Week 1: Shapeshifters

Where did the week go? The task asks for a brief commentary, which is good news given the increasing length of my CRJ posts (and everyone’s, by the look of things). I’m very comfortable with the idea of multiple ‘photographies’ shaped by contexts, agents and interests (in the same way that writing can be a device for everyday supplementation of memory through to great literature, and is, like photography, being transformed, displaced or supplemented, by digital technology and automation/AI) – see earlier post here. The Szarkowski and Shore case studies are interesting in understanding the development of the field of photographic practice, and in positioning our own and other work within the field. The Squiers case study is of greater contemporary relevance, and for me most helpful in thinking about the development of my own work. Of the three, it is the only one, I think, that grapples with how to move beyond the aspiration for a unified language whilst maintaining the possibility of fruitful dialogue between photographic forms (and other forms of art practice).

I’m working on three levels for my project: (i) using photographs by others to understand their lifeworlds, (ii) collaborating with groups to create images for advocacy, (iii) producing my own multi-modal response to situations. I’ve been thinking about what it is that I am actually producing in doing this work. For (i) I am producing a methodology (a way of working with participants and their images). For (ii) I am producing images and a strategy for their deployment. For (iii), my focus for this module, I think I am producing artefacts, and seeking to bring together different media. This resonates with the stress placed in this case study of the materiality of photographs. Digital images are just a step on the way in the work I am doing. Thinking about questions of change (in places and environments) and multiplicity of experiences of and relationships to this, the kind of layering that Welling is doing in his Multichannel Works series is interesting.

James Welling, 9485, 2014.

Placing stress on materiality supplements, rather than erases, other forms of photographic practice (earlier forms, and contemporary and emerging digital forms). King (quoted in the presentation) is right that the exhibition is partial in addressing the question of ‘what is a photograph?’, but wrong, in my view, to expect an answer to the question. The exhibition leaves the question open (in its partiality) and invites responses that can maintain the dialogue and enhance the dynamism of the field of photographic practice. My own expectation is that an exhibition should not promise or offer closure, but should offer us more, not less, to think about, engage with and to be excited by.

Anything new to add? Maybe recognition of the utility of a more sociological perspective on photographic practice (see CRJ post here  – contains a few sentences which, I think, address Johnson’s and King’s issue about what they perceive as a backward looking tendency in Squiers’ exhibition) and non-western perspectives on photographic image making (see CRJ post here ). And always to keep in mind ‘what is theory for?’ alongside asking ‘what is photography for?’.

Bourdieu: Photography as an integrative, and alienating, device.

Reading Bourdieu is tough at the best of times, not just because of the (deliberate) obscurity of the language and conceptual density, but also the severity and sharpness of the sociological focus. In looking specifically at photography, Bourdieu and colleagues treat it as a set of arbitrary practices which contribute in some way, as do all other social and cultural practices, to the production and reproduction of social relations (through the creation and reinforcement of distinctions along lines of social class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, status and so on). Anyone with a commitment (professional, recreational, artistic, emotional) to photography is going to find this kind of sociological dissection pretty uncomfortable, which might, at least in part, explain why Bourdieu’s (1990: first published in French in 1965) book ‘Photography: A Middle-brow Art’ is so rarely cited in analytical writing on photography (the title hardly helps, of course). Barthes, without naming the work, distances his approach, and interests in photography, from that of Bourdieu in the following way:

‘Each time I would read something about Photography, I would think of some photograph I loved, and this made me furious. Myself, I saw only the referent, the desired object, the beloved body; but an importunate voice (the voice of knowledge, of scientia) then adjured me, in a severe tone: “Get back to Photography. What you are seeing here and what makes you suffer belongs to the category ‘Amateur Photographs,’ dealt with by a team of sociologists; nothing but the trace of a social protocol of integration, intended to reassert the Family, etc.” Yet I persisted; another, louder voice urged me to dismiss such sociological commentary; looking at certain photographs, I wanted to be a primitive, without culture. So I went on, not daring to reduce the world’s countless photographs, any more than to extend several of mine to Photography: in short, I found myself at an impasse and, so to speak, “scientifically” alone and disarmed’. (Barthes, 1981: 7)

Bourdieu’s extensive empirical investigation of the use of photography (including surveys and interviews relating to everyday, amateur, artistic and professional uses of photography), carried out in the 1960s, might seem dated (with the growth of digital technology, and particularly the pervasive the use of phones to make photographs and disseminate images through social media). Much is made of camera ownership, which now seems to have a very different social and cultural significance. This is not the place, or time, to delve deep into this work, but there are a couple of points raised by Bourdieu and colleagues (who include Luc Boltanski, brother of photographic artist, Christian Boltanski) that warrant some attention in relation to my own project and trajectory.

