My favourite ‘Desert Island’ photographer

Darren Almond (British, b 1971) – is an artist with a very diverse practice including film and sculpture as well as photography.  His best known works are described as highly evocative meditations on time and duration.  I am particularly drawn to his long exposure images of landscapes lit by a full moon, especially those of water.  This is partly because I’m a ‘night person’ myself, but also these image seem to combine the best of colour landscape photography with craft, beautiful light, abstract qualities, mystery, hints of folktale…  Stranded on a desert island with one of these, I think I would find aesthetic pleasure and storytelling possibilities to last a long time ….

Full moon @Loch Awe, 2007

See here here and here for more information .

 

 

 

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Creative inspirations

This category is about camera-less and abstract photography

 

1 Gina Glover (British, co-founder of Photofusion Photography Centre in Brixton, London).  Glover has a wide-ranging practice, but I am particularly drawn to her pinhole camera photographs.  See her website.

Dialogue with wind and waves, Lyme Regis

 

The following two photographers are local and featured in an exhibition of camera-less photograph at the V&A Museum in 2011 called Shadow Catchers 

2  Susan Derges (British, b 1955, lives in Devon).  Derges is best known for her work dispensing with a camera altogether and using light directly onto photographic paper. Since this paper has ceased being manufactured, she has moved into digital photography. See her website.  My favourite images are those she made using flashlight through water, either rivers or sea.

River Taw, 19 January 1999

 

3  Gary Fabian Miller  (British, b 1957, lives on Dartmoor).

Like Susan Derges, Gary Fabian Miller is known for his work exposing photographic paper directly to a light source.  His practice is based mainly on his walks in the Dartmoor landscape around his home, turning his memories of light effects he has witnessed into extremely abstract compositions, that you might not consider to be photography at all! See his website.

I saw these images at Newlyn Art Gallery in the year of the solar eclipse, 1998.  I probably feel drawn to his work most because I enjoy its intense luminosity, but I am also fascinated by his processes.

Towards a solar eclipse, 4 April 1998 and 18 May 1998

Year One Samanios, October 2005

Like Derges, Miller has had to completely change his practice since the photographic paper has ceased production.  In January this year, the BBC broadcast a short radio programme about him making his last images using this process.  

 

4 Andy Ilachinski – is a theoretical physicist by profession, and a photographer – as he describes – by temperament.   Until the age of 10, Ilachinski perceived numbers, and sometimes letters, as colours, and this inspired a series of images I particularly enjoy that he calls Synesthetic Landscapes –  abstract photos, often made through glasses of coloured water, which are suggestive of landscapes, seascapes, and other ‘majestic vistas’.

See his website for his wide range of mostly landscape photography.

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Telling a powerful story continued ….

Telling a powerful story continues with this round-up of social documentary photographers:

 

1  Sebastiao Salgado (Brazil, b 1944) – world renowned social documentary photographer and photo-journalist.  I am inspired by his story partly because of the monumental scale and ambition of his work.  He works on long term, self-assigned projects –  for instance his study of workers around the world, showing the degrading and inhuman conditions that capitalism depends upon.  He also made important photographic studies of human migration, and the plight of refugees.

Gold workers in Brazil, 1986

But also because (like Don McCullin in the previous two posts) his witness of the terrible inhumanity that people can inflict on each other led to a remarkable personal transformation story.  When his physical health broke down through the trauma of what he was documenting, he returned to the land of his childhood home, only to find that it too had suffered unbearable environmental degradation.  He and his wife Lelia Salgado set about replanting it with trees, to recreate the sub-tropical rain-forest of his childhood.  In 1998 they set up an environmental education organisation, Instituto Terra, which has restored 17,000 acres of deforested and eroded land in their area of Brazil, through planting more than 4 million seedlings of trees native to the Atlantic Forest.  His most recent photographic project Genesis is a celebration of wilderness places and wildlife around the world.

There is a great deal of information about Salgado online in articles and video.  The film Salt of the Earth about his life and work, by his son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and the director Wim Wenders, is well worth watching for its presentation of a level of passion and drive that few people possess.

