Fay Godwin (17 February 1931 – 27 May 2005) was a British photographer known for her black-and-white landscapes of the British countryside and coast.
British Library archive: including approximately 11,000 exhibition prints, the entire contents of her studio, and correspondence with some of her subjects.
detailed overview of her work from her books still to be done
Rebecca the Lurcher (1973)
The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway (1975), co-authored with J.R.L. Anderson—working mainly in the landscape tradition she aimed to communicate the sense of ecological crisis present in late 1970s and 1980s England.
Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence (1979, with Ted Hughes). Hughes called the 1994 Elmet the “definitive” edition. Godwin also said, in a 2001 interview, that this was the book she would like to be most remembered for.
Land (1985, with John Fowles and designed by Ken Garland) described by The Guardian art critic Ian Jeffrey the “book for which she will be most remembered”. What sets Land apart is the care that Fay gave to the combining and sequencing of its pictures. Working with contact prints on a board, she put together a picture of Britain as ancient terrain—stony, windswept and generally worn down by the elements….[a work] in the neo-romantic tradition…[that] gives an oddly desolate account of Britain, as if reporting on a long abandoned country. A retrospective book, Landmarks, was published by Dewi Lewis in 2002.
Glassworks & Secret Lives (1999) She also began taking close-ups of natural forms. A major exhibition of that work was toured by Warwick Arts Centre from 1995 to 1997 Glassworks & Secret Lives (ISBN 0953454517) is Godwin’s self-published small book of that work which was distributed from a small local bookshop in her adopted hometown of Hastings in East Sussex.
Through her husband, Godwin was introduced to the London literary scene. She produced portraits of dozens of well-known writers, photographing almost every significant literary figure in 1970s and 1980s England, as well as numerous visiting foreign authors. Her subjects, typically photographed in the sitters’ own homes, included Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble, Günter Grass, Ted Hughes, Clive James, Philip Larkin, Doris Lessing, Edna O’Brien, Anthony Powell, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, and Tom Stoppard.
1931 Born Berlin, Germany, father a British diplomat, mother an American artist, Stella MacLean. Educated at various schools all over the world.
1958 Settled down to live in London.
1961 married publisher Tony Godwin; the couple had two sons, Jeremy and Nicholas.
1966 Became interested in photography through photographing her young children. No training.
“ My way into photography was through family snaps in the mid-1960s. I had no formal training, but after the snaps came portraits, reportage, and finally, through my love of walking, landscape photography, all in black and white. A Fellowship with the National Museum of Photography in Bradford led to urban landscape in colour, and very personal close-up work in colour has followed. ”
—Fay Godwin, ca. 2000,
1975 Publication of first co-author book, The Oldest Road, with writer J.R.L. Anderson. Exhibitions from the series toured nationally.
1978 Recipient of major award from Arts Council of Great Britain to continue landscape work in British Isles, much of which is included in Land.
1984 Start of British Councils overseas tour of Landscape Photographs.
1985 Publication of Land. Major exhibition of Land at the Serpentine Gallery, London.
1986 South Bank Show their first full-length documentary to feature a photographer.
1986/7 Fellow at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford.
1987/90 President of the Ramblers’ Association, UK. Then life vice president. “long-running right-to-roam campaign was turned up to the full-strength pressure which ultimately resulted in the access provisions enshrined in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.”
1990 Awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society.
1990 six week lecture and workshop tour of New Zealand.
In the 1990s she was offered a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) in Bradford, which pushed her work in the direction of colour and urban documentary.
Major retrospective at the Barbican Centre in London 2001, with accompanying publication, Landmarks.
Honorary Doctotorate of Arts at De Montfort University, 2002.
Godwin was less active in her final years; in a December 2004 interview for Practical Photography, she blamed “the NHS. They ruined my life by using some drugs with adverse affects that wrecked my heart. The result is that I haven’t the energy to walk very far.”
Died, May 2005 aged 74.
No Man’s Land – Fay Godwin’s last interview, from ePHOTOzine.com
Fay Godwin is a familiar name in British landscape photography, celebrated for her critical approach to the landscape genre (see Part Three) and for being one of the most successful female photographers of the twentieth century. Like Pollard, Godwin had – albeit in a very different way – a strained relationship with the British landscape. Whilst she was clearly quite at home trekking around the more remote parts of the countryside (e.g. the Lake District, Forest of Dean), throughout the 1970s and 80s Godwin became increasingly concerned with the degree to which access to the land was becoming restricted. She allied herself with the Ramblers Association, becoming president in 1987. Fences, wire and cautionary signposts (some polite and others less so) are familiar motifs within Godwin’s photographs. Her image Stonehenge Summer Solstice (1988), in which the stones are obscured by barbed wire more typical of a military base than a heritage site, is a visual expression of the frustration she felt at being unable to gain access to the site to make a more considered set of images than a few snapshots (see Taylor, 1994, pp.276–83). Like John Davies and others, Godwin paid careful attention to light conditions and ordered her compositions along traditional, pictorial conventions, which is one of the reasons why her photographs have remained so appealing. This stealth tactic allows the viewer to be taken in by the aesthetics of the image; once the viewer is engaged, Godwin is able to pose more challenging questions about the landscape.
Listen to Fay Godwin on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2002.