Fundamental to the work is the assertion that photographic practice is ‘an index and an instrument of integration’ (p.19). Bourdieu documents and dissects the use of photography within the family, including ceremonial uses and as part of the circuit of gifts in the form of images, for instance in weddings, in reinforcing a sense of collective life and an integrated family group. This places the ‘enthusiast’, the person with an intrinsic interest in photography, outside ‘normal’ practice. For Bourdieu, in their interest in photography per se (as an aesthetic and/or technical practice), these ‘devotees’ and ‘fanatics’ (p.44) break with the norms of family photography, and are thus more weakly integrated, or even alienated, from the family. It is both an expression and a reinforcement of weak integration; it is also, from the analysis of Bourdieu’s empirical data, clearly gendered (there is a much higher proportion of male enthusiasts). This is clearly worth revisiting, in the light of both changing technology and associated social practices, and a renewed interest in family photography as a form of artistic practice (see, for instance, Howarth and McLaren, 2016). My interest here, though, will be confined to the personal and biographic, stemming from reflection on an event from my childhood prompted by reading this work. As I have indicated previously (for instance, in my oral presentations) my emotional attachment to, and active engagement with, photography stems from my early work as a child model, and the time spent in and around photographic studios. My godfather, Ray Harwood, was one of two assistants who worked with Cecil Beaton, including the Coronation photographs in 1953.

Ray Harwood (right) and John Drysdale, reminisce about assisting Beaton. Times photographer, David Bebber

Whilst there is a clear class division between artist and technician, this work enabled Ray to go on to work for Conde Nast as a photographer and to set up his own studio. In domestically difficult circumstances, photography for me came to signify the possibility of another life, beyond the family (as did sport, cycling, music and academic achievement). With easy access to film, and using the family Kodak camera (and a kit which included a Diana plastic camera, which I bought with the proceeds from my paper-rounds), I started to take photographs at the age of 10 and learnt to process and print my own work. At the age of 11, a couple of years before my father, thankfully, left home, I part-exchanged the Kodak, without his knowledge, for a camera which allowed greater control of aperture, shutter speed and focus. I still have the camera (a Halina 35X, made in Hong Kong, a copy of the Japanese Ranger 35), though I have never deliberately held on to it or taken care of it, and have never thought (until now) about taking photographs with it. It sits of a shelf by my desk with a number of random books and objects.

Empire Made: my Halina 35X

I cannot remember how he responded (it would have been physical), nor even if he ever found out (I figure that by that time, he didn’t really care). I have never thought to look at when family photographs ceased. There are certainly none from the point at which he left home (my mother, though she had worked for two professional photographers, had no active interest in taking photographs, though has always enjoyed, until she effectively lost her sight through macular degeneration, and valued images), but I figure that photography (certainly as an integrative family activity) stopped a long time before this. I don’t have any of my own photographs from this period. Certainly, my interest in photography at this time is indicative of my own alienation from the family, and desire to spend as much of my time as possible outside the home. The point here is that, whatever the wider value of Bourdieu’s analysis (in its own right and as part of a greater corpus of sociological theory and research), it has raised a number of questions, and ways of thinking about events and experiences, relating to my own biography and trajectory. Selling the family camera, something that I had not thought about until reading Bourdieu’s work this week, probably had far greater significance than I had ever imagined. Working on the significance of objects and object analysis with the UCL BASc students gives me the opportunity to think further about this, perhaps taking the camera as my object (our lecture next week is on the psycho-social significance of objects, which is apposite).

UCL BASc Object Lessons group at the Grant Museum of Zoology, 01.02.19

There are three other thoughts for exploration, two of which are made in footnotes to a chapter on photographic art by Chamboredon (pp. 129-149). Firstly, in comparing the process of production of painting and photography (with the former images requiring time and concerted effort, whether trained or not, whilst the latter can be created instantaneously), he notes that there has not been (and perhaps, could never be, given these differences in production processes) a ‘naive’ photographic artist, in the sense that Rousseau (Le Douanier) was a naive (that is untrained and unsocialised) painter (note 19, p. 201). This, though, is precisely what Anne Geene and Arjan de Nooy have produced in the (imaginary) Universal Photographer, in that they have taken historical segments of everyday (naive) image making, and inserted them into photographic art discourse. There is, of course, through instagram and other social media, now a parallel world of naive art photographers, with instagram ‘image-making stars’ created through the operation of a set of alternative (popular) criteria (or, rather, multiple sets of criteria, which act to produce a differentiated field of ‘stars’). I’ve written a couple of thousand words exploring this further, but will keep that for another day.