 

 

2  Nick Hedges – (British photographer, b 1943) – His work for the housing charity Shelter documenting the lives of people in deplorable living conditions during the 1960s and 70s had a lasting impact.  See his website

 

3  Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965).  In a similar vein, Lange is famous for her photographs of poverty-stricken migrants during the Depression in the USA.  See for example the archive at MOMA

Migrant mother, 1936

 

Closer to home, and on a lighter note …

4  James Ravilious (British, 1939 – 1999) – famous for his record of rural life in north Devon, especially a seventeen year project for the Beaford Photographic Archive, although he also worked in other parts of England and Europe.  See this website of his work, and this article.

Irwin Piper leading his sheep, Upcott Dolton, 1981

 

5  Chris Chapman (British, b 1952, lives on Dartmoor) – like Ravilious, Chapman is best known for documenting Dartmoor life.  See his website.

Hope Lilian Bourne, Exmoor

 

 

 

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Inspirations – escaping lockdown through photography

 

Recreating a work of art at home

Recently, the Getty Museum issued a challenge to recreate favourite works of art using just three objects lying around at home.  It was inspired by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and an Instagram account called Between Art and Quarantine

Thousands of people have responded and there are lots of examples online, as I found to my cost one evening when I started checking them out…. not sure it was time well-spent, but a lot of them are very funny.  [Diana]

Yawning man with dish-towel

The tiny laundress

 

 

The Great Indoors

This news item caught my eye yesterday [Diana]:

Los Angeles-based photographer Erin Sullivan has found an unconventional way to satiate her penchant for exploration while under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sullivan let her creativity go wild in her latest photo series, “Our Great Indoors.”  In it, she constructs fantastical landscapes from common household objects found in her apartment, such as pancakes, pillow cases and raincoats […. and broccoli!]

Sullivan’s career as a travel photographer has brought her to some of the most beautiful places around the world.  These excursions helped her prepare for more than 40 days in self-quarantine.

Sweet sand dunes

A figurine hikes the cave of a paper bag. (Erin Sullivan for The Washington Post)

 

 

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Inspirations – local friends of the Club

 

From Mike J and Diana

Jane White

I sent an email to Jane White who was due to talk to us about iPhone photography in October ….  she wanted to cancel it, but remain available.  She sent a link to her website.  I found her images “breathtakingly beautiful.”  Have a look [Mike]

http://www.silversnapperphotography.com

I have become a serious photographer since joining Exeter Camera Club.  I enjoyed my years as Membership Secretary and Committee member.  I was enrolled as a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society in 2011.

My joy is to blend my photography with Art.  I am a keen iphonepgrapher and enjoy shooting with an iPhone 7 plus and have won competitions with iphone images.  I also use an Olympus OM-D-E 5 MK 11 with various lenses.  I have recently become addicted to the Lensbaby range of creative lenses.

All of my images are edited and processed using an Apple iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil for drawing and painting.

More recently, I embarked on another challenge of photomicroscopy and was successful in March 2018 to be enrolled as an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.

Photo microscopy for Jane’s ARPS entry

 

David R White

David is very familiar to club members as a local nature photographer, particularly in the Otter Valley.  You can see his amazing close-ups of wildlife on Facebook and he regularly posts images to Wild Woodbury’s Facebook page, too, from ‘beyond the parish boundary.’ [Diana]

18 April 2020

 

Malcolm Randle

A resident of Woodbury Salterton, Malcolm sets an amazing example of working through projects.  His Facebook page is full of albums of stunning and often jewel-like imagery of flowers, insects, birds and landscapes, mostly from the surrounding areas.  My personal favourite is the album he made of local wildflowers called The Bee’s Eye View for the Woodbury Wide Awake project – but I’m biassed! [Diana]

 

Colin Varndell

Colin spoke to the club a couple of times last year about his natural history photography, and most of us were blown away by his imagery.  We were trying to organise a photography day at his place in W Dorset, but circumstances prevented it happening – fingers-crossed for next year, health permitting ….. My personal favourites once again are Colin’s wildflower photos.  On Facebook during lockdown he is running a competition to name the flowers in his images …. no, I didn’t bother trying to guess this one, either – but his images definitely make you look twice! [Diana]

Bog asphodel seedhead

 

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Inspirations – from Pete

Here are three photos I have seen lately that appealed to me.

The first two were included by a book given me at Christmas titled Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs, by Henry Carroll.

The first is by Henri Cartier Bresson, France 1932, called Departement du Var.  The section of the book I saw it in was not surprisingly on ‘Lines.’  This I liked because the lines really worked and he included the cyclist.  It has to be considered what equipment was available at this time.

