Fay Godwin is probably one of the finest landscape photographers of her time. She was born in Berlin, Germany in 1931 her father a British Diplomat, mother an American artist.
Her education took her to various schools all over the world but she settled down to live in London.
During the mid 1960’s she became interested in photography by photographing her own children and neighbours although she had no formal training. Her marriage dissolved and her husband shortly after her divorce passed away.
She began to carve a career out of photography by taking portraits professionally of writers. Fay was a keen reader but realised that the work was limiting.
She started to photograph writers and at the same time was diagnosed with cancer but went on to make a full recovery. John Fowles, author invited her to work with him on a book, which took her photography in a new direction.
Landscape photography became important because naturally things became important to her after undergoing orthodox medicine she turned to holistic and complementary therapies. This enhanced her feelings towards the natural world and landscape photography.
Fay explored the landscape documenting locations, which were published the first of those being ‘The Oldest Road’, with the writer J.R.L Anderson, and toured with an exhibition from the series in 1975. She collaborated on a further eight books during her career.
Her work documented the changing landscape of Britain often depicting scenes, which some historical societies found controversial. One photograph in particular of Reculver Towers, an old roman fort in Kent showed a caravan park juxtaposed with the ancient structure. This was criticised for placing the ‘modern caravans’ against the old abbey ruins and did not show them in good light.
A further example of this with Richborough Castle, Kent a Roman fort. Fay has composed the image to show the three cooling towers of the now demolished power station between a gap in the wall. (Fowles and Jeffrey, 1985, p. 109)
John Fowles writes in his essay in Land, (Fowles and Jeffrey, 1985, p.13) ‘The camera cannot really reveal the grim truth that now lurks in the fields. the copses and woods. the distant valleys and hillsides of contemporary Britain. We have done unimaginably dreadful things to our countryside’s in these last fifty years. We have destroyed an incalculable number of hedges; profoundly changed 95 per cent of our natural lowland meadows. with their once countless flowers.’
Fay was aware of the general public perception of the countryside extended to the fairly new idea of county parks and not really connected with the true countryside compounded by countless books filled with ‘pretty postcard’ photographs. She realized that to live in the countryside people who inhabited the spaces had to earn a living and to do so would mean building on it.
She explored our historical monuments such as Avebury, which she found quite mysterious. The composition of these images makes you wonder how or why a solitary stone has been placed in a vast landscape rather than painters such as John Constable who in 1836 painted Stonehenge in great detail. Fay’s images are crude, simple as if the stones were randomly placed and their purpose long forgotten.
I am impressed by her work and simplistic composition showing how our heritage that once was has fallen into ruin and sites that we should have access to such as Stonehenge are no longer free to roam around but fenced in.
The photographs at the beginning of ‘Land’ in particular Glencoe shows a complete lack of human habitation or animals. She admits that these are somewhat depressing because of the lack of interest but they show the rugged, rough and inhospitable land and a feeling of isolation.
I am particularly interested in her work on the Romney marshes. I live in North Kent and have visited Romney Marsh on numerous occasions during my course. Fay gives a sense of a vast barren, desolate, wild but inhabited landscape exposed to the elements. The images are raw and powerful.
In contrast to her images in the Saxon Shore Way, which documents the walk from Gravesend to Rye it shows local images to my home of the marshes near Faversham. I find it intriguing that in less than three decades how much we have lost of our landscape and yet ‘Rotting car, Cliffe Lagon’ is something which Fay returned to time after time documenting its erosion. (Fowles and Jeffrey, 1985, p.111) She talks about the rotting car in a video online. (protesilao1057)
I found a similar scene a couple of miles from my home of two burnt out and discarded cars in what was once a thriving cherry orchard awaiting their final journey to the scrap yard. I have been fascinated by them ever since they were exposed and photographed them at different times of the day and over the course of the summer.
Society has not moved on it would appear that we still live in this throwaway society and it does not matter that we are destroying our countryside or what impact we have on it.
On the recommendation of my tutor I looked at Fay Godwin’s colour work, which it would seem that she turned to later on in her career. Godwin’s colour photographs’ are a total contrast to the more traditional black and white early years. She seems to have focused in minute detail.
Godwin’s Pioneer Glassworks series (1999) produced abstract work of leaves, flower petals shot through a diffused medium such as glass or netting, and mixed with debris and detritus working at close range to the subject. I found one example in the British Library Prints. (Fay Godwin: Glassworks and Secret Lives, no date)
I now feel I missed an opportunity here that St. Augustine’s was perfect for producing some interesting photography with all the old and ruined parts of the building and infrastructure left behind. Sadly, not a place that I can re-visit as it is now demolished and became very, very unsafe. But Dungeness has a wealth of old fish netting, delopodated fishing huts and old boats, so perhaps this this maybe a project I can start when the warmer weather arrives.
Godwin was filmed in ‘Don’t fence me in’ a production by Malachiterthe most fascinating abstract work using a digital scanner and artifacts she found beachcombing and by placing them onto the bed of the scanner producing mysterious, accidental compositions in contrast to her macro photography of tangled beach finds. (Mapleston, 2014)
During my research I found it strikingly similar that both Fay and Kirsty Mitchell had both gone through a traumatic time and turned to photography as a source of solace, inspiration, therapy and way of coping. Personally, I look at my life and photography has given me the opportunity to express my feelings and my view of the world I firmly believe that photography is a healer and by sharing my work it has inspired others as both these photographers have inspired me.
Fowles, J. and Jeffrey, I. (1985) Fay Godwin: Land. London: Heinemann.
protesilao1057 (no date) Fay Godwin – ‘Paesaggi’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JE8I44Ak7o (Accessed: 3 August 2016).
‘Snapshot’ (no date). Available at: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/01/master-photographer-fay-godwin/ (Accessed: 3 August 2016).