Archie Parkhouse with ivy for sheep
Tucked away on the first floor is an exhibition of photographs by James Ravilious. Not heard of him? Well, no matter, as with all artwork, it's not the name that is important. It's actually the artwork. In this case an important collection of photographs of rural North Devon life taken over a period of 17 years.
His work is intimate, humane, and above all beautifully shot and composed. It's not twee countryside, with sentimentalised images of farm hands tending to their adoring flocks. Thank god for that, because, lets face it, the countryside isn't like that, it is beautiful, but with an undercurrent of uncaring Nature, which won't weep over such things as sheep dying because they've become trapped in snow and crows have pecked out their eyes.
Here it's a series of unvarnished, unsentimental, yet sympathetic, and beautiful photographic snippets of rural life, from an ill sheep being dragged in a tin bath across a field, through a farmer and his family intently watching the FA Cup, or a children's event featuring Cavaliers and Wombles (we're blaming the 1970s wholesale for that surreality), to the interplay of shadow and tree on the North Devon landscape. Thankfully nothing especially gruesome though.
It's the other end of photography to Rakin's vapid glib gloss. It's not hard to see why people like Alan Bennett are firm fans. In fact, if you have any interest in documentary photography, or people, or the British countryside then you must visit it.
We'd advise making a journey to see it, or if you are going to the National, turning up early to see the show. You won't regret it.
James Ravilious: An English Eye @ The National Theatre, Southbank. On until the 16th of May. For more information click here
By Oliver Gili