In 2008, Birmingham-born photographer Robert Darch moved to Exeter, Devon in the south west of England. In that decade, the area would come to shape the geographical context of Robert’s work, of which the series Durlescombe is a large part. An ongoing project, Durlescombe tells the story of a fictional, yet altogether typical Devonshire village, through documentary photography, Robert’s own family photos and found illustrations.
“Durlescombe grew out of an interest in the area betwixt two moors: Dartmoor and Exmoor,” Robert tells It’s Nice That. “I was drawn to this landscape of wooded hilltops, narrow lanes, valleys, rural villages and patches of Moorland.” Already aware that his family name of Darch had links to Devon, Robert found himself in a small town in the middle of the county in the Spring of 2016. “I thought it might be fun to see if I could find any Darch’s in the graveyard,” he recalls, “almost instantly, and to my surprise, I found a large gravestone with my name on it, Robert Darch.”
This chance discovery prompted a project which sees Robert exploring his own attachment to a region where generations of his family have lived and worked for almost one thousand years. Although not a real place, the village of Durlescombe becomes a holding ground for this attachment; an embodiment of Robert’s identity and nostalgia.
The series is full of chance encounters, from finding the original gravestone to meeting actual family members and abandoned buildings previously owned by relatives. Although ultimately fictitious, these interactions are what breathe so much nostalgia into the images. This nostalgia is also captured within the tone of the images, however. Full of misty scenes and lofty barns, there is a drama to the series which is only furthered by the inclusion of archival illustrations and photographs.
When shooting the series, Robert spent time observing the local people and documenting from afar but also constructed certain shots. “I explained that they are more like characters inhabiting this place from my imagination rather than being an accurate portrayal of them,” he explains. Despite this, there is an honesty to the series as a result of the time Robert spent getting to know the community, allowing them to have a say in the narrative that ensued.
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