Project 36 - Defining a Style

I have been preparing materials, largely getting hold of books, to carry out my description of the style of four photographers for Project 36. I have selected the following:

Robert Adams - source book New Topographics
John Davies - source book Cities on the Edge (I really would have preferred to study The British Landscape but this book is very  expensive)
Joel Meyerowitz - source book Cape Light
Marc Garanger - source book Louisiane

I am really looking forward to this review....these photographers all have a very different style and subject focus which will help give me some insight in how to go about carving out a style.

Assignment Four a critical review of Fay Godwin

I have now completed my review of Fay Godwin and submitted my full text to my tutor. I enjoyed this assignment. It was interesting to study a landscape photographer who was also a documentarist. I also learned quite a bit about developing a style. I have included part of the text from my assignment below. This deals with a description of her work.

For the purposes of this review I have focused on Godwin's landscapes. This is consistent with scope of the Photography 2: Landscape course. As such I have not commented on her early literary portrait and later colour documentary work around West Yorkshire.

To familiarise myself with Godwin's early landscape work, I have reviewed her first guidebook to the Ridgeway. The reproduction of the images in the book is quite poor, but her abilities as a documentary landscape photographer are nevertheless clear. Many of the images might be regarded as workmanlike, but some are atmospheric photographs in the style that became her trademark.
Moonlight Avebury 1974

 Moonlight Avebury 1974 from the guide has become one of her best-known images, of which critic Philip Stokes said "…of all Fay Godwin's photographs there is none which more quintessentially represents longstanding British tradition of viewing the land while manifesting the appearance of its subject at the moment of taking". 

Her images are known for their clarity, careful composition and control over tonal values. I have witnessed this first hand by visiting two current exhibitions of her work: 'Paul Nash and Fay Godwin' at the Graves Gallery Sheffield  and  'Land Revisited' at the National Media Museum.  

The former exhibits her work from 'Remains of Elmet' and her photographs are displayed alongside the poems of Ted Hughes. As Ian Jeffrey states in his introduction to this book, Godwin  "…registers the long prospects, low curves, abrupt escarpments of the Pennines…". The work also shows how the Industrial Revolution has shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley as in the photograph of Colne, Lancashire 1970.
Colne Lancashire 1970

'Land Revisited' shows many of the original prints from the 'Land' exhibition of 1985. Britain is represented as a place of standing stones, ruined castles and industrial relics - a mysterious place of broad vistas moody skies with desolate and threatening landscapes.

Seeing the original prints was a revelation. The tonal range and detail are just perfect. It is clear that Godwin placed great importance on the printing process. 'Land Revisited' also had some of her contact prints and notebooks giving her directions for printing on display, along with excerpts from the 1986 South Bank Show.

Godwin was tenacious when going after a photograph. The video footage shows her working in the field. From this it is clear that she revisited locations on many occasions to seek out the perfect light and climatic conditions and that once at a location she would spend a great deal of time with a handheld viewfinder searching for just the right composition.

In my view the emotional depth of her black and white landscapes is created by a combination of factors: her photographic skills - use of composition, tone, rhythm and harmony; her tenacity in waiting for just the right time and in particular the right light; and her choice of subject matter - mythic landscapes echoing ancient times.
Path and Resevoir Lumbutts Yorkshire 1977
These elements are illustrated clearly in the photograph Path and Reservoir, Lumbutts, Yorkshire, 1977. The path leads the eye into the picture from the bottom left, a stone wall picks up the path and leads to the reservoir. The reservoir is highlighted, the path and surrounding grass are of medium tone, and the surrounding hills are dark, as is the sky, other than a sunburst on the horizon. This image has a strong composition, makes excellent use of light and depicts a subject showing the influence of man on the landscape and the power and beauty of nature.

