Fay Godwin

I first came across the work of Fay Godwin through her collaboration with the poet Ted Hughes, in a work entitled ‘Remains of Elmet‘ [Faber & Faber 1979].

“The Calder valley…was the last ditch of Elmet, the last British Celtic kingdom to fall to the Angles. For centuries it was considered a more or less uninhabitable wilderness, a notorious refuge for criminals, a hide-out for refugees. Then in the early 1800s it became the cradle for the Industrial Revolution in textiles….” [Ted Hughes. Preface to ‘Remains Of Elmet’]


At the time, it was Hughes poetry that drew me to the book. His words offering a bleak imagery which described the impact of industrialisation on the landscape.

“…Farms came, stony masticators
Of generations that ate each other
To nothing inside them.

The sunk mill-towns were cemeteries
Digesting utterly
All with whom they swelled…”

“Remains Of Elmet” Ted Hughes

Godwin’s photographs appeared as political statements, writ large. Landscapes that despite their beauty were raw, scarred and imperfect. Black and white imagery seemed to enhance the remoteness and isolation of the image whilst the depth of field seemed to support the view that “deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is…given the opportunity to edit the scene…(and) to select the aspects of it to which he will attend” [Andre Bazin: Cited EYV p48]

Not that Godwin should be pigeon holed as a black and white landscape photographer, as this excerpt from an online interview with her in UK Landscape shows:

Q. The book “Glassworks & Secret Lives” (Your colour work) had to be self-published! why was that?

A. Because in the dreary British way I had been ‘pigeonholed’ as a black and white photographer, and at my age it was not permissible to move on.

Q. Is your dedication to Landscapes a way to resist against modernity?

A. What a thought! I passionately love modern architecture, design, modern ways of looking at landscape etc. What I loathe is the multi-national conglomerates who must take responsibility for the degradation and pollution of so much of our landscape with their factory farming and greed.

Yet after some 35 years since I first encountered her work, I’d like to think that she still has an influence…

Umkomaas, Kwa-Zulu Natal. John Callaway [2016]

Umkomaas, Kwa-Zulu Natal. John Callaway [2016]

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