2: Landscape as Journey Documentary History

John Thomson

edited from Wikipedia article

Google images

John Thomson (14 June 1837 – 29 September 1921) was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveller. He was an accomplished photographer in many areas: landscapes, portraiture, street-photography, architectural photography. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures for his Victorian audience.  He was however more concerned with the socio-economic situation of the people whose land he visited than landscape as a subject in  itself (Jeffrey, 1981, p. 64).

On his return home, his pioneering work documenting the social conditions of the street  is regarded as a classic instance of social documentary which laid the foundations for photojournalism.  He went on to become a portrait photographer of High Society in Mayfair, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881. His publishing activities mark him out as an innovator in combining photography with the printed word.

The son of William Thomson, a tobacco spinner and retail trader, and his wife Isabella, Thomson was born the eighth of nine children in Edinburgh.  After his schooling in the early 1850s, he was apprenticed to a local optical and scientific instrument manufacturer, thought to be James Mackay Bryson. During this time, Thomson learned the principles of photography and completed his apprenticeship around 1858. In 1861 he became a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts.

South East Asia 1862-1872: Singapore, Malaya, Sumatra, Siam, Cambodia and China


In April 1862, Thomson left Edinburgh for Singapore to join his older brother William, a watchmaker and photographer, beginning a ten-year period spent travelling around the Far East. Initially, he established a joint business with William to manufacture marine chronometers and optical and nautical instruments. He also established a photographic studio in Singapore, taking portraits of European merchants, and he developed an interest in local peoples and places. He travelled extensively throughout the mainland territories of Malaya and the island of Sumatra, exploring the villages and photographing the native peoples and their activities.

Siam and Cambodia

After visiting Ceylon and India from October to November 1864 to document the destruction caused by a recent cyclone, Thomson sold his Singapore studio and moved to Siam. After arrival in Bangkok in September 1865, Thomson undertook a series of photographs of the King of Siam and other senior members of the royal court and government.

 Prea Sat Ling Poun, Angkor Wat, 1865.

Inspired by Henri Mouhot’s account of the rediscovery of the ancient cities of Angkor in the Cambodian jungle, Thomson embarked on what would become the first of his major photographic expeditions. He set off in January 1866 with his translator H. G. Kennedy, a British Consular official in Bangkok, who saved Thomson’s life when he contracted jungle fever en route. The pair spent two weeks at Angkor, where Thomson extensively documented the vast site, producing some of the earliest photographs of what is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thomson then moved on to Phnom Penh and took photographs of the King of Cambodia and other members of the Cambodian Royal Family, before travelling on to Saigon. From there he stayed in Bangkok briefly, before returning to Britain in May or June in 1866.

While back home, Thomson lectured extensively to the British Association and published his photographs of Siam and Cambodia. He became a member of the Royal Ethnological Society of London and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1866, and published his first book, The Antiquities of Cambodia, in early 1867.

There have however been accusations of plagiarism. In 2001 Phiphat Phongraphiphon, a Thai independent researcher in historical photography, published claims that Thomson plagiarised works by Thai court photographer Khun Sunthornsathitsalak (Christian name: Francis Chit) and published them as his own. Evidence to Phiphat’s claims include an analysis of a photograph in which the temple Wat Rajapradit, which was built before Thomson arrived in Bangkok, is missing.

Travels in China 1868-1872

Island Pagoda, about 1871, from the album, Foochow and the River Min



Images from Travels in China

After a year in Britain, Thomson again felt the desire to return to the Far East. He returned to Singapore in July 1867, before moving to Saigon for three months and finally settling in Hong Kong in 1868. He established a studio in the Commercial Bank building, and spent the next four years photographing the people of China and recording the diversity of Chinese culture.

Thomson travelled extensively throughout China, from the southern trading ports of Hong Kong and Canton to the cities of Peking and Shanghai, to the Great Wall in the north, and deep into central China. From 1870 to 1871 he visited the Fukien region, travelling up the Min River by boat with the American Protestant missionary Reverend Justus Doolittle, and then visited Amoy and Swatow.

He went on to visit the island of Formosa with the missionary Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, landing first in Takao in early April 1871. The pair visited the capital, Taiwanfu, before travelling on to the aboriginal villages on the west plains of the island. After leaving Formosa, Thomson spent the next three months travelling 3,000 miles up the Yangtze River, reaching Hupeh and Szechuan.

