3: Landscape as Political Text

John Davies

John Davies website

See more of Davies’s work

John Davies (born 1949 in Sedgefield, County Durham, England) is a British landscape photographer. He is known for completing long-term projects documenting Britain and its industrial and urban landscape. He juxtaposes elements of history, industry and social activity within a single composition to critically examine our social geography.

The British Landscape is his best-known body of work

Fuji City Mount Fuji, Japan is a meditation on the balance between nature and industry.

The shift in subject matter also developed into a fascination with urban regeneration and work on this includes his Metropoli Project, City State, and Cities on the Edge, the latter of which he curated, in addition to contributing images of his own.

Not judgemental – ask questions. People have different reactions to different images. Doesn’t include many people, but images are about what people have done in the environment.

The caption to Davies’s Ffestiniog Railway image reads:
“The Ffestiniog Railway was originally built to transport local slate, but in
1964, following new connections to the national railway network, trains
began serving the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station. Although the
decommissioning of Trawsfynydd began in 1991, the railway continued
to be used daily to transport 50-ton flasks of nuclear fuel and waste to
the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria. Sellafield stopped taking
waste from Trawsfynydd in 1997.”


He is known for producing large photographic prints of images produced from high vantage points, using traditional darkroom techniques. His work in the 1980s primarily used medium format cameras, and work from the 1990s alarge format camera, although in recent years he has begun using dSLR and digital medium format cameras in his work as well.

The stylistic components reference – with irony – the picturesque:

  • Davies’s photographs are nearly always taken from high vantage points that hint towards a welltrodden, formalised ‘viewpoint’, looking out across views with foregrounds, middle distance and backgrounds (usually a rolling hill).
  • He continues to work with black-and-white film, linking his work to the classical aesthetics of Adams and Weston.

Liz Wells (2011, pp.170–71) identifies a potential problem with Davies’s relation to the picturesque:
“… his work operates as a visual archive of post-industrial Britain. But his personal style is so marked that content risks becoming subservient within a generalised vision of industrial legacy in ways that work against any sense of the specificity of each site. There is a risk that political commentary is diluted rather than distilled, as the industrial becomes a strand within a new picturesque.”


Davies was born in Sedgefield, County Durham, in 1949. He grew up in coal mining and farming communities, and this combination of open space and industry was to become a persistent motif in his creative work. His early life was spent living in industrial landscapes in County Durham and Nottinghamshire.

He studied Photography, first attending Mansfield School of Art to complete a Foundation Course, then studying at Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University), graduating in 1974. Following this, he began working on long-term projects, seeking commissions and arts funding to support his work. He has worked closely with Amber/Side Collective on a number of commissions. In 1981, Davies won a one-year Photography Fellowship at Sheffield Polytechnic, and he became Senior Research Fellow at the Art School of University of Wales Cardiff (UWIC) in 1995.

He has also become involved in local politics, as his interest in the use of public space has been both personal and professional. He lives with his partner and their daughter Alix in Liverpool, England.

Books by Davies

  • Aggie Weston’s no.13. Belper, Derbyshire: Stuart Mills, 1977 ASIN B0007C4X2C.
  • The Valleys project. Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 1985.
  • On the edge of White Peak. Derbyshire Museum Services, UK, 1985.
  • In the wake of King Cotton. Rochdale Art Gallery, UK, 1986.
  • Mist Mountain Water Wind. London: Traveling Light, 1986. ISBN 0-906333-18-0.
  • A Green & Pleasant Land. Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1987. ISBN 0-948797-10-X soft cover ISBN 0-948797-15-0.
  • Autoroute A26, Calais – Reims. Douchy, France: Mission Photogaphique Transmanche, 1989. ISBN 2-904538-16-X.
  • Phase 11 (eleven). London: The Photographers’ Gallery; London: Davenport, 1991. ISBN 0-907879-27-6.
  • Broadgate. London: Davenport, 1991.
  • Cross Currents. Cardiff: Ffotogallery; Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1992. ISBN 0-948797-32-0.
  • Linea di Confine della Provincia di Reggio Emillia Laboratorio di Fotografia 5. Arcadia Edizioni & Assessorato alla Cultra del Comune di Rubiera, Italy, 1992.
  • Skylines. Valencia University, Imp. Mari Montanana, Spain, 1993.
  • Through fire and water: River Taff. Oriel (The Arts Council of Wales’ Gallery, Cardiff); National Museum & Galleries of Wales, 1997. ISBN 0-946329-45-1.
  • Sguardigardesani. Milan, Italy: Charta, 1999. ISBN 88-8158-223-6.
  • Temps et Paysage. Tarabuste / Centre d’art et du Paysage, 2000. ISBN 2-84587-010-8.
  • Visa III, Littoral / Le retour de la nature. Filigranes, 2001. ISBN 2-914381-17-4.
  • Seine Valley. Le Point du Jour Editeur / Pole Image Haute-Normandie, France, 2002. ISBN 2-912132-21-5.
  • The British Landscape. Chris Boot, 2006. ISBN 0-9546894-7-X.
  • Cities on the Edge. Liverpool: Liverpool University, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84631-186-4.
  • Urban Landscapes / Krajobrazy Miejskie. Poznań, Poland: Centrum Kultury ‘Zamek’, 2008.
  • European Eyes on Japan / Japan Today volume 10. EU-Japan fest / European Eyes on Japan, 2008.