Research notes – Fay Godwin

Fay Godwin (1931 – 2005) was a British photographer.

The following notes are taken from a viewing of the book “Landmarks” – a retrospective of Fay Godwin work (1). As customary in other research notes on books, I make below some general observations on layout and presentation.

  • The book contains both portrait and landscape pictures.
  • Both orientations are combined, presented together.
  • There is no specific reason why they are put together in this order. No evident connection, except for broad categories (landscapes, portraits, etc).
  • There are both colour and black and white pictures .

Some of the landscape pictures (most of which are B&W) are quite interesting because they include both natural and man-made features. In some cases (road markings, farm fences), the effect is complementary, but some of the features are not expected or incongruous (buses, theme park posters, security fences, earth moving equipment) and create an effect of shock in the viewer. These pictures and the way they are presented remind me of the A.O.N.B. series by Keith Arnatt, which has the same aesthetic values. Godwin makes very clear her views on the subject matter by her titles. One picture of an otherwise tranquil Welsh mountain track, with a mechanical digger in the middle of it is titled “Welsh Water Authority bulldozing Bronze-age tracks, Snowdonia National Park, 1988” (see here). Other pictures show dying trees and cut down forests. There are no man-made features in these pictures, but the impact of man is clearly shown by what is missing.

The pictures seem to be taken with normal perspective and a small aperture, as most seems to be in focus, from beginning to end.

Another interesting series of pictures, also reminiscent of Arnatt’s work with rubbish, are the glassworks series. These are in colour and show various subjects through layers of glass, some of which appears broken or steamed. The defects or water drops in the glass create additional shapes which, combined with the softening of the light from the translucent effect, creates a series of abstract, ethereal pictures, full of beauty. Like in the case of Arnatt’s work, it is quite remarkable that this is achieved with discarded rubbish and weeds, items that one would not normally consider particularly beautiful, but that are transformed by the treatment, thus challenging the spectator’s preconceptions.

A follow-up series entitled “secret lives” seems to follow from the above concept and tries to focus on details of various objects, often shot through obstacles such as mesh. These also show the artist’s desire to explore views which are often missing and pushing the boundaries of what is real and what is abstract. These are all presented in colour.

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(1) Godwin, F., Armitage, S. and Taylor, R. (2001) Landmarks: Photographs by Fay Godwin. Stockport: Lewis, Dewi Publishing.

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