Thomson’s travels in China were often perilous, as he visited remote, almost unpopulated regions far inland. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner or camera before. His expeditions were also especially challenging because he had to transport his bulky wooden camera, many large, fragile glass plates, and potentially explosive chemicals. He photographed in a wide variety of conditions and often had to improvise because chemicals were difficult to acquire. His subject matter varied enormously: from humble beggars and street people to Mandarins, Princes and senior government officials; from remote monasteries to Imperial Palaces; from simple rural villages to magnificent landscapes.

Street Life in London

Thomson returned to England in 1872, settling in Brixton, London and, apart from a final photographic journey to Cyprus in 1878, Thomson never left again. Over the coming years he proceeded to lecture and publish, presenting the results of his travels in the Far East. His publications started initially in monthly magazines and were followed by a series of large, lavishly illustrated photographic books. He wrote extensively on photography, contributing many articles to photographic journals such as the British Journal of Photography. He also translated and edited Gaston Tissandier’s 1876 History and Handbook of Photography, which became a standard reference work.
In London, Thomson renewed his acquaintance with Adolphe Smith, a radical journalist whom he had met at the Royal Geographical Society in 1866. Together they collaborated in producing the monthly magazine, Street Life in London, from 1876 to 1877. The project documented in photographs and text the lives of the street people of London, establishing social documentary photography as an early type of photojournalism. The series of photographs was later published in book form in 1878.

The Crawlers, London, 1876-1877





He was elected a member of the Photographic Society, later the Royal Photographic Society, on 11 November 1879. With his reputation as an important photographer well established, Thomson opened a portrait studio in Buckingham Palace Road in 1879, later moving it to Mayfair. In 1881 he was appointed photographer to the British Royal Family by Queen Victoria, and his later work concentrated on studio portraiture of the rich and famous of High Society, giving him a comfortable living. From January 1886 he began instructing explorers at the Royal Geographical Society in the use of photography to document their travels.

After retiring from his commercial studio in 1910, Thomson spent most of his time back in Edinburgh, although he continued to write papers for the Royal Geographical Society on the uses of photography. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 84. In recognition of his work, one of the peaks of Mount Kenya was named “Point Thomson”.

A large collection of his glass negatives was donated to the Wellcome Library.  Some of Thomson’s work may be seen at the Royal Geographical Society’s headquarters in London.

Selected publications

  • China Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868 -1872, River Books 2010.
  • The antiquities of Cambodia, 1867
  • Views on the North River, 1870.
  • Foochow and the River Min, 1873.
  • Illustrations of China and its people, 1873-1874 [1]
  • Street life in London, 1878
  • Through Cyprus with a camera in the autumn of 1878, 1879
  • Through China with a Camera,[7] 1898


To Do

Mark Power

26 Different Endings by Mark Power often employs a specific strategy to take him to particular locations and make photographs. This series began as a response to the once ubiquitous – but perhaps soon to be a thing of the past – A–Z London Street Atlas. Power describes the work as a ‘system of edges’ and a tribute to the ‘unfortunate places’ that are excluded from the current version of the street atlas, which is an arbitrary decision taken by somebody from year to year. Power obviously had an infinite number of potential views to choose from each page, spreading outwards from the map’s edges, and his photographic responses to the places that he arrived at were of course subjective.

1: Beauty and Sublime 4: Landscape Identities

Ingrid Pollard


Through her practice, Guyanese-born artist Ingrid Pollard addresses her feelings towards the rural countryside as a non-white British subject, articulating her profound sense of being an outsider to these spaces. In some of her projects, Pollard hand tints black-and-white prints. This strategy has a dual purpose: firstly, it is a play on the idea of ‘colour’ in terms of race; and secondly, the use of this antiquated process immediately refers to nostalgic, romanticised ideals of the British landscape.

In Miss Pollard’s Party (1993), Pollard parodies the tourist postcard, placing her own hand-tinted images on a template depicting ‘Wordsworth Heritage’.

In Pastoral Interlude (1987) Pollard juxtaposes photographs of figures in the landscape (some of which are herself) with more subversive captions, such as: “It’s as if the Black experience is only lived within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white. A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread.”