The second is by Lars Tunbjork and is called 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue.  The section of the book was ‘Fill Your Shot.’

This really got me.  It is a full image and I wonder if I would have thought of taking such a shot.  The blocks of buildings really work, as do the colours, and they are framed by the fencing.  You can’t help but notice that the shot captures the yellow cab perfectly between the rails.

The third photo I saw in a monthly camera mag.  It is by Andy Gardner and is called Station Rays.

The story is that the photographer was going to a station in Yorkshire to take shots of a film crew working on a scene for a movie or film.  Apparently he could not get close enough to the action so he decided to leave.  On the way back he noticed the shaft of light falling on an empty platform and saw his shot.  By chance, when ready, a person appeared and stopped in the sunlight.  It just goes to show you can be in the right place at the right time and always be ready to take advantage. I really like this for a number of reasons including the spontaneity.

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Telling a powerful story 1 – Don McCullin

 

Don McCullin – photo-journalist witnessing war, poverty, and deprivation 

“Still photographs have a strong affinity with the way we remember.  The vibrations of a still photograph can be intense, and can last forever …. the ripples go out….  The disenchantment with the Vietnam War was powerfully reinforced by …. photographers such as Don McCullin.” 

Sir Harold Evans, Editor of the Sunday Times, 1967-83, speaking in the film McCullin [2013] –  see trailer  

A Turkish wife learns of her husband’s death, Cyprus, 1964

In the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, Sir Don McCullin produced the greatest photojournalism of his age for The Sunday Times Magazine.  From Vietnam to the Middle East, he gave us images of war of unequalled power. And he wandered Britain nudging consciences with his pictures of poverty and deprivation.  No new photographer can claim not to have been influenced by McCullin.

The Times 27 Jan 2019 

I wasn’t going to include Don McCullin again – a sign, perhaps, of how horrendous the scenes he depicts are, but also maybe how his imagery is almost taken for granted now. But I changed my mind after seeing the film McCullin [2013] about his war photography [see a short trailer here].  I found it on Amazon Prime, and it is absolutely harrowing to watch … but it is book-ended with countryside scenes around his home in Somerset [see previous post], which hint at the more redemptive aspects of his personal story.  The film has been described as:

A revealing documentary of his life and work and what effect such intimate images can have on one’s life.  A brilliant documentary for those interested in history, humanity and photography

To many, Don McCullin is the greatest living war photographer, often cited as an inspiration for today’s photojournalists.  For the first time, McCullin speaks candidly about his three-decade career covering wars and humanitarian disasters on virtually every continent and the photographs that often defined historic moments.  From 1969 to 1984, he was the Sunday Times’ star photographer, where he covered stories from the civil war in Cyprus to the war in Vietnam, from the man-made famine in Biafra to the plight of the homeless in the London of the swinging sixties.  Exploring not only McCullin’s life and work, but how the ethos of journalism has changed throughout his career, the film is a commentary on the history of photojournalism told through the lens of one of its most acclaimed photographers.

From the imbd review of the film.

Also, in 2019 there was a major retrospective of McCullin’s work at Tate Britain, so there is plenty of online information and imagery to check out, for instance in these Guardian articles here and here.  I found that the only way I could really understand his work was to hear him talking about it, and, in addition to the film, there are quite a lot of recent short videos online.  Many of his most iconic photographs are on the National Galleries of Scotland website, where I sourced most of the images below.

Battle of Hue, Vietnam, 1968

A Turk sprints from the exposed doorway of an old cinema in Limassol, Cyprus, 1964. It was McCullin’s first foreign assignment for the Observer.

McCullin grew up in a very rough part of London with very little education, but became passionate about photography.  His first published photos were of the gangs he grew up among.  He became absolutely compelled to record the human experience of war situations around the world – indeed believed he was meant to do so (to the detriment of his family life).  He is quite open about how crazy he became in this pursuit, and that he questioned what he was doing all the time – never sure that it would make any difference. He describes himself as being “on the side of humanity,” rather than having war itself as his subject, and tragically war has of course not stopped as a result.  However, his sensitivity, empathy, responsiveness and instinct resulted in images that can never be forgotten.

