Reflecting the Rural

David Chandler

“What emerges from these compelling photographs, beyond the simple force of character that is in itself often so disarming, is that each figure embodies an individual narrative, and a trace of local history, that builds over the images into a cross-section and a collective portrait of a new rural society."

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Anthology of Rural Life

Dr Menelaos Gkartzios

There is not one rural Europe; and were we to agree on one thing about the European countryside, it would be that it is changing fast – even when no one notices. Sometimes no one notices. From agriculture-dominated landscapes to gentrified villages with holiday home rentals, and from modern windfarms to stone-houses and rustic rural pubs, rural Europe is a collection of lived experiences, a mosaic of biographies, of ambition, of memory. We will agree that all places are unique, all places mean different things to different people, but when it comes to the countryside, we tend to think of it as the binary opposite of the city – as if it is the city that dictates everything that the countryside is and is not. The diversity of rural areas, their own and unique trajectories of development – and of stagnation sometimes – however, is the reality of our contemporary countrysides. Progressive and parochial, co-dependent and proud, rural areas are part of a globalised world that is increasingly interested in them, but one that does not always aim to meet them on their own terms.

The Anthology of Rural Life does exactly that. It evidences some of this differentiation by documenting rural places, documenting rural lives. Like rural researchers, Oliver Udy and Colin Robins co-create a collection of all things that ‘make’ rural places, both visible and invisible, both material and experiential. Portraits of people and animals, landscapes, practices and experiences of the everyday. This is rural life – where people live, what jobs they do, how they spend their free time. Networks, products, houses, desires. These are all rural too. Their Anthology offers a nuanced representation of rural Europe where authenticity and originality are not challenged, they are simply irrelevant. Their imagery is characterised by multiple, overlapping and even contradicting rurals – and rightly so. Sometimes coloured, sometimes black and white, the countryside is unpacked here in more than visual ways; these photographs have smells, have sounds, they are haptic. They are full of dreams, sometimes of fears too.

The Anthology of Rural Life has developed patiently over time, it has come into being as a ‘project’ naturally. Like everything with time, it matures and develops into a knowledge helix. It is the result of friendship, of love of rural places, of the need to make art. The photographers travel occasionally, spend time in the communities, meet people, build relationships. The Anthology of Rural Life is a visual textbook. It is a rural sociology, aiming to conform and contradict our own perceptions and imaginations about the countryside: idyllic, boring, beautiful, natural, deprived. It is everything that you will mirror onto it.