The second (note 5, p.201) is the question of the extent to which it is the disappearance of traditional crafts (as common modes of production, in the face of automation and mechanisation) that has facilitated the transformation of craft techniques into artistic media (for instance, pottery, weaving, ironwork). This casts an interesting light on the analogue and material turn in photographic art, and on the possibilities of the development of photographic art in the face of evermore sophisticated everyday image making (and distributing) technology, and AI applications. In other words, the increasing marginalisation of the knowledge, skills and processes of photographic practice creates an increased potential for the development of photographic art. Photography, as a specialised practice, is not superseded, but displaced, and the historical development through successive technological advances is temporally compressed into a repository of resources for contemporary practice (evident in, for instance, the revisiting of Fox Talbot’s techniques by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Naoya Hatakeyama and Cornelia Parker, amongst many others).

The third is an observation, pertinent to my own family history, made by Boltanski and Chamboredon in a chapter on professional photography (pp. 150-173; this presents a pretty bleak picture of photography as a profession, including reflection on the ‘uselessness’ of professional qualifications, pp. 152-3). Here they explore the professional aspirations and trajectories of photographers in relation to social class, and identify the means by which photography offers the potential of ‘upclassing’, particularly for working-class entrants (p.161). Interesting to apply this form of analysis to particular cases, for instance, in fashion photography in the 1960s (in relation to both social class and gender).


Barthes, R. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by R. Howard. London: Vintage.

Bourdieu, P. 1990. Photography: A Middle-brow Art. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. 2016. Family Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson.

Object Lessons

This month I’ve been working alongside UCL Bachelor of Arts and Science students on their ‘Object Lessons’ module. For this, each student ‘adopts’ an object from one of the university museums, collections or galleries. The programme is a mixture of lectures (on material culture, the psycho-social significant of objects and workshops on handling, recording and writing about objects) and workshops involving working with objects alongside curators. Just some initial ‘descriptive’ photos of some of the objects from the Grant Museum and some ‘handling’ in the Petrie Museum.

Thinking about how to develop a project from this, and perhaps how to relate the focus on objects to my work on communities and regeneration (useful discussion with Michelle about this, with lots of references to follow up).

Barking Riverside

Quick catch up on images made since the end of the previous module. Some images from the Riverside Development (‘Barcelona-on-the-Thames’).

And some from neighbouring Creekside. More to be done here, I think, around the theme of erasure and overwriting. There was a community here until the 1950s, providing housing for people employed in the industrial works in the area. This was demolished to make space for further industrial development, and people relocated to other estates in Barking. Former residents meet regularly, and there is a simple heritage trail around the area, though very low profile. Might offer the opportunity to combine exploration of the area and former residents’ emotional ties with object focused and archival work.

Preliminary activity: Intent, choices, strengths, limitations and plans

Intent. I am doing the masters programme in order to learn, develop my photography, and start to build a more coherent, informed and engaging body of work. My initial interest was the visual exploration of the relationship between the natural and the human in marginal urban places, leading to two series of images: Newcastle Beach Ocean Pool and Roding Valley Park.

Newcastle Beach Ocean Pool, 2018
Roding Valley Park, 2018

Whilst doing this work over the course of the first module, I became increasingly interested in the impact of urban regeneration, and in particular understanding and facilitating community engagement and benefit from the rapid changes taking place in east London. This gave rise to three series of images focusing respectively on urban regeneration in Hackney Wick, Ilford and Barking.

Hackney Wick, 2018
Ilford, 2018
Barking, 2018

A related set of concerns also emerged, around the privatisation of land, social infrastructure, and restrictions on access to, and use of, spaces and places for the public. Research into the three artists for this activity, alongside image making around the Barking Riverside development, have given rise to a concern for more fundamental environmental issues relating to the impact of urban development, which will be the focus for my work for this module.

