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Dewi Lewis Publishing
The striking thing about the photographs in John Darwell s 'Dark Days' is not in the way they exist at the nexus of memory, history and personal knowledge. Most photographs do that, at least for a while. What is remarkable is that these photographs work both as specific visual information and as broadly evocative symbols, in a way that is not usually the case with the topical or photojournalistic. With literalness and inclusiveness, these images wrench us back to 2001 with an immediacy that seems to transcend the visual. With these pictures, we almost smell the piles of sheep carcasses; almost feel the smoke from the cattle pyres and burning feed troughs stinging our eyes. Details we might otherwise have forgotten become fixed permanently; what the roads looked like; farm machinery; a disinfection pad. When they no longer serve as aides memoires, some photographs diminish in meaning. I suspect this will not be the case with these pictures, due to their power to transcend historical detail and evoke what the events of 2001 felt like. Darwell has conscientiously told the story from beginning to end, but the images that resonate, and will, I believe, continue to do so are the relentlessly repeated images of isolation and closure, marking the desperate efforts of farmers to stay the spread of infection. Footpaths and lanes are marked Keep Out in a disconnect that looks and feels like the end of an era. 2001 was the summer that England s farms were closed and the countryside irrevocably changed.
In February 2001, Foot and Mouth Disease arrived in Cumbria. At its peak Cumbria was the worst affected county in Britain with a staggering 41 per cent of all cases. For the local community, the environmental and social consequences were to prove devastating. As a local resident, leading UK photographer John Darwell found himself surrounded by the effects of the disease. Over the next twelve months, he committed himself to recording what was taking place. Despite government reports to the contrary, the Cumbrian countryside became largely a 'no-go area', whilst on the farms thousands of animals were destroyed, their bodies burnt on the now notorious pyres. The ultimate clean-up of the infected farms led to extraordinary lengths being taken to eradicate the virus. "Dark Days" represents, perhaps, the most complete record of this time and provides a powerful and emotive insight into one of the most dramatic and destructive periods in British farming history. It is published in association with Littoral Arts.