Ravilious is one of those artists who start people off talking about Englishness as though he were expressing some peculiar quality about us. What I like about these photographs is the way he could put all that behind him while he was working alongside these men. The harsh conditions provided him with the best opportunity he had to show that he could do more than just show how people lived in rural England.
The snow provided large areas of white but alongside them he has a tremendous range of tones. It's one of those paradoxical things about monochrome - in the right hands, it can be used to get the feel of things of themselves. In the 1920s Arthur Rigden Read was masterly in the way he got the sense of silk or sacking or feathers by using what was more or less black-and-white. Being a photographer Ravilious could work directly with the light to render those extraordinary armfuls of hay. These photographs are not about who we are, they are about what we are.
The photographs are a record of events and of a way of life and he never lost touch with very ordinary things, but some of these also go well beyond that. You can see the sense of rhythm he achieved (especially in the photograph above) and the way he could build on it, and sometimes get somewhere very unusual. There are political borders and real borders, often within countries themselves. Modern life doesn't recognise such things by and large but Devon is a borderland and I think Ravilious picked that up.