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BOOK

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REVIEW

The British Landscape By John Davies. Chris Boot, 2006. £35

John Davies' photos have a forensic quality, picturing as they do the British landscape at the turn of the 21st century through a dense accumulation of details. Arranged chronologically from 1979, the first images seem to search for wilderness, or the illusion of it - a Lake District empty of tourists, with barely a track in sight to suggest any human activity. But then in photos of South Wales, Derbyshire and the North of England, Davies discovers his true theme: the land, urban and rural, in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution.

Almost panoramic in format and usually taken from an elevated position, these pictures never have a single focus - the information in them is evenly distributed, revealing more and more as you scrutinise them. Power supply, infrastructure and housing are dominant, though with a sense of the life lived among them - the football game against a backdrop of cooling towers; pigeon lofts on a Sheffield hillside. The heroic viaducts of the 19th century survive but mundane motorway yovers are more in view; caravans colonise an old limestone quarry; Manchester still has a cotton mill or two in the distance but its future is in the sleek sheds in the foreground.

A photo of Manchester's Trafford Centre includes a roundabout with some standing stones on it - a clueless landscape architect resorting to the Neolithic? Davies' book is a dossier of our surroundings and the stories they can tell.

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