October 23, 2011
Following her recent death, Fay Godwin (1931-2005) remains an internationally-renowned landscape photographer. Godwin was self-taught, her interest developed during the 1960s through taking pictures of her young family.
Having established herself in literary portraiture, Godwin moved onto publishing her landscape work in a series of walkers’ books (see her website for a full list). In 1978, she received an award from the UK arts council, and her best known exhibition ‘Land’ was shown at the Serpentine Gallery in London (1985) before being toured internationally. Over the years, Godwin developed the subtle political strand within her work to a more overt criticism of the environmental damage, and access restrictions imposed on the land, across the UK. Throughout her lifetime Godwin received many awards, mainly for her black and white landscapes, which gained her recognition as one of the best-known landscape photographers of our times.
However, Godwin’s early fame also compromised her artistic freedom. From 1979 her experiments in colour led to a deliberate attempt to move out of the black and white landscape genre through a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, (Bradford 1987/8) culminating in an exhibition ‘Bradford in Colour’. During the early 90s, Godwin’s eventual move to colour close-ups was widely misinterpreted as a necessity due to failing health, rather than creative progression. Godwin’s own view was: ‘Because in a dreary British way, I had been pigeon-holed as a black and white photographer and at my age it was not permissible to move on.’ However, in 2001 Godwin was honoured with a major retrospective, “Landmarks” at the Barbican Centre, in London. Landmarks went on to tour internationally.
The ‘Colourworks’ exhibition, as the title suggests, included images from Godwin’s “Glassworks & Secret Lives” series: macro landscapes; Hawaiian lava landscapes; documentary work from her Bradford exhibition; and recent local works. Her continuing observations of the landscape, albeit from a different angle, show that Godwin’s colour work is every bit as carefully considered, and important as the black and white images that previously gained her popular and critical acclaim.
In Hotshoe (1999), Chris Townsend writes:
Glassworks & Secret Livesis a beautiful book, every bit as sensitive to the world as Godwin’s monochrome works, but here the joy is in the detail, the intimate. Where her earlier books were, in the broadest sense, political and ethical essays, Glassworks & Secret Lives is rapturously erotic. This is the world close-up and personal, it is both metaphorically, and sometimes literally, that garden to which Candide retreated as an escape from history. Which is not to say that Godwin has forever given up on the political, but rather that one needs balance in order to maintain perspective. Nothing here invalidates or rebukes anything that has preceded it.
Although different from her previous work there is a connection which is best explained by Fay Godwin herself: “My interest in the land in my black and white work has consistently concerned human intervention – the history, tilling and use of the land – I have never been interested in wilderness areas. It was only recently that I realised that this colour work follows some of the same concerns, in a more oblique, less specific way.”
* All colour images are: £750 they are signed by the artist and stamped by the Fay Godwin Estate. The 16 x 12 prints are the only ones available.