Ingrid Pollard is unusual in that her practice addresses not only her sense of identity as a nonwhite British subject in the UK, but also her experience in relation to the countryside. What Pollard’s work also shows is that the concept of ‘environment’ in relation to the influence of a sense of place transcends geographical concerns alone. Whether a more deep-seated dichotomy exists between the interests of those from or living in the countryside and those in the towns is also a question that extends beyond UK borders.

Listen to Ingrid Pollard talking about her work and landscape

Source: Alexander p123

1: Beauty and Sublime 3: Landscape as Political Text 4: Landscape Identities 6: Transitions Inspiration

Fay Godwin

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.

Official website

British Library archive:  including approximately 11,000 exhibition prints, the entire contents of her studio, and correspondence with some of her subjects.

Google images

 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.

Our Forbidden Land


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


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.

1: Beauty and Sublime History Inspiration Theory

Peter Henry Emerson

As I stood admiring just before sunrise, the reed-tops bending under their beautiful crystal heads, rooks came flying from a wood near by, and a vast flock of peewits darkened the sky. As the yellow sun arose in frosty splendour mists began to rise on the river, and there followed a brief spell of magic beauty ere the thickening mists began to bury everything as they blew in fitful gusts from the river. in On English Lagoons (1893)

Do not put off doing a coveted picture until another year, for next year the scene will look very different. You will never be able twice to get exactly the same thing.  1889


 Blackshore, River Blythe, Suffolkfrom Emerson’s illustrated book ‘Pictures of East Anglian Life’, 1888




“At Plough, The End of the Furrow”, from Emerson’s photographic album ‘Pictures From Life in Field And Fen,’, 1887





Confessions from Emerson’s book ‘Pictures From Life in Field And Fen’, 1887




Peter Henry Emerson (13 May 1856 – 12 May 1936) was a British writer and photographer. Emerson was intelligent, well-educated and wealthy with a facility for clearly articulating his many strongly held opinions. His photographs are early examples of promoting photography as an art form. He is known for taking photographs that displayed natural settings and for his disputes with the photographic establishment about the purpose and meaning of photography.


Emerson was born on La Palma Estate, a sugar plantation near Encrucijada, Cuba[1] belonging to his American father, Henry Ezekiel Emerson and British mother, Jane, née Harris Billing. He was a distant relative of Samuel Morseand Ralph Waldo Emerson. He spent his early years in Cuba on his father’s estate.

During the American Civil War he spent some time at Wilmington, Delaware, but moved to England in 1869, after the death of his father.

He was schooled at Cranleigh School where he was a noted scholar and athlete. He subsequently attended King’s College London, before switching to Clare College, Cambridge in 1879 where he earned his medical degree in 1885.

In 1881 he married Miss Edith Amy Ainsworth and wrote his first book while on his honeymoon.The couple eventually had five children.

He bought his first camera in 1881 or 1882 to be used as a tool on bird-watching trips with his friend, the ornithologist A. T. Evans. In 1885 he was involved in the formation of the Camera Club of London, and the following year he was elected to the Council of the Photographic Society and abandoned his career as a surgeon to become a photographer and writer. As well as his particular attraction to nature he was also interested in billiards, rowing and meteorology.

After the publication of Marsh Leaves in 1895, generally considered to be his best work, Emerson published no further photographs, though he continued writing and publishing books, both works of fiction and on such varied subjects as genealogy and billiards. In 1924, he started writing a history of artistic photography and completed the manuscript just before his death in Falmouth, Cornwall on 12 May 1936.

In 1979 he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame.

Photography as art

Emerson’s passionate belief was that photography was an art and not a mechanical reproduction. In 1889 he published a controversial and influential book Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art, in which he explained his philosophy of art and straightforward photography. The book was described by one writer as “the bombshell dropped at the tea party” because of the case it made that truthful and realistic photographs would replace contrived photography. This was a direct attack on the popular tradition of combining many photographs to produce one image that had been pioneered by O. G. Reijlander and Henry Peach Robinson in the 1850s. Emerson denounced this technique as false and claimed that photography should be seen as a genre of its own, not one that seeks to imitate other art forms. All Emerson’s own pictures were taken in a single shot and without retouching, which was another form of manipulation that he strongly disagreed with, calling it “the process by which a good, bad, or indifferent photograph is converted into a bad drawing or painting”.

Emerson also believed that the photograph should be a true representation of that which the eye saw. He vehemently pursued this argument about the nature of seeing and its representation in photography, to the discomfort of the photographic establishment.

