisted things”.

During the war and after, his photographs illustrated articles he wrote for the Architectural Review trumpeting the virtues of subjects as diverse as flint; shops; the Donegal custom of embellishing its stucco houses with painted quoins and stonework details; the ‘gratuitous semi-circle’ in English late classical architecture; and church towers in Eastern England, which was geographically balanced by an article entitled ‘Warmth in the West’ studying the West of England penchant for painting house exteriors.
Some of the most influential of these were a series he wrote seeking to preserve the unique nature of the British pub. More controversial was the 1947 essay ‘Pleasing Decay’, a plea for structurally sound ruins to be retained for the picturesque delights they would afford.
 †

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 John Piper – Llangloffan Baptist Chapel, 1964. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – The Baptist Chapel, Llangloffan, Pembrokeshire.

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John Piper – Tithe Barn, Great Coxwell, 1940. (Painted for Recording Britain)

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 John Piper – Tithe Barn, Great Coxwell, Berkshire.

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 John Piper – Willington Dovecote, Bedfordshire, 1978. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – Willington Dovecote, Bedfordshire.

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 John Piper – Church of St. Denis, Faxton, 1940. (Painted for Recording Britain)

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 John Piper – Church of St. Denis, Faxton, Northamptonshire.  

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 John Piper – Covehithe Church, Suffolk, 1983. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – Covehithe Church, Suffolk

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 John Piper – Crug Glas, Swansea, 1966. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – Crug Glas, Swansea

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 John Piper – Bethesda Chapel, 1966. (Editioned Print)

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 John Piper – Bethesda Chapel, Swansea.

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 John Piper – The Duck House in the Park of Buckland House, 1940. (Painted for Recording Britain)

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 John Piper – Folly at Buckland, near Faringdon, formerly in Berkshire.

† John Piper and the RIBA Library Photographs Collection by Robert Elwall, 2009.
‡ John Piper by John Russell, Tate Gallery, 1983. p77

The Cotton Mechanical Music Museum

The Mechanical Music Museum has an extensive collection that includes gramophones, music boxes, street pianos, fairground organs, street pianos, fairground organs and polyphones, as well as the marvellous Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ. 

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It also has an extensive collection of Victorian and Twentieth Century gaudy and barge ware china. It seams like a place where Barbara Jones or Peter Blake could have been enchanted. This post is more about the decorative items – rather than the organs, but it was just my love of extreme collections that inspired it.

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Above is is the traditional painted style of a street organ and below are a set of novelty music boxes and music box discs. 

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From the late 1950s, Robert Finbow ran a house clearance and furniture business in Finningham. During house clearances, Robert occasionally obtained musical boxes and street pianos. Other pieces of memorabilia which caught his eye were quickly acquired and stored away. 

Over the years he amassed a sizeable collection, but there was nowhere to show these treasures to the public. The Museum was built to house Robert Finbow’s collection of automatic instruments and David Englands collection of cinema memorabilia. It opened on Sunday 10th of October 1982.

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Below are some of the antique Tobacco jars on display.

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A mechanical mannequin, in this case a clown playing a piano, and below a banker at a table with a safe of money. 

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The roof beams of the barn are decorated with shellac records.

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In the picture below you can see in the mirror a very small part of the extensive teapot collection they have at Cotton.

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The paintings below are by a local artist and in a native style. Today it would be called ‘outsider art’.

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A screen decorated with cigarette cards is one of the main things that made me think of Peter Blake, as they are all of ‘Empire’ images of famous icons of the age.

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Their website can be seen here.

Edwin and Edward

In writing the previous post I thought how Edwin Smith’s photos looked like some of Edward Bawden’s Linocuts. This isn’t to strike a claim of copycat, it’s just by chance. A nice chance and so here are three instances. 

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 Edwin Smith – West Smithfield, 1953

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 Edward Bawden – Smithfield Market, 1967

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 Edwin Smith – Limetree Cottage, 1953

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 Edward Bawden – The Road to Thaxted, 1956

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 Edwin Smith – Post Office Underground Railway, 1957

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 Edward Bawden – Post Office Tube Railway, 1935

Edwin Smith in Pompeii

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It seams more and more in ‘second hand books’ that the photographic content and illustrations are boosting prices more than the topic of books themselves – easy examples are High Street by J. M. Richards, or anything with an Edward Bawden or John Minton dust jacket, it’s a mad rush for any artistic ephemera. But it extends to what were cheap magazines with articles by John Nash or Graham Sutherland, once they were disposed in the bin, now they are rare and so are getting expensive. Times past, there were high class standards like Verve or Derrière le miroir but a copy of The Country Life Cookery Book from 1937 can now equal those prices.

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This week I bought a book of ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by Marcel Brion. Noting what I wrote above, I am more interested in the artistic content of the book rather than the subject matter, but happily I am interested in history and archaeology too. This book is full of the photography of Edwin Smith.

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As it happens, books with the photos of Edwin Smith seam to be very cheap, due to how popular he was in the 1950s and 60s. There were many reprints and print runs so you can find good copies on Amazon for 1p, or £2.81 with postage – but still a pittance. There are a Thames & Hudson series of books co-written with Edwin Smith’s wife Olive Cook too; English Parish Churches (1952) and English Cottages Farmhouses (1954) being the most popular and thus, cheap to buy. I bought ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ for £2.99 in a charity shop.