Curiously in 'Land' Godwin excluded humans completely from her photographs.  However, as one follows the sequence of the book and head south from the remote glens of Scotland to the more populated southern counties of England the intervention of humans on the landscape becomes increasingly apparent. Towards the end of the book Godwin includes images such as one of an abandoned car rising from a lagoon, which might be seen as a warning shot of what was to come in 'Our Forbidden Land'.

The photographs in 'Our Forbidden Land' retain all of the power and technical strength of her earlier work but are also overtly documentary in nature.  They tackle a wide range of issues including:

·      The adverse effects of overusing pesticides and fertilizers, 
·      The pollution of waterways, lakes and rivers,
·      The restrictions on access to land being imposed by farmers, the Forestry Commission, Water privatization, and MOD acquisition,
·      Inadequate transport planning with the consequent overuse of cars,
·      Over-marketing of our national heritage, and restricting access to photographers with limited resources to locations such as Stonehenge.

For the first time Godwin was both writer and photographer. Her strong politics and sympathies on the issues are clearly articulated. I was particularly taken by the way she invites the reader to admire and wonder at the British landscape by presenting a photograph of great beauty, and then reveals with another photograph on an nearby page how it is being abused. Here are two such images of the Scottish highlands:
Meall Mor Glencoe 1988
 Stob dubh Glen Etive Glencoe 1988

Godwin maintained the momentum of her crusade with a further book, five years later, titled 'On the Edge of the Land', in which she explored the environmental, economic and social issues facing Britain's coastal regions.

During the late 80's Godwin had been able to explore colour photography during her fellowship with the National Museum of Photography in Bradford. She had created a significant body of documentary work at that time. By the 90's she had begun to use colour in some of her landscapes. Her colour work in Bradford seems to have been the genesis of this but also in 1979/80 she had started taking small colour photographs of gardens with a Polaroid sx70 camera. These experiments were to bear full fruit in her later work in 'Glassworks and Secret Lives'.
Untitled from Pioneer Glassworks 1989

The photographs in 'Glassworks and Secret Lives' are intimate landscapes in colour. They are characterized by the use of soft or differential focus with layers of intervening glass, plastic, netting and such like adding to the intrigue and mystery. Untitled, from Pioneer Glassworks, 1989 is  an example .

Throughout her photographic career Godwin maintained a sense of humour and was often drawn to images that she called 'Snapshots'. These were amusing images often taken in the landscape.

Simon Roberts, one of Britain's best known photographers today has said of her work:  "While I appreciate Godwin’s landscape photographs, the images I’m really drawn to are those which present a dry humour and, much like Tony Ray Jones, a keen eye for the quietly absurd." 

Leaping Lurcher, 1972 is one of her best-remembered 'Snapshots'.
Leaping Lurcher 1972


Photography Criticism, Post Modernism and Landscape Photography

During the bad weather I have also been spending some time reading into photographic criticism. I must admit that it is pretty heavy going. I have read widely but not understood everything I have read...my quest will continue and I now feel that I am beginning at least to understand some of the underlying issues arising from modern photographic criticism. My library has been extended with seminal works such as Ways of Seeing by John Berger, On Photography by Susan Sontag and compilations of essays by Liz Wells, Robert Adams and Andy Grundberg.

There has been a marked change in Art Photography over the last 30 years with the emergence of post-modernist ideas. These developments have been underpinned by critical philosophical thinking and the theories of semiotics. These ideas have also been felt in the approaches to documentary work and landscape also. I have much further reading thinking and absorbing to do, but I thought I would make a start by looking at the work of a couple of post-modern Landscape photographers. It is interesting to note that in her documentary landscape work for Our Forbidden Land and The Edge of the Land, Fay Godwin's work might be regarded as post-modern. Her emphasis on presenting the abuse of the landscape in a factual manner with the minimum of artifice, and her inclusion of text alongside to direct the thinking of the viewers to the concepts she was conveying are both in line with post-modern thinking, which places greater emphasis on concepts than on aesthetic beauty.