He has described how some moments he witnessed were evocative of the painter Goya. His editor at the Sunday Times, Sir Harold Evans, said of such images:

That moment is so classic – it is one of the decisive moments in photography, because it combines the news moment with the compositional elements, which make the photographs in themselves.  A second or two later would have made a difference.

And McCullin seemed to have had exactly the intuition and sense of composition that captured such moments over and over.  The power of his photographs now seems to be in revealing the inhumanity of war anywhere and everywhere, rather than particular events. However, after the gruesome intimacy of images such as the ones he made in the Vietnam, the role of war photographers has become much more circumscribed, and his pictures belong to a very particular period in photography.

Now you’re totally controlled.  You’re never going to be allowed to take the kind of photographs I did in Vietnam.  The whole rule-book has been re-written.

[Quote from the film]

  *  *  *

In addition to his war photography, McCullin had many more assignments for the Sunday Times, recording everyday British life, especially but not exclusively in poverty-stricken areas.  These were regularly published in the colour magazine supplement of the newspaper, which is perhaps why for a certain generation they are so memorable.

Early shift, West Hartlepool steelworks, County Durham, 1963.

On the pier at Eastbourne in the 1970s.

Homeless Irishman, Spitalfields, London 1970.

 

But the sheer amount of death and degradation McCullin witnessed eventually took its toll on him, and, as the previous post describes, he turned to landscape photography for his salvation.

I took a great interest in English landscape photography because I’d seen so much tragedy and war – so much misery and pain and suffering – it began to damage me.  If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be a really straightforward, normal human being, I would be a monster … I’d seen too much, and then I needed to release this pain and this tension that was building in me.

I started doing my landscapes and people started saying nice things about them.  They used to often say at the same time, why are they so dark?  The simple reason is because I’m dark, war made me a dark person….  War gave me something, but it took something away from me.  Luckily it didn’t take my life away.

From Seeking the Light, a short film made for Canon [2015] in which McCullin aged 77 makes the switch from his ‘cumbersome, old’ camera to a modern digital one … and is delighted by its capabilities.

 

“Photography is the truth, if it’s being handled by a truthful person”

[Don McCullin, quote from the film]

 

 

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A Sense of Place 4 – Coming Home from War

Don McCullin: international photo-journalist, ‘war photographer’ … and landscape photographer

British.  Born London, 1935.  Lives in Somerset.

“The rural landscape is his greatest salvation”

 

‘Dew pond, Somerset’, 1988

Cranmore, Somerset, 1990s

River Alham that runs through Don McCullin’s village in Somerset

Don McCullin is a major British photographer, and only the second to be made a Knight of the Realm.  Best known for his black and white social documentary and war photography, he is also an important and distinctive landscape photographer, which is why I am including him here.  Hauser and Wirth recently opened an exhibition of his landscapes at their gallery in Bruton, Somerset – The Stillness of Life – but it had to close due to the pandemic.

The part of his story that most strikes me is that, despite working in horrendous situations around the world, Don McCullin can still return home to Somerset (where as a child he was evacuated from London during the war) and make sublime images of the surrounding countryside.  Perhaps unsurprisingly he speaks of it as his salvation – “It all comes back to here.  I think it’s become a  spiritual home to me.”

His raw landscapes and his use of light are very distinctive, creating images full of drama out of what to the ordinary eye might seem not very much!   Some of this comes from knowing his local landscape so well, and his patience waiting for the light to be exactly right.  I find it very inspiring to see him talking about this work and process in this short video.

Elsewhere, in a different video made with and for Canon in 2015, he speaks of the importance of light:

My philosophy in photography is basically that the light governs the whole outcome of your image – it creates the atmosphere.  Even when the light is bad or it’s raining, I still photograph.  I believe in battling against the elements to keep and create that atmosphere.  The light is your friend and it can be your enemy, so I personally go along with it.

Thanks to Hauser and WirthGallery’s website for the images and the following information:

Don McCullin was born in Finsbury Park in London in 1935.  He left school at 15 without any qualifications.  He signed up to National Service in the RAF, and quickly became a photographic assistant working on aerial reconnaissance photography.

In 1959, The Observer gave him his first professional break by publishing his photograph of a London gang. Between 1966 and 1984, he worked for The Sunday Times Magazine and released some of his most celebrated images. McCullin is particularly recognised for his war photography …

He has also specialised in critical social documentation, and his images of urban struggles have depicted the unemployed, poor and deprived.  His early professional career shone a harsh spotlight on the reality of post-war life, including the stark landscapes of the industrial north, the increasing unemployment and homelessness levels in the capital, and growing unrest across the country.