Choices. For my project, I have proposed three levels of image making: (i) images made by residents as a way of exploring their lived experience and aspirations; (ii) collaborative image making with resident and community groups for influence, advocacy and change; (iii) my own artistic response to the impact of urban regeneration and the possibility of positive change for residents and communities. Over the course of this module, I plan to advance all three aspects of my practice, but will focus particularly on third (my own artistic work) for this and subsequent activities. In this area I want to be able to continue to experiment with forms of image making and dissemination, and explore how this relates to other modes and media (text, sound, video, artefacts). In carrying out research on the three photographic artists chosen for this activity, I have raised questions about my own practice and considered areas for development: see my more detailed posts on Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fay Godwin and Naoya Hatakeyama.

Godwin’s work has most clearly influenced my own. Despite focusing on urban rather than rural settings, and working digitally in colour rather than in monochrome on film, my mode of working and forms of image are similar. I walk through and explore the landscape, and take photographs in the landscape rather than of the landscape. My images tend to concentrate on the meeting of the natural with traces of human activity, and have increasingly highlighted the privatisation of land and issues of access and surveillance.

Barking Riverside, 2018

Others have commented that these tend towards the deadpan aesthetic of the New Topographics. I want to explore my relationship with Godwin’s work further by making some images in the urban settings I am exploring using monochrome film and square format, to get an embodied sense of what is entailed in this way of working and how this impacts on the forms images produced. On the campaigning side, I am continuing to explore the increasing privatisation of urban spaces and the restrictions placed on public activities (including making photographs – Godwin became particularly concerned about the restrictions imposed on photographers by the National Trust, and what she saw as the increasing regulation and control of our heritage).

My engagement with Japanese photographers Sugimoto and Hatakeyama is more recent and developmental. In both cases, I have attempted to understand and position their work in relation to contemporary theory, for instance post-humanism, as well as understanding the theoretical, cultural and visual influences that have shaped their work (particularly interesting as Sugimoto trained and has worked mostly in the US and Hatakeyama trained and has worked mostly in Japan). Both address issues relating to time, history and the future. Hatakeyama’s work is most closely related to my own, and I am interested in developing the idea of excavation and the relationship between extraction and urban development, rising above and sinking below the landscape and projection into the construction of the future. Also, the question of the differences between stopping time (through the act of photographing) in the processes of destruction and construction (the photograph by necessity strips away any direct sense of temporal directionality in creation/destruction; in Hatakeyama’s work, each is dependent on the other). From an analysis of the work of both artists, I have much to learn about how to establish coherence within and between series of photographs, and ways of achieving conceptual clarity.

All three artists combine text and images, but in different ways. In all cases, text and image are not intended to explain or embellish each other, but to achieve different things (and therefore to supplement and enrich each other in the achievement of the objectives of the projects). Unsurprisingly, given earlier posts (here and here), none of these artists make any claim to storytelling or the construction of narratives. Godwin’s work was initially geographically organised, and latterly according to social and political themes relating to the land (disseminated predominantly in books). Sugimoto’s and Hatakeyama’s work is organised as distinct parallel and successive series, some open ended, which are disseminated predominantly through exhibitions and the gallery system, with some photobooks. Hatekeyama notes that his first solo exhibition looked like a group show, and has stated that creating a distinctive visual vocabulary is key objective in his practice.

Strengths and limitations. I have produced a number of images that I am happy with visually and technically (see examples and links to series above), and have explored different ways of presenting these, for instance as grids, in triptych form and as a sequence with text (see below).

‘Out of Sight’, photographs from the Roding Valley Park, grid arrangement in portfoliobox.
Stanislav’s Moscow, 2018

Each series has had a clear core theme, but the work to date has lacked a distinct conceptual basis, and therefore the growing body of work lacks coherence and a clear sense of visual, methodological or theoretical identity. Each of the three artists I have explored have achieved this sense of coherence and identity in different ways. Godwin works by walking through the rural landscape seeking images where signs of human activity are overlaid on the natural landscape creating a dialogue, and sometimes tension, between the natural and the human. This engagement with the landscape became increasingly political, and the organisation of images centred around themes like agribusiness, habitation, ownership and heritage. Each of the series produced by Sugimoto has a strong rationale, visual style and conceptual base (see earlier discussion). The series do not relate directly to each other (though all are produced with a large format camera and images are presented as large monochrome prints). Each series is related back to an evolving artistic vision, which includes work in other disciplines (for instance, architecture). In Hatakeyama’s work there is a clearer conceptual link between series, around the synergies and inter-dependencies of (destructive) extraction in rural areas and (constructive) urban development. This has been extended in his most recent work which focuses on the rebuilding of a city after natural disaster. In his writing, he is able to relate his work to current and antecedent movements in the visual arts, and chart the development of the work through his journals. Both Sugimoto and Hatakeyama are interested in the foundations of photography, and produce work that is related, in different ways, to the work of the pioneers of nineteenth century photography.