Initially influenced by naturalistic French painting, he argued for similarly “naturalistic” photography and took photographs in sharp focus to record country life as clearly as possible. His first album of photographs, published in 1886, was entitled Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, and it consisted of 40 platinum prints that were informed by these ideas. See You Tube video of the photos

Before long, however, he became dissatisfied with rendering everything in sharp focus, considering that the undiscriminating emphasis it gave to all objects was unlike the way the human eye saw the world. He then experimented with soft focus. Following contemporary optical theories, he produced photographs with one area of sharp focus while the remainder was unsharp. But he was unhappy with the results that this gave too, experiencing difficulty with accurately recreating the depth and atmosphere which he saw as necessary to capture nature with precision.

Despite his misgivings, he took many photographs of landscapes and rural life in the East Anglian fenlands and published seven further books of his photography through the next ten years. In the last two of these volumes, On English Lagoons (1893) and Marsh Leaves (1895), Emerson printed the photographs himself using photogravure, after having bad experiences with commercial printers.

His main photography books are:

In the end Emerson found that his defence of photography as art failed, and he had to allow that photography was probably a form of mechanical reproduction. The pictures the Robinson school produced may have been “mechanical”, but Emerson’s may still be considered artistic, since they were not faithful reproductions of a scene but rather having depth as a result of his one-plane-sharp theory. When he lost the argument over the artistic nature of photography, Emerson did not publicise his photographic work but still continued to take photographs.

1: Beauty and Sublime 6: Transitions Inspiration

Justin Partyka


Summer Days in the Stour Valley

Wander the path of a winding river and it will take you deeply into the experience of landscape. Through the summer days I walked the footpaths, fields, meadows and farm tracks of this bucolic river valley. The Stour Valley remains a timeless landscape that continues to be rooted to its past. In places it has remained relatively unchanged for centuries by escaping the impact of industrial agriculture. Of course, this is “Constable Country:” the heart of English landscape art. People come to this part of East Anglia to literally step into the scenes of Constable’s paintings, but I set out to find my own way of seeing the Stour Valley. I discovered it can be a place of wonderful afternoon light and this inspired the photographs I made. These photographs largely reject the celebrated grand vistas of the Stour Valley and instead offer an alternative way of looking at this landscape. They bring attention to the particular, the peculiar, and the poetic – highlighting the hidden places and scenes that are so often overlooked. But as I worked, the spirit of Constable was always there, lingering behind me in the fields.

[These photographs were made during the summer months of 2012-2013.]

Some Country

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods….”
(Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walking,’ 1862)

Some Country continues my commitment to photographing rural East Anglia. Following the decade long work photographing the agrarian farmers of the region (Field Work), this new ongoing series explores the contemporary rural agricultural landscape of Norfolk and Suffolk. Moving beyond the farmer’s connection to the landscape, Some Country is reveals my own connection to rural East Anglia and includes photographs from the same fields and farm tracks that I explored during childhood. Once again, these photographs show my fascination with how man shapes the landscape, but they are also photographs about memory, personal experience, and how a prolonged connection to the landscape around us, makes us and shapes us.

Some Trees

As I have wandered the East Anglian landscape making the photographs for Some Country occasionally I have encountered trees that are so particular in their diginity and presence in the landscape that they suggest something beyond the country and become themselves the subject of a photograph.



One of England’s most rural and agricultural regions, East Anglia is a place with a long history of people working the land. Here the Romans grew their wheat and barley, and a culture of family owned agrarian farms developed and flourished, continuing an agricultural tradition with a lineage extending back to the region’s peasant farmers of the early Middle Ages. But during the last 50 years things have changed. Most of the small farms are now gone.

These photographs are from the East Anglian counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. They tell the story of those that remain – the stoical small-time farmers who continue to work the fields because it is all they know. They are the forgotten people of the flatlands, whose identity is intimately shaped by the landscape that surrounds them. Theirs is a way of life that is deeply rooted in the past. Traditional methods and knowledge are still very much depended upon. How best to plough, sow, hoe, and harvest a field to reap the best from it. The detailed histories and biographies of the local landscape. Farmers who have come and gone, from what direction the fox will come to steal a chicken, and who planted a particular oak tree and when. The old ways continue to work, so there is no need to change.