*  *  *

As a photo-journalist Don McCullin witnessed some of the most harrowing humanitarian disasters of the last half-century, having covered every major conflict in his adult lifetime. His assignments included the Vietnam and Biafra War, Northern Ireland, the Lebanese Civil War, Belgian Congo, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of Phnom Penh.  In pursuit of his work, he was wounded in Cambodia, fell from a roof in Salvador, was imprisoned by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, and contracted cerebral malaria in West Africa.  But in the course of his long career, and through his dedication to documenting global wars and conflict, he has become celebrated both as a master of black and white photography, and as history’s greatest war photographer.

For the last two decades, McCullin has turned to look at the land around him, namely the Somerset village in which he was evacuated during the Blitz.  Often referring to the sweeping rural landscape as his greatest salvation, the photographer demonstrates the full mastery of his medium with stark black and white images resonating with human emotion whilst retaining the honesty and grit synonymous with his earlier works.

 *  *  *

In his darkroom, off the kitchen, he continues — as he has throughout a career of more than half a century — to print his own work, an obsessive, perfectionist exercise he has described as ‘being hand-in-glove with madness.’

Don McCullin’s exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 2019 gave him, he said:

an opportunity to think about why he became a photojournalist — he resolutely rejects calling any of his work art — and why he put himself repeatedly in extreme danger to document war, famine, crime, poverty and refugee crises around the world.

‘I’ve come to think part of it is about fear — I’ve been dealing with fear my whole life, since I was a child.  Around Finsbury Park, where I grew up, if you wandered accidentally around the wrong corner, to a part of the neighborhood that wasn’t yours, you could get a nasty beating, you might get your face slashed with a Stanley knife.  A camera was like Icarus’ wings to get myself out of that place.  But I’ve always felt a kinship with people who have little and live in fear.’

Hauser and Wirth

The Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, 1994

 

Photographer Mark Power (see earlier blogpost) talks about the impact Don McCullin’s images had on him:

I do remember, in 1980, seeing an exhibition by the war photographer Don McCullin at the V&A.  The pictures touched me deeply – you’d have had to be made of stern stuff if they didn’t – and they clearly moved others.  Some people were in tears.  This … was a revelation… these photographs, were so powerful.  So immediate.  They really did communicate. And not just to other artists but to apparently ordinary people.  I liked this democracy.

https://www.markpower.co.uk/media/pdf/Between%20Something%20and%20Nothing.pdf

 

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling.  If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”  Don McCullin

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00nc93j

 

 

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A Sense of Place 3 – Ocean

Rachael Talibart – nature photographer                                   

British, born in Bognor Regis, W Sussex, lives in Surrey.  Fine art photographer and workshop leader.  Black and white photographer of the year 2018, among many other awards.

“I am drawn to nature’s phenomena – waves that look like monsters, islands that seem to be evaporating, rocks with faces.”

For Rachael Talibart the sense of ‘place’ is about the ocean.  She was born and brought up on the coast of West Sussex, and grew up on the sea, spending all her spare time sailing with her yachtsman father.  However she suffered terribly with sea-sickness, and spent most of her time on deck watching the ocean, imagining landscapes and creatures in the wave forms.  She worked as a City solicitor for over 20 years, while raising her own family, before deciding to devote herself to her photography.  She says she is ‘obsessional’ about photographing the sea.

I feel astonished by the incredible images in her project Sirens, using very short shutter speeds to give extraordinary solidity to the fleeting forms of storm waves on the S coast (2016 onwards).  I have only recently seen and read about her work online, and have pieced together these elements of her approach from various sources.

The ocean is one of the most exciting subjects a photographer can choose, as it’s so changeable and volatile.  Even when you know your coast really well, you still can’t be sure of exactly what will greet you when the sea first hoves into view, and this is why I love it.”   From an interview on Fotospeed

It’s no secret that I like the coast during storms.  Days on the shore in the teeth of a howling gale are exhilarating beyond belief.

I love the creativity of photography  … and I simply enjoy the experience of making photographs. …  When I go out on location, I am not trying faithfully to show the scene as it might have appeared to you …  I’d rather capture something you might have overlooked …  I want to show you the one thing in the scene that appealed to me, personally, and to try to convey how I feel.