Over the previous module I have produced a range of types of images, and, in particular, have wanted to develop a greater personal engagement, for instance through portraits.

Den Amstel, 2018

Whilst I have been satisfied by the images, I have found it difficult to integrate these with the major body of my work.

Plans. Over the course of this module I want to develop a stronger conceptual base for my image making, and be able to position my work more effectively in relation to other traditions and approaches. I am familiar with contemporary theory in the social sciences and humanities (and have, some years ago, taught social semiotics) but need to develop my knowledge in the visual arts. I am currently exploring Flusser’s work on photography (2011, 2000) and also his writing on the city (2005) and the notion of ‘home’, which relates closely to my interests (for instance, in addressing feelings and experiences of displacement in regeneration). I can build a theoretical and methodological bridge between different levels of image making in my project by drawing on Abbott’s (2007) critique of narrative and his argument for the development of a lyrical approach to social research, and Sinha and Back’s (2014) approach to engaging participants as co-creators in the research process (which includes the use of photography). At the heart of this is further cultivation of links with community groups and projects over the coming months to lay the foundations for my FMP, and a programme of image making which will feed into my work-in-progress portfolio. I have learnt from the previous module that, with a tight timescale, it is important to have a relatively narrow focus for the production of images for the module work-in-progress portfolio. For that reason, I plan to focus on the environmental, rather than the social, aspects of my project, and to take the opportunity to experiment with forms of image making and presentation whilst developing greater conceptual clarity and theoretical sophistication. I am also working on a project relating to physical and intellectual engagement with artifacts in museums, galleries and archives.


Abbott, A. 2007. ‘Against Narrative: A Preface to Lyrical Sociology’. Sociological Theory 25 (1): 67-99.

Flusser, V. 2011. The Gesture of Photographing. Translation and Introduction by Nancy Ann Roth. Journal of Visual Culture. SAGE Publications, 10(3): 279–293.

Flusser, V. 2005. ‘The City as Wave Trough in the Image Flood’, Critical Inquiry 31(2): 320–328.

Flusser, V. 2000. Towards a philosophy of photography. London: Reaktion.

Sinha, S. & Back, L. 2014. ‘Making methods sociable: dialogue, ethics and authorship in qualitative research’. Qualitative Research 14(4): 473–487.


Fay Godwin

Drabble, M. 2011. ‘Fay Godwin at the National Media Museum’. The Guardian. 8th January [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [accessed 30.12.18].

Fowles, J. 1985. ‘Essay’. In F. Godwin, Land, London: Heinemann: ix-xx.

Godwin, F. 1985. Land. London: Heinemann.

Godwin, F. 1990. Our Forbidden Land. London: Jonathan Cape.

Godwin, F. & R. Ingrams. 1980. Romney Marsh and the Royal Military Canal. London: Wildwood House.

Jeffrey, I. 1985. ‘Introduction’. In F. Godwin, Land. London: Heinemann: xxiii-xxix.

Jeffrey, I. 2005. ‘Fay Godwin: Photographic chronicler of our changing natural world’. The Guardian. 31st May [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/may/31/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries [accessed 30.12.18].

National Media Museum, Bradford. 2011. Fay Godwin: Land Revisited. Exhibition. 15 October 2010 – 27 March 2011 [online]. Available at: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/fay-godwin-land-revisited [accessed 30.12.18].

Sillitoe, A. & F. Godwin. 1983. The Saxon Shore Way: From Gravesend to Rye. London: Hutchinson.

South Bank Show. 1986. Fay Godwin. Season 10, Episode 6, 9th November [film]. Available at: https://youtu.be/4JE8I44Ak7o [accessed 30.12.18].

Naoya Hatakeyama

Fujii, Y. n.d. ‘Naoya Hatakeyama’. Ocula [online]. Available at: https://ocula.com/artists/naoya-hatakeyama [accessed 04/01/19].

Hatakeyama, N. 2018. ‘The Photographer and Architecture’. In Y. Nakamori, Naoya Hatakeyama: Excavating the Future City. New York: Aperture:259-266.

Hutchison, R. 2015. ‘A Conversation with Photographer Naoya Hatakeyama’. Interview, 24th September 2010 at Taka Ishii Gallery, Kiyosumi, Tokyo [online]. Available at: http://robhutcharch.com/blog/2015/1/31/a-conversation-with-photographer-naoya-hatakeyama [accessed 04/01/19].

