The photos in the new book by John Davies, Retraced 81/19 (GOST Books, 2019), aren’t introduced by a text. The viewer is immediately confronted by series of technically exquisite black-and-white images with brief captions stating the location and year. The earliest images were taken in 1981, and the latest in 2019. The pattern soon becomes clear: the book is constructed of before and after pictures of evolving industrial landscapes in the U.K. and Europe.
The paired images make a powerful statement about how industrial and economic forces change the landscape. The photographs also reflect Davies’s dedication to this years-long project.
“These pairs of images, made from the same vantage point, tell of the alterations made by human activity and bear witness to cultural and social change over nearly four decades,” writes the publisher, GOST Books, in the press release. Davies has documented locations, both rural and urban, associated with coal mining, cotton textiles, shipping, docking and steel, as well as the railways, roadways, canals and rivers intertwined with industrial cities. Some of the new images look as timeless as the old, but many show dramatic construction or historic changes—as in his photos of the location of the Berlin Wall. His photographs represent effort and achievement, but they also symbolize “the many, often untold, histories of conflict and exploitation,” acknowledges Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in the book’s afterword.
All before and after pictures capture a particular place at two different moments in time. “Perhaps,” writes Barnes, “the real subject of Davies’s pictures is the suggestive space of time between those moments.”