As my poppy was pinned to my overcoat this week, I thought of this book. Arriving in W.H.Smith's in 1979 I think it was the fastest book purchase I ever made, sweeping it up and carrying it to the till without breaking step. The best £1.25 I ever spent, it introduced me to the poems of Wilfred Owen, but, especially for me, to the poetry of Edward Thomas, killed at the Battle of Arras in 1917. Thomas wrote not so much about the soldiers' experience, but more of the England (particularly the countryside) they had left behind. And it was this cover that did it. The photograph is by the late Tony Evans, who, over and above any other photographer, influenced the way I look at things. I met him briefly in the 70s, and it was his attention to detail and the obsessiveness of his fabulous images that had me scrabbling for my first Pentax. At first glance this is just a picture of poppies, but can you imagine how difficult they were to photograph in a studio? Anyone who has ever picked the flower knows that it dies virtually instantly in your hand, so, from what I remember, Tony dug a whole clump up, roots and all, and transported them back to his studio with his assistant watering them in the back of the van. And that black is the studio background. Penguin Books still use it, albeit not nearly as well printed, but it's still one of the best shots of poppies I know. More superb Evans' poppies, on location this time, can be seen in The Flowering of Britain and Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.
Marylebone Road, London
4 days ago