McLaren, S. & B. Formhals. 2014. Photographers’ Sketchbooks. London: Thames & Hudson: 118-125.

Nakamori, Y. 2018. Naoya Hatakeyama: Excavating the Future City. New York: Aperture.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Searle, A. 2014. ‘Hiroshi Sugimoto: art for the end of the world’. The Guardian, 16th May [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/16/hiroshi-sugimoto-aujordhui-palais-de-tokyo-paris-exhibition [accessed 30/12/18].

Molinari, L. 2015. ‘Space: timeless architecture’. In Hiroshi Sugimoto, Stop Time. Milan: Skira, 22-40.

Nakamura, Y. 2012. Memories of Origin: Hiroshi Sugimoto. [Film]. Available at: https://youtu.be/NhZJF4IPXcw [accessed 30.12.18].

Sugimoto, H. 2011. Becoming an Artist. Art21, Episode 141. [Film]. Available at: https://youtu.be/JCsbxVCdDtA [accessed 30.12.18].

Sugimoto,H. 2015. Stop Time. Milan: Skira.

Sugimoto, H. 2018a. Between Sea and Sky. Interviewed by Haruko Hoyle at Enoura Observatory in Odawara, Japan, June 2018. [Film]. Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://youtu.be/JWh4t67e5GM [accessed 30.12.18].

Sugimoto, H. 2018b. Advice for the Young. Interviewed by Haruko Hoyle at Enoura Observatory in Odawara, Japan, June 2018. [Film]. Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://youtu.be/TvO2WL-jGac [accessed 30.12.18].

Fay Godwin: photography, environment and activism

There are a number of reasons for choosing Fay Godwin (1931-2005) as one of the three photographic artists in this exercise. I have a longstanding interest in her work, especially her photographs of Romney Marshes (Godwin & Ingrams 1980) and the Saxon Shore Way (Sillitoe & Godwin 1983), having grown up in East Kent.

Fay Godwin, Reculver Abbey, 1983.

Through this exercise, I want to both reassess her work in the light of subsequent shifts in photographic theory and practice, and broader political changes particularly in relation to the environment, and consider whether, and how, her work has influenced my own photographic practice. Godwin, like me, came to photography from another professional field (publishing in her case) and did not have any formal training in photography or the visual arts. In a 1983 interview, she stated that:

‘I don’t have an academic approach to photographs, and I’m not very interested in theory. I’m much more interested in working. The old question about whether photography is an art is a silly question. 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 it can’t be creative.’ (quoted in Fowles 1985: xii)

The primary means of dissemination of her work has been in books produced collaboratively with writers. In this analysis of her work, however, I am going to focus particularly on two volumes which foreground her photographs, and where the text plays a supporting role: Land (Godwin 1985, based on an exhibition surveying her work and published as a book with an essay by John Fowles and introduction by Ian Jeffery) and Our Forbidden Land (Godwin 1990, for which Godwin provides her own substantial introduction and text alongside the photographs, with poems by other authors, and which highlights her activism around access to land in her role as President of the Ramblers Association). I have particular interest in the relationship between photography and writing, and also on the use of photography in social action and advocacy. Here, though, I want to reflect on how Godwin’s approach and photographic sensibility might be re-contextualised from predominantly rural to contemporary urban contexts, in which the ownership of and access to the land have become a particular concern. I also want to position the work in relation to contemporary debates about the relationship between art and environmental activism (see, for instance, Demos 2017)

Fay Godwin, Stones of Stenness, Orkney, 1985.

As Fowles (1985) points out, many of Godwin’s images play with time, juxtaposing the timeless landscape with present day (or earlier) evidence of human activity (buildings, infrastructure, artifacts, vehicles, detritus, but never people), but in layers or in proportions that convey or create tensions.

Fay Godwin, Large white cloud near Bilsington, Kent, 1985.

