John Bevis on how he came to write his book ‘The Keartons: Inventing nature photography’.
In the early 1980s, I was working on two projects with Colin Sackett: as part of Simon Cutts’s Coracle Press, and our own imprint Chocolate News, a small press banner for a magazine and artists’ publications. The discovery at this time of the work of Richard and Cherry Kearton, through the fortuitous purchase at a jumble sale of their 1903 book, Wild Nature’s Ways, was a happy one. The Keartons are remembered as the forefathers of nature photography, but for us their books and photographs melded too with contemporary concerns, including landscape and environment art practices; conceptualism; and source material for found art.
A couple of classic Kearton images were borrowed for Chocolate News postcards: The Stuffed Ox, one of the Keartons’ magnificent photography hides, and Daisies Asleep, Daisies Awake, a timeless archetype of nature’s patterning. There was a tiny book, too, How to Photograph Aeroplanes, three vignettes of the Keartons at work, with re-imagined captions.
An essay on some classics of the Keartons’ oeuvre, including not only the Daisies and The Stuffed Ox, but also their photograph of a clump of primroses celebrating The Opening Moments of the Twentieth Century, appeared in 1991 in Coracle’s Little Critic Pamphlet series under the title Direct from Nature. An expanded edition of the same work, with an extensive photographic section and biographical commentary, was published in 2007 by Colin Sackett.
So I think there was an inevitability that when Colin invited me to contribute a title to his excellent Uniformbooks imprint around 2012 or 2013, the first thought was to tie up all those loose ends in a Kearton monograph. The art and nature hinterland, theory-into-practice context of the Uniformbooks backlist – a family of titles that all speak to each other – was perfect. The Keartons: Inventing nature photography was described by Richard Smyth in the TLS as an “inquisitive, discursive and comprehensive study”, while the work of both Colin and Bethan Sackett-Thomas in design, editing and picture editing was recognised in Smyth’s appraisal of the book as “handsome, solid and intelligently illustrated”.
John Bevis, November 2016
John Bevis will give an illustrated talk at the Small Publishers Fair 2016 on Saturday 5 November at 1.30pm. ‘The Keartons’ will be on sale from the Uniformbooks table.