In the fifties and early sixties, books like these slim volumes published by Country Life, (this one in 1958), were the souvenir purchase for upmarket holiday makers. A hefty fifteen shillings worth of carefully-framed monochrome pictures of famous landmark villages, landscapes and oh-so-familiar time-worn buildings. All taken with infinite care on grown-up equipment that was more furniture than camera, the sports coated photographer doffing his trilby to passers-by as they moved out of (or nearly) the carefully-framed shot. The decades roll on, and the books start to gather dust in the topography section of secondhand bookshops, maybe even ending up on the 'Everything £1' table outside, covered in polythene against the rain. But I feel a renaissance coming on. These straightforward, non-tricksy portraits are of a country before the storm. The telling details of Unmitigated England start to rise up into the consciousness. Where Dedham in Essex now has cars mounting pavements and each other in profusion, 1958 saw just one Fordson van in the street, probably delivering scrag end to the vicar's wife. And Kersey's watersplash is great fun for the flash driver of a cream Austin Somerset. I wonder how much a rotting door sill was to replace?
The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden
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