The Year of Living Safely – David Runnacles

David Runnacles’ new book, The Year of Living Safely, is a major achievement in a year when we have been so constrained. Insightful and illuminating, it draws strength from being focused on a specific period of time, which he has documented in his inimitable way. His aspiration to make his Cambridge street photography into valued historical records comes across strongly, and is particularly pertinent in this strange year, of course.  

David has explained that he found the pictures for this book by revisiting work from the past year. This shows the benefit of looking again at that we have initially discounted: time not only gives us new eyes, we are not blinded by the light of the stars in the first selection.

Some of the pictures in the ‘May 2020 Lockdown’ section are departures, in terms of locations and subjects, from what he has included in previous books – shadows, still lives, buildings, surreal juxtapositions and incidental details. I hope he will pursue these avenues in future.

The June to September pictures show once again his eye for seeing into and capturing the passing street parade with its rich incidents. There is comfort is seeing people going about, getting on with and enjoying life in these troubled times. The sun helps by giving him the light that is so much part of his photographic voice, and the reflections too, of course. The cover photograph is well chosen – it embodies ‘living’ and ‘safely’.

Among my favourites are pictures of cows mingling with the crowds on Laundress Green, not because they are rather charming (which they are), but because of what they say on a number of levels. First, they show something that may be unique to Cambridge. Second, they represent the survival of the historical tradition of grazing cattle on commons. Third, it is rare for people to get so close to cattle these days. Fourth, people are not only close to them, they are comfortable with them, a strange relationship with what might be tomorrow’s Sunday roast

There are other moments that give one pause for thought. What’s the story behind ‘Non binary siblings’ and the scene of carefully laid (or discarded) flowers on the pavement? And despite the sense of enjoyment some pictures may also be interpreted as reckless behaviour in Covid 19 times. So many things to digest enjoy over the coming weeks. And all beautifully designed and printed (by Mimeo).

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