Godwin resisted being seen as a landscape photographer, preferring to be considered a documentary photographer. Her interest is not in the landscape per se (and thus, she has no interest in producing conventionally aestheticised landscape images: in a 1986 South Bank Show interview she states that she is ‘wary of the picturesque’), but rather in human engagement with, material impact on and use of the landscape. Ian Jeffery (1985) highlights the bringing together in the frame of the wild and the cultivated, and the antagonism and discordance, in Godwin’s work, between the land and the human, between the wilderness and habitation. Encompassing the formal arrangement of elements in the frame, the subtlety of symbolism and the careful sequencing of images, Jeffery demonstrates how the work presented in Land clearly goes beyond documentary into the domain of photographic art, drawing out resonances with other photographic artists such as Paul Strand and Walker Evans. The images are not immediately arresting, but do draw in the viewer and repay active engagement, with, as Jeffery notes (South Bank Show 1986), any romantic elements of the landscape (such as clouds and distant hills) offset by, often foregrounded, practical and everyday elements. Unlike Sugimoto’s work, discussed in an earlier post, there is no apparent underlying conceptual basis to discrete series of images in Godwin’s work (if the corpus is to be divided into series, then each would be geographically defined, rather than conceptually, with the exception of the later, environmentally focused work), there is a clear orientation to the landscape and visual sensibility, which constitute Godwin’s artistic vision. There is also what Fowles (1985) identifies as an emerging moral dimension to the work, though this might equally be described as a political dimension, which relates to private ownership, the abuse of the land by agribusiness and public use and access. This dimension is brought very clearly to the fore in Our Forbidden Land.

Fay Godwin, The Duke of Westminster’s Estate, Forest of Bowland, 1990.

Margaret Drabble (2011), reviewing the exhibition Land Revisited, describes Our Forbidden Land as ‘an impassioned attack on the destruction of the countryside’. The introductory essay extends far beyond the landscape as addressed in earlier work, and includes critical analysis of nuclear power, transport policy, the military, climate, housing, pollution and the use of pesticides. These themes are reprised in the text that accompanies the images, which themselves are more clearly focused on the human abuse of the land, and play a role in making this abuse visible. An overarching theme is the alienation, and exclusion, of the public from the land, whether it be by the military, agribusiness, corporate ownership or heritage industry.

Today these issues are of even greater concern, and with respect to the access to the land that is available to photographers wishing to explore these environmental and social questions, Drabble observes:

‘Since her death in 2005, photographers have been finding their access to both public and private land more and more problematic, more expensive, and legally restricted. In Our Forbidden Land she wrote about the dilemma of access to Stonehenge, a site mass marketed by English Heritage which charges substantial sums to everybody, from individual artists to wealthy advertising companies. She foresaw a time when “the only photographs we are likely to see of the inner circles of Stonehenge will be those approved by English Heritage, generally by their anonymous public relations photographers”. Our common land would be the copyright of others’.

In my own exploration of community engagement with urban regeneration, I have assumed that I will progress from photographing the changing environment to an exploration of the lived experience of residents and other stakeholders. Engagement with Godwin’s photography and writing, and commentaries on this (in particular, the essay by Fowles), has led me to reassess this, and to consider how I might develop my urban environment image making further. Questions of access are even more pronounced with concerns around terrorism leading to suspicion of photographers in urban areas, and the private ownership of land by developers, with sophisticated surveillance technology, placing severe restrictions on where photographs can be taken. In assessing my own work and planning for the development of my project, I also want to consider how my work, one part of which has explored the meeting of the built and natural environment in urban settings, and the traces of human activity that are left in urban edgelands, has been visually influenced by Godwin’s images, and how I might develop this in urban settings over the coming months.

Fay Godwin, Summerhouse Hill and Channel Tunnel works, 1990.

Whilst Godwin’s photography may not have a strong explicit conceptual basis, reinforced by her rejection of theory in preference to getting on with the work, her image making does have clear intent and is consistent and coherent in form. It can also be understood in relation to environmental art of the late twentieth century (for instance work by Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy) in that the photographs engage with being in the landscape rather than being representations of the landscape. They are the products of walking across the land and being part of the landscape, rather than standing apart from the landscape. The work can also be understood in relation to forms of contemporary environmental activist art explored by Demos (2017). Godwin collaborated with environmental groups in the production of images, for instance with the Council for the Protection of Rural England concerned about the affect on the environment around Dover of the dumping of spoil in the construction of the Channel Tunnel. She eschewed the gallery system, preferring to publish books, and produced images and texts that demonstrated an understanding of day to day life in rural areas, whilst being clear about corporate and government sponsored action that threatens the environment, from nuclear power through to the manner in which English Heritage and the National Trust “have copyrighted our heritage” (quoted in Jeffery 2005), exemplifying her distinctly anti-authoritarian position and commitment to a critical role for photography.


Demos, T.J. 2017. Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today. Berlin: Sternberg Press.

Drabble, M. 2011. ‘Fay Godwin at the National Media Museum’. The Guardian. 8th January [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [accessed 30.12.18].

Fowles, J. 1985. ‘Essay’. In F. Godwin, Land, London: Heinemann: ix-xx.

