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A harsh beauty

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 March 2014

John Curno

Some of the thousands of photographs of Dartmoor taken by John Curnow are on display in Exeter

John Curno was born in Plymouth in 1949 and from an early age became interested in photography, through the work of Wynn Bullock, Paul Strand, Edward Weston and Walker Evans among others.

He moved to York in 1977 to practise photography, a period when Impressions Photographic Gallery, founded by Andrew Sproxton and Val Williams, became a hub for British photography. Soon after, Impressions commissioned Curno to photograph the North Yorkshire Moors, supporting a productive time during his career. He returned to Devon in 1994 with his wife Hilary and continued to develop his landscape photography project work. He compares his series on the North York Moors with works made on Dartmoor. He says of the latter: “It has a harsher beauty to it, more difficult to capture, this is Dartmoor in a different light and spirit, blending rocks, moor, fields and trees together in an abstract form, letting people see it as I often do. The altered landscapes of Dartmoor, the decay, death and rebirth of the moors interest me.”

In 2011 Plymouth-based photographic arts organisation Fotonow CIC met with and became interested in John Curno, and his past photographic archive. This resulted in publishing a book sharing 30 years of personal black and white photographs in It’s About Time, which stands as testament to many years of hard-work exploring distinct and local spaces through photography.

The physical exploration of landscape, through wandering, enables Curno a controlled freedom in considering and composing his photographs. Images that not only describe, but reveal something about himself; through subtle irony and troubled silence, the peacefulness where stillness sparks confusion, and perhaps where the landscape and human influence upon it begin to disturb. In sifting through Curno’s photographic archives, and specifically the Dartmoor works, Fotonow CIC have been able to focus upon these ideas; narratives of a local landscape to which Curno repeatedly returns, and is clearly a space for escape, to find a personal balance.

During the summer of 2013 these past Dartmoor works were shown at Devon Rural Archive in Modbury, which reflected themes such as the boundaries and furrows from the distant past, the quarries and work spaces that are now disused and abandoned and have become wild again, the timelessness and future uncertainty, the mystery and magic of the moor, the water giving life to the area.

Fotonow is now bringing this series to the Contemporary Centre for Art and the Natural World, offering visitors a glimpse at some of the thousands of photographs that Curno has made on Dartmoor over the years, as well framed works from Dartmoor Sensing, a series commissioned in 2002 by Aune Head Arts that was donated to Fotonow CIC in 2013.

The aim in curating such an exhibition is to remind ourselves that there is value in study, in using photography to document, reflect, and to begin to unravel some of the thought processes that emerge as we experience the world.

Fotonow is a not-for-profit photographic organisation that aims to create new opportunities in photography and facilitate socially motivated projects exploring visual culture in the South West. The sharing of Curno’s past Dartmoor work is the start of Fotonow moving towards developing more rurally focused project in the region.

The exhibition of John Curno’s Dartmoor photographs will be hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World at the Innovation Centre, University of Exeter from 13 February to 25 April, Mondays to Fridays, 8.30am-5.30pm. canw.co.uk

fotonow.org

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