My first photographer in this brief review is Jem Southam.  Southam (born Bristol 1950) is one of the UK's leading photographers. He 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. His 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.  He 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. Here is an image from  a series called “Rockfalls”, Southam photographed a section of coastline of Normandy in northern France where dramatic cliffs change shape daily.

As can be seen from this brief introduction Southam's work extends well beyond those of aesthetic beauty  and the sublime which concern much of the work of photographers I have reviewed so far in this blog. 

The second photographer I have considered is John Kippin. Kippin is an artist and photographer who lives and works in the North East of England. He works largely within the context of landscape. His work challenges the realist paradigm which traditionally underpins such work. Here is an example of a work by Kippin.

Without the text this image looks like a pretty sunset....a bit of a cliche perhaps but not a bad effort. However inclusion of the text is like pushing the stop button...what is he trying to convey. My own interpretaion of this is that he is saying that the coast of our land is a metaphor for our nationality. With this interpretation the image takes on a whole new meaning and significance and prompts the viewer to reconsider stereotypical and simplistic interpretations of landscape photographs. 

Here is a second image by Kippin. 

In this image the rhyme of the tourists with umbrellas and the stones of the henge is amusing, but the message goes I feel much deeper. It is a comment on how our national heritage is now part of a media circus within contemporary culture. 

These two photographers and indeed others I have recently been reviewing have challenged my preconceived and perhaps 'romantic' ideas about landscape photography. I plan to include a specific review of English photographer John Davies and American Robert Adams in my work for Project 36 Defining a Style - both of these photographers make photographs in a deliberately un-sensational and often understated way to allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions on the issues they are seeking to address. What was also very interesting for me was that many contemporary photographers cite Walker Evans as an influence. His style was a forerunner of the understated approach that is often seen today. This approach seeks to avoid the photographers  own voice clouding the issues that are being depicted.....Evans called it his Documentary Style.

Forthcoming Trip to Lanzarote

I am off to Lanzarote in a few days time and am taking my camera with the expectation of completing a few of my outstanding projects. I plan to complete projects 26 and 27 which are about shooting the moon and by the light of the moon and also project 34 and project 35 which are about using graduated and polarising filters. I will then be in a position to move onto the final section of the course which deals with Styles and Themes.

Project 25 - Snow

I has been a while since I posted work on the blog.....this does not mean that I have been dormant. In fact I have been pretty busy. I have been finishing off my Critical Review of Fay Godwin - I will post on this tomorrow. I have also been reading extensively on contemporary landscape photography, and in particular the New Topographics genre of which Robert Adams  and Stephen Shore are perhaps the most well known photographers. I will post my thoughts on this in a few days also. But for now I want to catch up on a project which I completed a few weeks ago when there was lots of snow on the ground. All of the images were taken close to home around Burnham Beeches.

My first experiment in the snow was to examine how my camera's light meter coped with a snow filled landscape. I made three identical images each increasing the exposure by one stop in each successive image. These are below:

It is pretty clear that the first 'normal' exposure is in fact very underexposed. The second is close to a desired result but is still perhaps slightly underexposed. The final image which was set at +2EV is about right perhaps a little over. So it seems that for a scene such as this +1.5 to +2.0 EV seems about right in terms of exposure adjustment.

For my next experiment I took a shot under a tree looking out into the fields beyond to see how the snow acted as a reflector to fill the shadows under the tree. This is the image:

The detail on the underside of the branches is in fact quite clear and so the fill effect is quite marked. Under normal conditions the tree would have been a silhouette. 

I took a second shot to see how a bright background would appear. Although I did not take this into the sun and so I did not see any flare as the notes suggested might happen:

I was quite pleased with this image. The detail in the background is very clear and the unusual shape of the tree makes an interesting subject. Finally, I made some abstract images of the trees covered in snow as an experiment.

This image contrast sharply with the last....the effect is to flatten the image - there is little sense of depth. The branches do however lead the eye to the outside of the frame and one is left wondering what is happening outside the frame. 

All in all this was a good afternoon's experimentation.


