on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Land and Landmarks – Fay Godwin

Book review

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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As you may have read by now, I have spent the last week and a half looking at the life and works of Fay Godwin (click here to see our biography) and talking to various photographers about her work. The overall impression is one of an incredibly passionate, often difficult woman who had an almost tunnel vision approach to the art of promotion of her photography. She was also a foil for her times, a female single parent in the political environment of third wave feminism and a close friend of many radical (for their day) literary figures (Feminist writers Angela Carter, Doris Lessing, Edna O'Brien and political writers Salman Rushdie and Gunter Grass to name a few). Her 'pure' landscape work in the book and exhibition land gradually become more political as she engaged with the issues that she was passionate about, in her case it was initially about access to our landscape but also became about the urban environment (for instance her photography from her Fellowship of the National Museum of Photography allowed her to explore colour photography and she did so by exploring the urban environment of Bradford, taking an almost Atget style approach.

In later life she found it difficult to get out and about and concentrated on abstract pictures, the results of which I can't personally engage with in any way (and it seems the popular press rejected them in a similar fashion, something she became quite embittered with).

The two books I'm showing extracts of her are "Land" which I would consider an essential purchase for anyone with an interest in British landscape photography and "Landmarks", a retrospective of her life's work. Land is a book that contains some exquisite black and white photography - landscapes that whilst not pushing creative boundaries, shows a quiet appreciation for our environment. Working for front to back, she works her way down the country from her ancestral home in Scotland down to the South where she called home until she died in 2005. The pictures vary from the sublime, romantic tradition through a range of quirky Strand/Bresson like composition and onto more modern Brandt/Raymond Moore inspired peices. The works are softly printed, a good reflection of the exhibition prints in many ways and more than good enough to appreciate the artistry involved.

"Landmarks" is a different beast, it includes a good biography and opinion piece at the start and a large collection of very well printed pictures covering the large range of Godwin's work. The pictures are organised into nominal sections but not ordered in any chronological fashion (which is a shame). They start with the extraordinary leaping lurcher, as much of a signature photograph as Fay ever took and continue through Bresson like 'comedy' street photographs (what looks like a Bison intimidating a bucket at one point) and through her portrait work. We then have a large selection of photographs from the Land trilogy ("Land", "Our Forbidden Land" and "The Edge of the Land").

What comes next is enlightening. In 1988 she visits Hawaii and produces some fantastic photographs in a pure landscape vein.  She revisits in 1992 and 1995, again producing excellent work using her Hassleblad, and in colour on the last visit! I'm very interested in finding out more about these and will be talking to the Media Museum and the National Library about potentially gaining access to write a dedicated piece on them.

Read other Fay Godwin articles:

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