Durlescombe is an ongoing series of photographs made in Devon in the South West of England. The work documents the people, places, landscapes and local industries of a fading rural culture and in doing so explores my own attachment to a region where generations of my family have lived and worked for almost one thousand years. But alongside its preoccupations with a specific place and identity, the work also aims to mirror social changes that extend far beyond its particular context, those that have seen local distinctiveness, as expressed through communal traditions, patterns of labour, crafts and religious rituals, increasingly subsumed into a more globalised economy and culture.
The deep historical resonance of these photographs extends back to the Norman conquest of 1066, which brought with it an influx of new settlers to Devon from Northern France and beyond. In 1631, during the reign of King Charles I, William Darch was born in Dolton, and he became the first in a long line of millers that would own and work grain mills across Devon. Many generations later, my four times great-grandfather Robert Darch owned and ran the mill in North Tawton until his death in 1805. I was born in Birmingham in 1979, and although I was aware that my roots were in Devon, during my formative years in the midlands I knew very little of this family history. More recently I have been increasingly drawn to work in and connect with places in this area, only later discovering their particular family connections and personal relevance. This sense of a shared history of place, along with a developing interest in remnants of that history, provided the catalyst for the Durlescombe project.
Durlescombe is a typical village, unspecific and representative, one that provides a narrative distance from the persuasive mode of documentary realism and a space in which questions about familiarity, attachment and belonging might be asked. The images of Durlescombe – a layered assemblage of my photographs, family history pictures and found illustrations – are in this way both actual records and speculative fictions, which track my own pursuits to feel and find points of connection. The photographs are my attempt to map a learnt culture onto direct experience. The work also admits the potential of other, unconscious forces driving the ‘subjectivisation’ of places.
Historical Image is used with permission from 'Beaford Old Archive image (c) Beaford Arts