For ten years Justin Partyka has been photographing throughout the East Anglian counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, exploring a world of rabbit catchers, reed cutters, and the region’s small-scale agrarian farmers. He calls them “the forgotten people of the flatlands,” who have an intimate relationship with the landscape that surrounds them. It is a way of life that is deeply rooted to the past and its traditional methods and knowledge. These photographs tell the story of these farmers and the fields they work, and clearly illustrate Partyka’s dedicated immersion into their world. His painterly use of colour and the unique qualities of the East Anglian light beautifully captures this timeless way of rural life.

Field Work: Photographs from East Anglia is published in a limited edition of 100 signed and numbered books. Each book comes with a specially embossed slipcase and a 10 x 12

Black Fen

Black fen they call it round here. Black — for the peaty soil; black — for the mood of the area, for its history and for its future.
— Mary Chamberlain, Fenwomen, 1975

Black Fen is an ongoing series of photographs exploring the mysterious flatlands of the Fens. To drive across this landscape feels like crossing a great sea. The road undulates from the ever-shifting land, tossing the car like a small boat. Occasionally an unpaved drove branches off providing access to a house, farm buildings or fields deep in the middle of the fen. The presence of water is constant. A complex network of dykes and drains criss-crosses the fields, the murky waters rising and falling as the fenland locks and pumping stations work to prevent the water from taking back the land. All around is an abundance of crops which fight for space with an encroaching wildness of weeds and bushes that grow thick and fast out of the fertile earth. Once a place of swamps and marshes, this landscape exists because of the pioneering work of Cornelius Vermuyden and his fellow Dutch engineers, who in 1626 began draining the fens with the support of King Charles I. Today covering an area of almost 1,500 square miles in Eastern England, the Fens are one of the world’s largest areas of reclaimed land.

Fen Women

Fenwomen by Mary Chamberlain is a classic work of oral history. It was the first book by the feminist publisher Virago Press in 1975. Fenwomen is a unique documentary of women’s lives in the village of Isleham in the Cambridgeshire Fens. It tells the story of “women as labourers and labourers’ wives, whose daily toil for the survival of themselves and their families had never been acknowledged, much less lauded.”

This new edition of the book by Full Circle Editions features 23 new photographs by Justin Partyka specially commissioned for this publication. Taken in and around Isleham during 2010, these photographs present a portrait of the village over thirty years since the oral history was originally collected. Much has changed in the village, but as these photographs reveal, Isleham’s strong sense of place is still intimately shaped by the mysterious flat fenlands that surround it.


Covering an area of 251, 700 square miles, the province of Saskatchewan is almost three times the size of Great Britain, yet it has a population of only 1, 010, 146. For such a big place, the rest of the world seems to know very little about Saskatchewan, if anything at all. Even in Canada, the majority of Canadians asked about Saskatchewan have never been there and have no desire to go. Those that have driven through the province say that, “there is nothing there, just endless wheat fields.”
Saskatchewan is the place you pass through to get somewhere else. But hidden amongst the wheat fields is a rich and diverse, deeply traditional prairie culture. It is an eclectic mix of Hutterite colonies, Indian reservations, stock car racing, and cowboys; towns and cities which rise out of the landscape with their seductive names like Moose Jaw, Big Beaver, and Buffalo Gap, along with the main industry of grain farming.
In 2005 Saskatchewan celebrated its centennial year. But as the pioneering spirit of the province’s founders is remembered, rural life is experiencing a major decline. The many abandoned farms which scar the landscape are a testimony to this. Although Saskatchewan is still predominately agricultural, today seventy percent of the population live in towns and cities. Many years of poor grain prices, along with the dominance of corporate agribusiness are destroying the cultural landscape of the province, where 20,000 small farms have closed since 1986 alone. As DeNeen Brown highlights in a story in the Washington Post (Oct 25, 2003): ‘Towns throughout Canada’s prairies are dying slow deaths. All along the highways of Saskatchewan abandoned buildings lean against the prairie wind, which blows through the cracked windows of houses deserted by the families who traded them for a few thousand dollars or for the cars they drove away.’

However, the people that remain and call Saskatchewan home express a deep passion for and understanding of prairie life: an acceptance of the endless space and the loneliness it brings, but also the importance of community in a world of rural isolation. And underlying it all is a deep sense of place–an intimate relationship with the inescapable open landscape which surrounds everything and everyone.

