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Stories from the Land


Jem Southam in conversation with Andrew Nadolski

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Andrew Nadolski

Andrew Nadolski

Andrew Nadolski is a professional designer and photographer based in Exeter. His series 'The End of the Land' has been exhibited in museums and art galleries across England and has been published as a book by Headon House.


Jem Southam is critically regarded as one of the most important British photographers of the last twenty five years. Working with a 10×8 view camera and colour negative film, his patient pursuit of his art seems at odds with the frenetic pace of life in the 21st Century.

He predominantly works in South West of England, often returning to the same location time and time again to record subtle variations in the landscape, how it changes during the seasons and exploring the balance between nature and mans intervention upon it.

His photographs combine patient observation of the land with personal, cultural and literary references. Appreciating his work requires patience of the viewer, but this patience is hugely rewarded as layer upon layer of thought is revealed in his often complex photographs.

His work is included in many important collections including Rijksmuseum, Museum Folkwang, and the Yale Centre for British Art. He has been the subject of numerous solo shows including Tate St. Ives in 2004 and The Victoria & Albert Museum in 2006. He has exhibited widely in Europe, the US and the United Kingdom.

He is represented by the Robert Mann Gallery, New York and James Hyman Gallery, London and is currently Professor of Photography at the University of Plymouth.


A bit of background…

… there is no place in our brain in which the answer to the question ‘What is a river?’ is simply lodged…

Andrew Nadolski


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16 thoughts on “Stories from the Land

  1. Thanks you Andrew and Jem for a very thought provoking contribution to On Landscape. I do not immediately “get” all the themes or images. but like the images in general they reward thought and prolonged observation. It is one of those pieces where i feel the need to buy you a pint and ask you to pass that by me again,slowly. maybe one day.

  2. Andrew & Jem; thank you for one of the most interesting articles I have read for a long time. I’ve just ordered The River Winter and can’t wait to receive my copy. Even though these are low resolution web images, I’m left with an impression – a feeling – that I rarely get when looking at images. Dramatic images, for example of the Aurelia Borealis, might be in vogue, but to me these are infinitely more beautiful, with such depth, soul, intrigue, tone….I could go on. Regards, Michael.

    • Michael
      You won’t be disappointed in the book. It is beautifully printed and the reproductions are very, very close to Jem’s contact prints. Jem by his own admission makes images that require you to spend time with them and require thought. You are quite right in saying they have ‘soul’.
      The other point worth noting (and other readers might want to take notice of this) is that all of Jem’s monographs have increased significantly in value once they are sold out. The River Winter is selling really well and may go out of print quicker than people realise.
      Best wishes

      • Andrew

        The book arrived today (delivered in person from Beyond Words in just a day (perhaps harsh on them, as I ordered at the weekend!), and I even received a signed copy) – I’m most certainly not disappointed. It’s too early to form any concrete judgement because as you say, the images need time and thought. But initial impressions are that it’s a beautiful book with some exceptional, beautiful images which will make enjoyable viewing over the years. Regards, Michael.

  3. Thank you Andrew and Jem for a very enlightening feature. I too have just been shopping and am looking forward to The River – Winter. Scenes that are familiar to me here in the New Forest, but which frustrate me when striving to make coherent images. That Jem has created so many, so successfully, is incredibly admirable. The restrained colour palette and low contrast enables the pictures to work when other media would struggle because of the inability to use ND grads to control contrast.

    I will be working on the Lymington and Beaulieu Rivers throughout this year and trying to create my own vision. I still have a Gandolfi with a single coated lens, but daren’t think 10×8!

    It may well be that having become more familiar with Jem’s work in this book, I may well then be able to access the other bodies of work.

    All the best, Bax

    • Hi Bax
      Thanks for your comments and nice to hear from you. I hope you will enjoy the pictures even more when you get your copy of the book. You note that Jem has managed to make so many pictures that are successful – I can testify that there are even more in his ongoing River series. I think this body of work will be seen as one of the best in his career so far.
      The best book for anyone interested in an overview of Jem’s work is Landscape Stories which I believe is still available. It covers work from the Red River onwards.
      Good luck with the Gandolfi – look forward to seeing some pictures.
      Al the best

  4. Great article and the images are, I think, much more the UK I imagine on a day to day basis, not the spectacular sunsets over rocky coves which we are used to seeing.