I’m often pigeonholed into the landscape category because it seems the closest to what I do.  But I try to create images that transcend time and place, and my titles rarely reference location.  I like to create images of things that make them look completely different from how we usually see them.   See here

My photography says that I am drawn to nature’s phenomena, waves that look like monsters, islands that seem to be evaporating, rocks with faces.  Rather than using photography in a documentary way, I like to show subjects in a way that makes them look different from how we may normally see them.

Solent skies

White Cliffs, England, 2016

I know some people complain that photographers don’t experience the world properly because they are always looking at it through a camera but  … I would argue that making photographs connects me to the world. Perhaps I am also becoming more thoughtful as I age – more and more often, now, I find myself taking time out during a shoot just to be still and …. absorb everything around me.  I believe I make better photographs when I do this.  See here

Five

Asked about her best piece of photography advice, Talibart says:

I don’t know who coined the phrase: ‘I would rather make a rare photograph of something common, than a common photograph of something rare …’

If creating stand-out landscape photographs depends on finding rare subjects … there’s not much left on this planet that hasn’t been discovered and photographed already.

I prefer landscape photographs that … are about communicating how the artist feels.  Those are the rare photographs and they can have almost anything as their subject as long as they express emotion.   See here

 

Rachael Talibart has a huge selection of photos on her website and on Facebook Twitter and Instagram

Here are a couple of short videos made by her:

Oceans and Odysseys, June 2019

The Wild Edge, Mar 2020 was made very recently for the times we are in.

See also Bosham Gallery

 

This longer video is an interview with her about ‘Finding a Direction for your Photography’

At about 14 mins. she talks about how she has to schedule her photography days and that she goes out irrespective of the conditions, as she finds that sometimes the worst weather or light can make her more creative.  She thinks experimenting is really important – she goes back over and over to a place she knows really well and keeps experimenting.

Interestingly, back at home she does’t look at her images for weeks, or even months – she finds that if she looks at them too soon she can be really disappointed and find it hard to be objective.  She doesn’t delete many at that point either, unless there’s something really wrong.  Sometimes she goes back months or years later and sees something that she wasn’t looking for at the time.  She then prints out the photos and has them on her wall for a long time to keep scrutinising and possibly re-editting them – only  publishing them (eg. on social media) when she’s completely happy.

Her final words of advice from this interview are:

Don’t put yourself under pressure – don’t be unrealistic.  Let finding a direction  for your photography happen slowly, organically.  Be kind to yourself.  Find something to photograph and just enjoy it. 

 

 

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A Sense of Place 2 – Landscape Stories

Jem Southam, landscape photographer

British.  Born 1950 in Bristol.  Emiritus Professor at the University of Plymouth.               Lives in Exeter.

“I take with me a camera and a single lens.  The pictures are made to try to evoke the experience of standing on the land and witnessing what one sees … to act as an antidote to the extraordinary technical wizardry of contemporary media presentations of the world around us.”

Locally-based Jem Southam is considered one of the UK’s finest landscape photographers, and became best known for his colour landscape images, using a large-format camera that recorded a very rich, clear level of detail.

Despite his own university students using digital cameras almost exclusively, he himself reluctantly switched to digital only very recently, when the supply of photographic paper he depended on went out of production. He says now that he has been astonished by the new possibilities!

I hugely admire his work because it is rooted in a very patient and contemplative attitude. For example, his series called Rockfalls began while he was standing on a beach on the Isle of Wight, waiting for it to be clear of people:

My attention was gradually pulled from the spectacle and roar of the waves to the trickle of sounds coming from the cliff behind me.  Remaining still and watching intently, I became aware of the tiny rivulets of particles that occasionally detached themselves from the face of the cliff to slide and bounce to the cliff below.  Every so often a larger rock would slip away and thud into the sand.  The longer I stood, the more I became aware that these processes were almost as frequent, though not as rhythmic, as the waves pounding the shore.

From Landscape Stories, Jem Southam

In his pictures you can almost hear both the waves and the slipping particles….

Sotteville-sur-Mer, February 2006

The somewhat out-of-date information on the website of the V&A Museum (which, along with the Tate Gallery, has exhibited and holds some of his work), says of him:

Jem Southam is renowned for his series of colour landscape photographs, beginning in the 1970s and continuing until the present.  His trademark is the patient observation of changes at a single location over many months or years.

