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Photographs by Raymond Moore

Every now and then I'm revisiting some of the photography books and other items on my shelves here. This time it’s . . .

Fron cover of Worktown People by the photographer Humphrey Spender

Raymond Moore is another photographer that I hold close to my heart. I came across his photographs in the early 1990s and many years later discovered it was him that founded the photography course at Watford College. I attended that course from 1989 to 1991, a couple of years after his death, but it was still lovely to discover that I had walked in his footsteps. The Watford photography course was set up by Moore in 1956 which is incredibly early and it must have been one of the first in the country. They say he was a great teacher. 


What can I say about his images? They are difficult to describe, black and white landscapes, mostly from the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales and around Cumbria in the north of England. But these are not your regular landscapes. Rather than looking for the sublime he looked for the everyday, ‘to raise the common to a state of grace’ (1). Ray Moore had a unique way of looking at the world around him; an incredible eye for detail, line, space and composition, connecting and disconnecting elements in the frame. He seemed to love wet and cloudy days, as he said himself “If there is one time more than another when the country smiles the most, it is during rain.”. He has said a lot of things that I'd agree with; that the visual world is waiting, wanting, to be discovered, that ‘everything beckons us to perceive it’ as the poet Rilke once said. Moore photographed instinctively in a high state of awareness, creating, as he describes, a map of experience from which, hopefully, “something of value may be revealed”.

In many ways these are photographs about the act of looking. Nothing more than that. They could be said to document a certain landscape, albeit in a very personal way, yet there is no social commentary in the tradition of British documentary photography at the time. They are "images in the service to Seeing" as Jonathan Williams notes in one of the book's essays. It's something I think about often.

There’s a lovely 1980 documentary about Raymond Moore on YouTube (link below) that follows him photographing along the coast, working in the darkroom and chatting at home with his wife. He seems to have what I'd describe as a pessimistic enthusiasm for life; loving the visual world and everything it offers but frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t earn a living as a  photographer (at least his kind of photography) and that most people at the time really didn't appreciate his work. He made ends meet by teaching and he persevered in his art, as he says all struggling photographers should, “in the interest of revealing things”. 

The book on my shelf here is simply called ‘Photographs by Raymond Moore’. There is another version titled ‘Murmurs at Every Turn’ but I’m not sure if there’s any difference. I actually bought this book a few years ago from Mark Power, a Magnum photographer (and Raymond Moore fan) that I admire greatly. He had a spare copy and sold it to me. There are some wonderful images inside. Looking again now I have an urge to return to that landscape of England where I grew up and in particular to the south coast where I made some very Raymond Moore type of images in the early 1990s without realising it. 

The truth is that most people, and what's worse most photographers, have probably never heard of Raymond Moore. I think he was one of the most important British photographers of that period and his work should be appreciated more widely. The fact that it isn’t relates to a legal dispute involving his photographic archive, currently held by Sothebys and unavailable for distribution or exhibition. It’s a great shame.

(1) Jonathan Williams, from the documentary film, Raymond More Photographer

Photographs by Raymond Moore. Published by Travelling Light, 1981


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