Sunday, June 14, 2020

Notes on Fay Godwin, photographer

Fay Godwin is perhaps my favourite British landscape photographer – a label she hated, insisting on being called a documentary photographer instead. Born in 1931, Fay Godwin's interest in photography began with taking shots of her young children in the 1960s; she had no formal training. There could be said to be two halves to her photography career: the first half consisting of portraits of famous authors and poets of the 1970s, from Kingsley Amis to Philip Larkin, whom her husband, a book publisher, introduced her to.

The second half to her career was as a documentary photographer (she said she would have been a photo journalist if it wasn't for her children) – though, to be fair, she is documenting landscape, and the changes made by humans. Humour me for a second, if you will, and Google the term 'landscape photography' – the result is beautiful, over-saturated sunsets and misty mornings; picture postcard depictions of our idea of a traditional landscape, unchanged since paintings of old. Fay Godwin rejected traditional notions of landscape and beauty. By all accounts a strong-willed, opinionated and daunting woman, she found most postcard photography "absolutely revolting". Despite her objections to such concepts, her photos are actually beautiful, but with a mythical depth much modern photography lacks.

She separated from her husband in 1969; he died suddenly in 1976. Around the same time Fay was diagnosed with cancer, but it didn't stop her stomping around the countryside in all weather carrying a heavy tripod and medium format camera or becoming president of the Ramblers' Association (from 1987-1990). Godwin developed her landscape photography throughout the 1970s and 80s, and produced several photography books to critical acclaim. She called England a "grotty little country" but she liked the light and the history.

In her later years she embraced digital and colour photography, using Photoshop and a scanner to scan objects found on the beach. She died in 2005, aged 74.

Previously on Barnflakes 
Notes on Nicholas Syracuse, photographer
Notes on Max Pam, photographer
Notes on Stephen Gill, photographer

No comments :