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About Me

I have been taking photographs since I was young boy some 45 years ago, but only seriously since 2005 when I enrolled to study at the Open College of the Arts. I am working towards a BA in Photography. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society. This log record details of my projects and assignments during my studies. It also records ideas, work by other artists/photographers, notes on books/websites/exhibitions, influences, discoveries, thoughts, research findings and observations as I work through my courses. You can contact me at keith.greenough@btinternet.com or simply leave a comment on one of my posts.

Landscape Photography Bibliography

  • Andrea G Stillman (2007), Ansel Adams 400 Photographs, Little Brown New York USA
  • Andy Grundberg (1999), Crisis of the Real, Aperture Foundation New York
  • Ansel Adams (2007), Examples The Making of 40 Photographs, Little Brown New York USA
  • Ben Maddow(1989), Edward Weston, His Life, Aperture Foundation New York USA
  • Charlie Waite (1989), Scottish Islands, Constable London
  • Charlie Waite (1992), The Making of Landscape Photographs, Collins and Brown London
  • Charlie Waite (1999), Seeing Landscapes, Collins and Brown London
  • Charlie Waite (2002), In My Minds Eye, Photographers Institute Press East Sussex UK
  • Charlie Waite (2005), Landscape, Collins and Brown London
  • Clive Minnitt and Phil Malpas(2009), Finding the Picture, Envisage Books London
  • David Noton (2008), PHOTOGRAPY ESSENTIALS: WAITING FOR THE LIGHT, David & Charles PLC, London
  • Fay Godwin(1985), Land, William Heinemann London
  • Fay Godwin(1990), Our Forbidden Land, Jonathan Cape London
  • Fay Godwin(1998), Glassworks & Secret Lives, Stella Press East Sussex UK
  • Fay Godwin(2001), Landmarks, Dewi Lewis Publishing Stockport UK
  • Galen Rowell (1995), Mountain Light, Sierra Club Books San Francisco USA
  • Galen Rowell (2001), Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Norton & co New York USA
  • Galen Rowell (2002),Galen Rowell's Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography, University of California Press USA
  • Harry Callaghan (1993), Ansell Adams in Color, Little Brown New York USA
  • Hunter, Biver & Fuqua(2007), Light Science & Magic, Elsevier Oxford UK
  • James Bentley & Charlie Waite (1987), Languedoc, George Philip London
  • James Bentley & Charlie Waite (1987), Languedoc, George Philip London
  • Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, David Ward, Eddie Ephraums (2006), Working the Light, Argentum London
  • Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, David Ward, Eddie Ephraums (2007), Developing Style and Vision, Argentum London
  • Joel Meyerowitz (2002), Cape Light, Little Brown and Company New York USA
  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Penguin Modern Classics
  • John P Schaefer (2007),The Ansel Adams Guide Book 2 Basic Techniques of Photography, Little Brown New York USA
  • John P Schaefer (2007),The Ansel Adams Guide Book I Basic Techniques of Photography, Little Brown New York USA
  • John Szarkowski (1981), American Landscapes, The Museum of Modern Art New York USA
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 01 (2007), AA Publishing
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 02 (2008), AA Publishing
  • Landscape Photographer of the Year Collection 03 (2009), AA Publishing
  • Liz Wells (1996), Photography:A Critical Introduction, Routledge Oxon
  • Liz Wells (2003), The Photography Reader, Routledge Oxon
  • Marc Garanger (1989), Louisiane, Kodak
  • Robert Adams (1996), Beauty in Photography, Aperture Foundation New York USA
  • Robert Adams et al (2009), New Topographics, Steidl Germany
  • Stephen Shaw (2004), Uncommon Places The Complete Works, Thames and Hudson, London
  • Susan Sontag, On Photography, Penguin Books London
  • Terence Pitts (2008), Edward Weston (Icons Series), Taschen
  • TPOTY Awards (2010), TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR Journey Three, Travel Photographer of the Year Suffolk UK