Southam’s subjects are predominately situated in the South West of England where he lives and works.  He observes the balance between nature and man’s intervention, and traces cycles of decay and renewal.  His work combines topographical observation with other references: personal, cultural, political, scientific, literary and psychological.   Southam’s working method combines the predetermined and the intuitive.

Southam uses a large-format camera to produce 8 x 10 inch (20.5 x 25.5 cm) negatives that record a high level of detail. C-type prints are made from these.  When the pictures are enlarged from the negatives, under supervision at a commercial lab, they reveal an entrancing wealth of information.  Others are ‘contact printed’ (placing the negative directly onto the photographic paper) by Southam himself, deliberately to achieve a contrasting intensity and intimacy.

Like Mark Power [previous post], Jem Southam always works in series to build up a story and a portrait of the landscape he immerses himself in.  I have never come across anyone else with his style of working.  With the large format-camera he sometimes used such long exposures that he had time to go for a walk while they were happening.  His process results in images that I find very spacious and poetic, with a deep sense of calm.

Once at a lecture I attended (when he was still using his large-format camera), someone asked how many photos he took in a year.  He replied, ‘I don’t take photos, I make images, and I make maybe 15-18 in a year.”

Almost all his work involves bodies of water – locally river mouths in East Devon, a pond at Upton Pyne, a stream in Cornwall, and the River Exe around Bickleigh and Brampford Speke.  He is fascinated by subtleties of colour, reflection, transience, and the effect of shifting seasons and weather on the landscape. 

It is hard to describe the impact of viewing his images, especially when exhibited very large (over 1m long) – almost as good as being in the place itself, in terms of detail.

River Exe at Bickleigh, 22 November 2010 from the book ‘The River – Winter’

River Exe at Bickleigh, 22 November 2010 from the book ‘The River – Winter’

 

Most recently – now with a digital camera – Jem Southam is carrying out an extended study of a stretch of the River Exe near Brampford Speke before dawn.  He is making images of scenes so dark he cannot see them with the naked eye, with incredibly beautiful results.  I am hoping he will be able to show some of these to the Club in the near-ish future – see here

 

 

In an interview here, Southam says:

What I’ve learnt as I’ve worked through my life is that the process of developing a piece of work is actually led by the place itself.  In other words, there’s something about a particular place which makes me want to stop to take a picture.  Having done that once, for some reason or another I start sometimes returning, and if I return and make a second picture then I think I’ve got the possibility of building a piece of work here.  The process always starts by accident, there’s no deliberation saying I will go and do something or other….

Once the ball’s rolling, the fascination is then what’s this work going to be about – because I have absolutely no idea.  And the process of developing a relationship with the site leads that story.  And then the next and final thing is how am I going to shape a piece of work out of this. …. structuring a set of ideas into a new body of work…  The pieces of work don’t finish….

Jem Southam’s other most recent exhibited work is from a trip to New Zealand in 2018 – see here.

Base of a Rain Cascade, Milford Sound, New Zealand, Autumn 2018

Rain Cascades, Mountains, Fjordland, New Zealand, Autumn 2018

In a short video here he describes his thought-process in this new-to-him landscape:

In my work I’m always questioning what it is about my relationship to the world that I share with others.  My work is an investigation into what landscape means, what the experience of landscape means to us as modern humans?…

I’ve spent the last 35 years walking locally up rivers and ponds of Devon and Cornwall …  Being offered the opportunity to visit New Zealand I found myself making pictures of the rivers, the streams, the clouds, the waterfalls, the sea, the ocean, the ceaseless movement of water.  Every piece of work I’ve ever done has been in relation to water…

I was focussing on a much more ephemeral experience of the nature of a landscape …  capturing the tiniest fragments of an experience …the whiff of a breeze whipping the waters from a waterfall….  I was trying to capture something of the moment of being immersed and completely wrapped up in … the experience I was witnessing.

I am increasingly appreciating the extraordinary wonder of what it is to walk the earth, to be present here, to experience and witness the many marvels …   

 

For more info see

V&A Museum

Huxley Parlour gallery

Kestle Bartin gallery

https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2013/03/jem-southam-interview/ 

 

DMW 16.04.20

 

 

 

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