Fay Godwin and Catherine Hyland

Deep Depth of Field.

Project 2 : Lenswork

Fay Godwin (1931-2005) is famously known for her landscape images, but she started out as a portrait photographer. It was only when she separated from her husband that she chose a change of direction. She developed a formidable body of landscape work and published several books which contain both images and words, some written by her and some done in collaboration with other writers, such as her book Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, where the images go alongside poems by Ted Hughes. Her book ‘The Edge of the Land’ contains a series of stunning images of Britain’s coast together with essays talking about the vast range of people she met while taking these images and giving their personal stories. (Godwin, 1995).

Godwin said (quoted in an article in Amateur Photographer), “I’ve been called a Romantic photographer and I hate it, it sounds slushy and my work is not slushy. I’m a documentary photographer, my work is about reality, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t be creative.” (Clark, 2010). In her final interview with David Corfield she said “I don’t get wrapped up in technique and the like. I have a simple rule and that is to spend as much time in the location as possible. You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years. And in fact, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a definitive picture of something. The land is a living, breathing thing and light changes its character every second of every day. That’s why I love it so much.” (Corfield, 2004)

One of her books ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) is credited with helping change the English Law on public access. She was outspoken and had a deep love and care for the environment together with an abiding interest in the people she met while researching the areas she would photograph.

Margaret Drabble talks about Godwin in the Guardian and says ‘Her photographs of lochs and glens and standing stones with solitary sheep are hauntingly memorable. They have a Wordsworthian timelessness, a sense of the Wordsworthian sublime. Her imagination, like his, was attracted by the barren, the grand and the bleak. These archetypal landscapes are probably the most enduring tributes to her great talent, and they are enduring in every sense – she catches the spirits of places that have been worn and weathered, deserted and abandoned, and yet still speak to us.  (Drabble 2011)

Her photography is monochrome, with a deep depth of field and are very crisp. You are in the landscape she photographs and it surrounds you. The images imply scents and sounds. Her photographs of the groynes at Pett Level in East Sussex instantly reminded me of the similar ones on the beach of my childhood in West Sussex.

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Groynes, Pagham Beach, West Sussex – In homage to Fay Godwin

Catherine Hyland also uses deep depth of field in her recent series of images taken in China and Mongolia, Universal Experience, where she pictures the effects people have had on a vast and barren environment. In an interview, she says “The aim is to shine a light on both the strange and sublime nature of these spaces, Giant Buddhas that exist in small desolate villages in rural China, and expansive mountainscapes with barely any visitors. Whether it’s sites of historical importance or natural splendour each is approached with a heightened awareness of its significance as a place of beauty and grandeur. Landscape is seen primarily as a cultural construct and only secondarily as a natural phenomenon.”. (Brewer,2017).

On her website (Catherinehyland.co.uk) you can see her images depicting ‘The attempts to control and manage the landscape are both a part of this overcoming of the past, and also an attempt to transform nature into a theme park for contemporary consumption. Implicit in this attempt is the idea that the earthquakes, the landslides, the famines, invasions and the floods are a thing of a great and colourful past. They are part of a history that has been transformed into nostalgia. But…… there might be an underlying anxiety to this enclosed world…. a reminder that the land does not pay heed to humanity’s wishes. It can and it will bite back no matter how much we try to tame it. The only question is when’.

Her images are colourful, clear and massive. You overlook the area and I find them overwhelming, even though many show people, themselves enjoying the view. Here the depth of field leads your eye outward, to the infinite distance and beyond.

References:

Brewer, J. (2017). Catherine Hyland explores the vast, yet eerily barren tourist destinations of China and Mongolia. [online] It’s Nice That. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/catherine-hyland-universal-experience-photographs-160217 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Catherinehyland.co.uk. (2017). Catherine Hyland. [online] Available at: http://catherinehyland.co.uk/universal.html [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Clark, D. (2010). Fay Godwin 1931-2005 – Iconic Photographer – Amateur Photographer. [online] Amateur Photographer. Available at: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/fay-godwin-1931-2005-iconic-photographer-18907 [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Corfield, D. (2004). No Man’s Land – Fay Godwin’s last interview. [online] ePHOTOzine. Available at: https://www.ephotozine.com/article/no-man-s-land—fay-godwin-s-last-interview-67 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Drabble, M. (2011). Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Godwin, F. (1990). Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Godwin, F. (1995). The edge of the land. London: Cape.

Press, S. (2017). Catherine Hyland’s Universal Experience. [online] Ignant.com. Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2017/03/03/catherine-hylands-universal-experience/ [Accessed 16 May 2017].

 

 

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