Jem Southam discusses a point with Amano at Saturday’s Study Visit.
After a brief introduction by tutor Jesse Alexander, Jem Southam proceeded to deliver a fascinating talk on his many years experience of landscape photography and some of his work. He is a lively and entertaining speaker and he treated us to a wealth of amusing and serious anecdotes around his life and practice. He started by introducing the idea that traditionally landscape was seen from a very narrow pictorial viewpoint. The introduction of the New Topographies heralded a critical approach to landscape where the effect of man’s intervention was examined. Jem also talked about the connection between landscape photography and what he called “Cultural Geography” – the ways in which we use and interact with the landscape. He also pointed out several times that landscapes are intensely contested spaces. His method of working is to repeatedly photograph the same scene to record the changes that occur over a period of perhaps several years or perhaps a decade and longer. He likes to work locally arguing that traditionally, individuals experienced their environment not on a grand national scale but on a short daily walking routine. Ref: Thomas A Clark 1988, In Praise of Walking.
Over the following couple of hours, Jem talked at length about some of his work and I have summarised his talk under these headings:
(expand these by further reading)
The Red River 1980s Jem was living in Cornwall and discovered a red stream. He discovered that pictorial representations influence our approach and perceptions of what a landscape should be. Following the Red River to the sea, he divided the project into seven sections and associated each one with a myth. (e.g. the welcoming light in a window)
Rock Falls & River Mouths In this series Jem looked at the natural sculpture and traumatic shifts of rock falls in the Isle of Wight, East Sussex and the Normandy Coast and at the erosion and shifts in position of river mouths.
The Pond at Upton Pyne This section of the talk provided us with some amusing and salutary anecdotes. In this six year project, Jem photographed the changes in response to the attempted “beautification” of the pond by two successive individuals and the conflicts this caused locally to the neighbours and the ultimate friction with the landowner when the work came to be exhibited.
We also looked at “The River, Winter” which examined the river Ex and its tributaries over one winter. Jem carried out an interesting experiment with school children, asking them “What is a river?” and asking them to make a picture of a river to describe what a river is.
Jem then went on to talk about what he called The Snippet – a commissioned work in which he was asked to photograph the Cumbrian Coast around Maryport once an intensely industrial landscape, now desolate. His work was accompanied by texts and artefacts from fellow travellers who included his ornithologist brother and a “walking poet” who produced a word map of their walk. He mentioned Wordsworth’s poem “On Black Combe” in which are mentioned “Geographic Labourers” (early mapmakers). He says he likes to consider himself as such.
From this point we looked at work that had been brought by various students. I presented eight more images from my on-going project on the redevelopment of Bordon. Jem thought it was a good project and wondered whether I could expand it and include it in local archives. I told about the Bordon Reflections project and hoped that although this was very new and was concentrating on the past, I was hopeful that the inclusion of present and future developments would lead to a more permanent record. On 16th April I will be given access inside the wire of Louisburg Barracks. An opportunity to revisit a former workplace after 11 years.
I think this was a worthwhile and fascinating visit. I found myself constantly in sympathy with Jem’s views and ideas. I feel inspired to try new approaches to my own projects. Landscape is my next level 2 course and the genre in which I wish to specialise. I can’t wait to get started….