Potted History of Bideford

I?ve got really interested in history since living in Bideford; its history is heavily tied up with Art and America, two of my biggest passions. Bideford prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries through trade with new American colonies (it helped to set up) importing tobacco and exporting pottery. In the Autumn I shall be accompanying my wife Sadie on a research trip, sponsored by a Sir William Churchill Travel Award, to North Carolina and Virginia. She?ll be finding out where Bideford?s pottery went and making contact with artists, arts orgs and networks close to Bideford?s twin town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. For more information about her trip follow this link:

I?ll be looking out for visual similarities and differences between the two communities and environments. I?m hoping to find traces of North Devon in the old sea port towns, did our ships ballast, alien rocks and plants, get dumped on the beach, was it used as building material? Was anything else exported at the time, ball clay etc? I?ll be listening out for traces of local dialect with Devon words or pronunciations. Appledore smocks? I?ll be doing the same when I get back home, are there common place things here in North Devon that originated from the USA which we?ve forgotten about through generations since they got imported.

Also, in support of Sadie?s research, I?m photographing pottery. I started examining this craft when I was commissioned to photograph the ?kiln in the park? firing just before Christmas 2009. I?m now keen to make a good documentary record of potters who are still making slipware and using the sgraffito effect with red clay and white slip carrying on the tradition of North Devon pottery.

?Bideford Pottery?, a family business of Harry Juniper, his son Nick and daughter Sue is the only pottery in town making pots instantly recognisable as North Devon ware. Everything is made by hand in a similar way to how it would have been done in the 17th century. So far I?ve been photographing Nick throwing mugs and a pitcher and also decorating the jug. Close by is the studio of Doug Fitch, another young potter with a huge respect for the local tradition who even sources local clay which he digs out. Doug also has a collection of old pots and shards from the time when pottery in this area was as big an industry as it was in Staffordshire. The images in this post are the start of the documentary which I intent to take with me to North Carolina to share with the arts community and potters in our twin town Manteo and throughout the State.

Interesting and Unexpected

What an interesting and unexpected end to the year, I was inundated with photographic work. My interest in a photographic job seems to have a direct relationship to its difficulty, photographing in the dark, extreme high contrast, unsociable hours; often visually stimulating but people ask ?can you take photographs in this?? I?m a firm believer in ?if you can see it, you can photograph it? in fact I?d go further than this, I?m not really happy unless the photograph is better than the reality remembered.

One of my challenges was the documentation of a firing of Bideford?s community Kiln-in-the-Park. This was a joint project from the Friends of the Burton and Appledore Arts. The brick built kiln, which must be 20ft high is a rare example of such a large wood fired kiln in the UK. I was there whenever I could be from the building of the fence to enclose it, loading with hundreds of tiles and harvest jugs, lighting at 7am and bringing up to in excess of 1000 degrees c, to the grand opening almost a week later. As I obviously couldn?t be there 24/7 I had to anticipate the most photogenic moments in advance and get a general documentation of the process. One of the highlights was to be a flame out of the top of the kiln which sometimes happens so I made sure I stayed around as the temperature rose to it?s critical heat.

There was talk in the potting fraternity that if they didn?t work with clay they would all be pyromaniacs and there were many photographic examples of a fearless love for flames. The two pictures here are of Doug Fitch who has his own slipware blog: http://slipware.blogspot.com/

Another challenge was photographing the alternative physical theatre company Jammy Voo http://www.jammyvoo.com/ They had been working on a new play at Beaford Arts Centre and needed documentary/publicity pictures. Their play writing is quite improvised, the script to start with may not even have a beginning, middle or ending, so their time together as a company, who live in various parts of Britain and Europe, was spent developing their characters and the play. There seemed to be a days worth of photography to fit into the ? day with each new scene or location needing me to think on my feet to try and make the images say something about a play I knew little about. But it was quite a buzz and hopefully the final pictures made from merging 2 or 3 together will show the essence of the play.