Land by Fay Godwin
Although this collection was published 30 years ago, the images are timeless and I learned a lot from John Fowles’ essay and from Ian Jeffrey’s introduction. My reason for getting this volume from library were firstly I have not seen Fay Godwin’s work as a collection before and the title was referred to at the OCA TV study group last month, and secondly I wanted a reference as inspiration for the documentation of the landscapes en route from my current home to my family home on the south coast.
Fowles explains that he doesn’t particularly like the the genre of landscape photography and prefers “…the flowing and unfixed”… experience of being in the landscape. He is more interested in what is in the landscape, trees ,birds, flowers and insects, and would rather examine a small section intimately than look at the whole thing fixed and unmoving. He also wrote about the sterility of the agricultural landscape in Britain and complains that the tourist will “photograph the landscape in order not to look” and that the British landscape is one of the the most worked (and abused) landscapes in the world. He also expresses his distain of the “artists who monotonously purvey the pretty” perpetuating the myth that nothing ever changes in the countryside. He argues for the realistic depiction of the countryside, warts and all so that the audience are aware. He says that Fay Godwin is a documentary realist giving us truthful landscapes.
When I first read Ian Jeffrey’s introduction, I was put off at first by his interpretations of the photographs but very soon realised that it was a necessary part of his explanation of how Fay Godwin worked. Without quoting his thoughts line by line I have made notes on his interpretations as a working guide to some aspects I may include when planning my photographs.
The pictures are about interpretation, the differences between the wild and the cultivated or the upset of the balance between the two. Nature, wild and belligerent, man’s efforts – small and frail by comparison (depending on the camera viewpoint of course) Standing stones – man the constructor, Fay Godwin shows, not Stonehenge but more natural assemblies of stones. Relationships between habitation and wilderness, Godwin – mostly dramatic with settlements reduced or obscured. Oblivion – Roman places photographed simply in long prospect. Sighting and alignment considered as picture elements for composition.
Many of the images were familiar from publication in journals and magazines over many years. What struck me was how carefully the images were matched in facing pages or with no image at all. Many of the places were recently familiar having returned from an extended trip to Argyll, Orkney and the Western Isles. There is something about black and white landscapes that is immediately familiar to anyone, like me who has followed and tried to emulate the skills of Godwin, Ephraum’s and Bartlett in the field and the darkroom.
What I have got from this book is a recognition that I need to try and include something personal in my interpretation and to avoid the temptation to tidy up and exclude the reality of the modern landscape. Although I have a general idea of the images I want to make, undertaking the walk will bring more scenes into view and hopefully an enriched experience to draw on. I will continue to look at various sources and historical references as I progress through the route planning. I shall be taking reference photographs as I walk and will return to photograph the scenes that give the most in terms of the experience and the theme (yet to be decided).