[This project has developed into a collaboration with the Saskatchewan writer Ken Mitchell, taking the form of an image and word performance and a future book. In 2015 – 2016 Justin will be returning to Saskatchewan to make new photographs.]

1: Beauty and Sublime

Helen Sear

Creative Wales award.

Not just the eye. Uses the hand to pain in parts. Sculptural and 3D form. Liberate from computer screen. Different types of paper. Or use CAD.

Body in the landscape, or landscape in the body

What does it mean to be both human and animal?

Wants to concentrate on unremarkable landscape – portrait of a field over a year. Landscape as a living being. And walk to a particular part of forest that changes through being cut down and exposes a particular view suddenly.

Inside the view

Beyond the view

Pond 2011  installation at Crescent Arts Scarborough, UK, March 2011. video of frozen winter pond and trees. Occasional birds. Sheep in silhouette on the horizon.

Documentary Inspiration To Do

Shirley Baker

Images on Mary  Evans Picture Library

Google Images

Shirley Baker, (1932-2014), was one of the rare female photographers who chronicled life in the north of England from the 1950s onwards. Her street photography was in the ‘flaneuse’ tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, whom she named as influences. Unposed snapshots of people going about their business were juxtaposed with telling graffiti. She had a great eye for composition that has been under-appreciated next to her compassionate documentation and concern for social injustice, with a particular focus on women and children.

From the 60s, Baker taught photography at Salford College of Art and would always carry her camera modestly stowed in her handbag. In free periods, she began a body of work, spanning 15 years, of the social housing in the area that was being demolished as people lived in semi-derelict slums. Shirley’s work in Salford and Manchester (shot mainly between 1960 and 1973) captured a time of rapid social and economic change in the lives of working class people in Manchester and Salford.”It was a time of much change: people were turfed out of their homes and some squatted in old buildings, trying to hang on to the traditional life they knew.”

Slum clearances, started in the 1930s, resumed in earnest in the 1950s, and in the twenty years between 1955 and 1975, around 1.3 million homes were demolished nationwide. When Shirley Baker began photographing the streets of her native Salford, it seemed that no-one was interested in recording the human story of these soon-to-be demolished communities. Old ladies sitting on doorsteps in a row of condemned houses, men with handcarts searching for refuse to be recycled, children playing inventively among rubble and abandoned cars. That she chose to preserve these moments on film, now seems like the only perceptive response to a vanishing environment. It was not until 1989 that her first book, Street Photographs: Manchester and Salford, was published and Baker began to be more widely appreciated.

In addition to her work in Manchester and Salford, she spent a considerable amount of time capturing Camden Market at the height of punk. Her work was often humorous and she added over the years to collections such as owners who look like their dogs and people falling asleep in public.

Remembering the work of Shirley Baker Phil Coomes  BBC


(from Guardian Obituary)

Born in Salford, to Alec, a furniture maker, and Josephine, a housewife, Shirley had an identical twin, Barbara, who would also become an artist. They both went as boarders to Penrhos College, in Colwyn Bay, from where during the second world war they were evacuated to Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. Their parents were unfazed by their daughters pursuing the arts professionally after they left school.

Baker married Tony Levy, a GP, in 1957, and the couple eventually settled in Wilmslow, Cheshire, where their daughter, Nan, was born in 1963. Baker never displayed any of her photographs around their home, although she did like to take pictures of the family. This perhaps summed up the private, almost secretive, nature of her work.

When Baker studied  photography at Manchester College of Technology, there was only one other woman on the course. On finishing, Baker’s plan was to work in-house at a company, recording processes and producing promotional images. She started at Courtaulds fabric manufacturers before freelancing for other businesses and doing some journalism, including for the Guardian. Baker encountered difficulties getting a press card, so was unable to pursue photojournalism seriously, and believed she was only given the assignments deemed unsuitable for men. From the 60s, Baker taught photography at Salford College of Art.

Baker kept photographing in later life and completed an MA in critical history and the theory of photography at the University of Derby in 1995. She joined the Mary Evans Picture Library in 2008, and in 2012 had solo shows in Oldham and Salford, with another planned for 2015 at the Photoraphers’ Gallery in London. She was always pleased when people who featured in her work came along to exhibitions. At the opening of the Lowry Gallery in 2000, the Queen not only viewed Baker’s photographs but met some of Baker’s subjects, too.