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In the introduction Brion writes ‘I am indebted to Mr. Edwin Smith for his photography which I trust the reader will find as brilliantly evocative as I myself do’.

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Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971) was an English photographer. He was born in Canonbury, Islington, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith, a clerk, and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but gave up his course and worked as a draughtsman for several years.

He became a freelance photographer in 1935, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer. However he concentrated his artistic efforts on subjects such as the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fairgrounds around London.

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Smith was also a prolific artist. He produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts throughout his life, and in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties.

He became ill in the spring of 1971, but cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared, with a monograph finally being published in 1984.

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After Cook’s own death in 2002, her papers and some of those of her husband were placed in Newnham College Archives, Cambridge.

A collection of over 60,000 negatives and 20,000 prints were given by Olive Cook, Smith’s widow and collaborator, to the Royal Institute of British Architects Library. From urban scenes documenting British social history to evocative landscape images and atmospheric interiors, the images displayed reveal the genius and breadth of his work.

Edwin Smith was also an avid collector and creator of Toy Theatre. On his wife’s death, the collection passed to the Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust. A collection of his paintings, woodcuts and photographs is held by The Fry Gallery.

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Some Photographs

Here are some photos from walks and rides across Cambridgeshire.

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Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious

Below is a piece on James Ravilious, written 20 years ago in ‘World of Interiors’, March 1996 by Ronald Blythe. The pictures are the same as in the magazine. 

I was inspired to type it up after having gone to see a show of James Ravilious’s works at the Fry Gallery, running from 18th June – 24th July (2016). The exhibition’s booklet has a quote by Olive Cook from Matrix Magazine #18: "I know of no other presentation of a particular place and people which is as broad and as captivating as James Ravilious’s photographs of North Devon. They are the fruit of a quite exceptional acuity and patience of witness and of a quite unusual humility and warmth of spirit. This great body of work establishes its author as a master of the art of photography whilst at the same time it makes an unparalleled pictorial contribution to social history.

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 James Ravilious – Young Bulls eating Thistles

Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious. World of Interiors. March 1996.

For over 20 years photographer James Ravilious has captured on camera powerfully candid images of rural North Devon life for the Beaford Archive. A Corner of England, a new book of his pictures, is full of ‘private moments’ photographed without pathos. 

This second collection of James Ravilious’s work has to be studied for three distinct reasons. Because it is in the great tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, because it corrects our distorted vision the English countryside, and because it reveals the poetry of the commonplace. In 1973 Ravilious was invited to restore and add to the Beaford Archive, a remarkable library of photographs of village life in North Devon. This wonderful book shows him way ahead of his commission. His Leica records his own intimacy with the region, its landscape, its people, its creatures. No ordinary journalist or social historian could have gained

Ravilious’s entree to these extraordinarily private rooms and fields, or be taught to see what he so naturally sees. 

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 James Ravilious – ‘Dr Paul Bangay visiting a patient, Langtree, Devon 1981

The book’s pictures have been drawn from his own contribution to the Beaford Archive and he describes them as ‘rather like scenes from a tapestry I have been stitching over the years’. His wife Robin, a local girl, contributes a few hard facts. ‘The small mixed farm is the commonest unit still. Short of labour, short of capital, bothered by paperwork and recession, farmers struggle stoically in a cold soil, high rainfall and awkward upland terrain…

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 James Ravilious – Pigs and woodpile, Parsonage Farm

Ravilious’s camera scrupulously avoids wringing the usual bitter-sweet agricultural drama out of this situation and his work is masterly in its absence of comment.He has a way of capturing a private moment without making it public, so to speak. So the reader/looker has to share his intimate views if they are to see anything at all. As one stares into these twisting lanes, farmyards, churchyards, bedrooms, kitchens, animals’ faces, sheds, shops, schools, one often feels apologetic at invading something so personal, then grateful for having been shown what is actual, true and good. 

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 James Ravilious – Red Devon cow, Narracott, Hollocombe, Devon, England, 1981

This is a rural world without ‘characters’, only people. Not even the old tramp sunning himself amidst the rubbish tip of his belongings is a character – just a naked man on the earth. Nor do the farm animals set out to beguile but are captured without sentiment. A snowdrift of geese on a darkening hilltop and a dog on a blackening road are waiting for the first thunderclap. A sick ram rides home in a tin bath. Here is the ordinariness of the harsh and lovely pastoral. The Ravilious ‘interior’, whether of houses or hills, can shock or inspire- usually both. A rare country book. – Ronald Blythe.

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 James Ravilious – 

Storm Clouds with Geese

– ‘A Corner of England: North Devon Landscapes and People’ by James Ravilious. Lutterworth Press.

A Bike Ride

A bike ride around Cambridgeshire. St Ives, Hinxton and Madingley.

A walk in the woods

Here are some pictures from a muddy walk into the local woods. I was lucky enough to see the bluebells in the wood in full bloom.

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