Godwin, F. 1985. Land. London: Heinemann.

Godwin, F. 1990. Our Forbidden Land. London: Jonathan Cape.

Godwin, F. & R. Ingrams. 1980. Romney Marsh and the Royal Military Canal. London: Wildwood House.

Jeffrey, I. 1985. ‘Introduction’. In F. Godwin, Land. London: Heinemann: xxiii-xxix.

Jeffrey, I. 2005. ‘Fay Godwin: Photographic chronicler of our changing natural world’. The Guardian. 31st May [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/may/31/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries [accessed 30.12.18].

National Media Museum, Bradford. 2011. Fay Godwin: Land Revisited. Exhibition. 15 October 2010 – 27 March 2011 [online]. Available at: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/fay-godwin-land-revisited [accessed 30.12.18].

Sillitoe, A. & F. Godwin. 1983. The Saxon Shore Way: From Gravesend to Rye. London: Hutchinson.

South Bank Show. 1986. Fay Godwin. Season 10, Episode 6, 9th November [film]. Available at: https://youtu.be/4JE8I44Ak7o [accessed 30.12.18].

Informing contexts and project development

My project involves three levels of image making in the exploration of community engagement with urban regeneration: (i) images made by residents as a way of exploring their lived experience and aspirations; (ii) collaborative image making with resident and community groups for influence, advocacy and change; (iii) my own artistic response to the impact of urban regeneration and the possibility of positive change for residents and communities. The work focuses, in particular, on social infrastructure. In the previous two modules I have concentrated on building relationships with community groups and researchers and on the development of the first two forms of image making, and this is reflected in the contextual research I have carried out. In the oral presentations for the previous two modules I have focused particularly on photographers who explore the lived experience of residents in urban areas undergoing change, on ways of engaging stakeholders and on the presention photographic work alongside other media.

In this module, I want to focus on the third form of image making and the development of my own artistic practice. For the preliminary task, I have chosen to explore the work of three photographers who have a strong conceptual base to their work combined with distinct and clearly defined forms of artistic practice, and who explore issues of relevance to my own project: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Naoya Hatakeyama and Fay Godwin. All three produce visual work that crosses disciplines, and they combine photography with other media. There are also strong philosophical, social and political dimensions to their work, and in the manner in which their work is presented and exhibited. Like me, Sugimoto came to photography from another discipline (social and political sciences), Hatkeyama is concerned about exploring the future of the city, and Godwin combines text and image in campaigning for public access to land. In the posts to follow, I’ll address the work of each in turn, and then pull together common strands and relate these to the development of my own work (in relation to intent, choices, strengths, limitations and plans for the module).

The Universal Photographer

Anne Geene and Arjan de Nooy, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Projects Gallery, 15th December 2018

A one room exhibition dedicated to the ‘universal photographer‘, a project by Dutch photographers Anne Geene and Arjan de Nooy.

They have aligned found images with trends in photography over the lifetime (1955-2016) of the fictional universal photographer, who becomes the embodiment of responses to changes in photographic technology, an unfolding life-course and trends in art and photography (practice, theory and critique). The primary outcome of the project is a book, which includes extensive quotes from the work of major theorists, commentators and artists relating to the forms of photography covered, and fictional quotes about the work of the universal photographer and their work alongside a biography of the universal photographer (the pdf of the book can be downloaded here). It’s an impressive and entertaining project, and an exemplary exercise in post-modern irony. The project guides the viewer through the development of art photography and theory over the past half century, raising questions about the relationship between esoteric art and everyday life (the images are very much ‘everyday’ and naive, but articulated with the evolving art practices of the time) and rendering both faintly absurd, and strangely engaging, in the process. The project thus speaks both to the gallery visiting public and the to art world, questioning the relationship between the visual products of both. In presenting the work of the the universal photographer as art, the work also pulls art into the everyday and opens it (and the associated academic and artistic commentary and analysis) to common scrutiny and assessment.

In looking at the images, it is not a case of ‘we could have done that’; we actually did do it – these are our images, from our photo albums and boxes of family, event and holiday prints. In my own project, I have created a degree of insulation between forms of image making: this work removes that insulation in a gallery space and plays with the distinction between the sacred and the profane. And it’s all shot through with dry humour and parody. In the development of my project, it’s clearly important to the think about other mechanisms for bringing these different domains of practice into the same space and into constructive critical dialogue.

Geene, A. & A. De Nooy. 2018. The Universal Photographer. Rotterdam: De Hef.