The Beaford Archive was the most important thing in James’s working life. From the day in 1972 when John Lane, Beaford Centre’s founding director, invited him to contribute a few photos to it, James was hooked. The idea of recording a beautiful, quite traditional landscape and the everyday lives of its inhabitants immediately excited him. It soon became an obsession, ruling his life for the next seventeen years, during which time he made just under 79,000 negatives.
James and his camera became a familiar sight locally. Living within the community for so long gave him both insider knowledge, and insider status – a privilege which few documentary makers are given. It allowed him to make a uniquely intimate portrait of a whole way of life in one small piece of English countryside just before it was modernised.
James didn’t live to see the modern internet and online photograph collections in action as we see them today, but he did have the foresight to make a digital catalogue of his Beaford Archive work in order to preserve data about the people, places and activities he had recorded. In this catalogue he graded his images, labelling them Best, Good, Fair or Poor. Those that he labelled Best and Good, 1,701 in all, were the ones that pleased him from an artistic point of view – pictures that he would be happy to see in an exhibition or major publication. This selection can be viewed at www.beaford-arts.org.uk/archive/. The rest, the Fair and the Poor, he considered of documentary interest rather than artistic. They were important to the Archive as a detailed portrait of time and place. These can be explored and enjoyed below as contact sheets, showing the life’s work of one Devon’s best loved artists.”