James was the son of the artist Eric Ravilious, and spent all his working life photographing rural life in and around Devon, an archive which has been described as ‘one of the great artistic and documentary achievements of photography in the 20th century’ (Peter Hamilton, ‘The Independent’).
He has been described by Alan Bennett as ‘a superb exponent of the Englishness of English art’, and with equal enthusiasm by many others.
In 1972 James Ravilious moved with his wife to North Devon, her childhood home. Soon afterwards he was hired by the Beaford Centre to start a photographic archive recording the landscape and people of the area.
This part of Devon clung to its traditional life for longer than many other parts of Britain, and although his photographs were taken less than half a century ago, they capture a way of life that is vanishing, or has vanished.
At first his brief was purely documentary, but his work transcends mere record. By confining himself mostly to a radius of ten miles from his home, he was able to develop an intimacy with his subjects that is rare among photographers.