    I was particularly interested in Jems comment about the industrial influence on so much of our countryside.. Having spent a lot of my life visiting and working in the lakes. I am well used to seeing the influence of mining activity in that landscape, much of it several hundred years old and in a lot of cases not immediately obvious. I was particularly angered years ago when the NT and national parks decided to blast old mine workings and bulldoze old mine tips in the Caldbeck area. To my mind the remains of these activities are now part of our landscape ( as are we), and to try and artificially exclude them from the “chocolate box” Image of what the tourist board try to project is wrong. The more photographers who include our heritage in the landscape the better…. In my opinion.

  5. A really interesting article, Andrew and some beautifully quiet images – I find the first River Exe at Bickleigh image particularly beguiling.
    I have to confess I didn’t know Jem’s work but may just have to do a little more investigation now! The goat, lamb and piglet photo is extraordinary.
    Reference industrial heritage now being part of the landscape – we have areas in Yorkshire, such as Fryupdale – where the old mining remains really have been fully incorporated back into the landscape and are completely covered with vegetation now. I guess nature will eventually reclaim its own if we leave well alone!?

  6. Thank you very much for this very interesting article. Very thought provoking, and I must admit at being slightly lost at times when looking at the pictures, which by itself is to be commended as I will have to return and look at them again and again, although I am sure the impression they leave if I had seen full size prints would be completely different.
    Thank you once again.

  7. Thank you for the article Andrew. I wasn’t familiar with Jem Southam’s work before (bad for me!) but this interview and the images were a real treat! I very much like the images portraying the complexity of nature, away from the “chocolate-box” view of the grandiose landscape. Some of the images remind me a lot the ones form Jan Tove’s “Beyond order” portfolio. Complex to comprehend initially, but the compositions draws you in little by little. I also enjoyed Jem’s views on the differences between the US and European landscape photography scene and the very much “absence” of the vast un-inhabited landscapes from Europe. I think I need to go look for “River-Winter” now.

  8. Thanks Andrew. An interesting interview. Subsequently I too went shopping and, as you promised, was not disappointed.

    In search of further information about his work I found a video of Jem giving a talk in 2011 in Portugal.
    http://vimeo.com/38268822 Part 1
    http://vimeo.com/38274008 Part 2
    http://vimeo.com/38586906 Part 3

    The introduction from the host is in Portuguese but once Jem starts talking the rest is in English. It runs for about 80 minutes.

  9. Andrew,

    I too would like to join the Jem Southam appreciation society! Jem’s wonderfully thoughtful and discursive responses to your questions are a real reminder to all of us that photography and art are wholly compatible. His thoughts are also refreshingly non-judgmental, for although the furrow he ploughs is so definitely his own, his responses are free of prejudice and simply celebrate the love of picture-making, in whatever form.

    As for the photographs, we have championed the cause of quiet and contemplative landscape photography at OL since the beginning, and without doubt Jem is a champion of the quiet image (although ‘champion’ and ‘quiet’ is rather a mismatch). An Exeter native myself I find the The River-winter series hauntingly familiar, yet also strange, for the snow is indeed such a novelty in the south west. The way Jem resolves such complexity without forcing anything is quite wonderful. I particularly also love the spare minimalism of the images from The Clouds descending series. Although I am quite sure these would look considerably superior in print form. Jem’s views on digital versus analogue print were also fascinating.

    And doesn’t it all make us want to shoot 10×8?!


  10. These are timeless works, monumental even. They ask much more from the viewer than the “usual” landscape compositions that we see so often – near-far focus, thirds, glam colour, all those standards that seem to satisfy us. These works could hang in an art gallery, the latter not, as Jem has invested himslef into these works.

    The photographs demonstrate that Jem knows his subject matter intimately and has been able to create complex and thought provoking compositions from scenes that are in themselves not “stunning” by any means. In many ways, the images seem to me to be a logical result from the very slow workflow of 8×10 photography. That workflow combined with the muted but real palette of colour negative film, can certainly yield images of monumental quality.

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