Lens Work: Fay Godwin

2nd March 2021

Depth of field was also a political decision for British landscape photographer Fay Godwin, whose photobook Our Forbidden Land (1990) is credited with having helped change the laws governing access to the countryside in Britain. The sense of expansive but restricted space in the photographs, communicated through Godwin’s use of deep depth of field, presents the message of the book in a subtly visual way. 

OCA EYV (2014)

Introduction

Having already researched and studied Ansel Adam’s landscapes, I can see that the main element of photography that both Adam’s and Godwin’s work has in common, is the technical use of the camera and a large depth of field which retained the landscapes detail from foreground to background. Adam’s landscapes predominantly focused on the aesthetics of the natural landscapes and he would also manipulate them during their darkroom development by dodging and burning which enabled him to emphasise specific parts of his images. In essence his work looked at forms and textures, lines as well as the the natural wild beauty that surrounded him. Godwin on the other hand, is known pre-dominantly for recording man’s relationship and interaction with their landscape and she documented their effect upon it caused by pollution, lack of access and developments on rural land.

I managed to purchase a copy of two of Godwin’s books so that I could read about her work as it is presented rather than just snippets that I could access on the internet. The books that I purchased are ‘Land’ and ‘Our Forbidden Land’.

Left: Godwin, F. Meal Mòr, Glencoe Front cover

In the documentary of 1986, Godwin explains that she is interested in all different types of landscapes but when photographing them she wants to go beyond the picturesque and does not like her work to be associated with such a label. The reason for this is because the picturesque label is seen as postcard photography and her work is much more than that, in fact she states that she finds landscape photographs on postcards, including those that have places and buildings in them e.g. a castle, revolting. They all produce the same composition with colours that do not represent what the landscape really is and they actually bare no resemblance to how she sees and experiences them.

Godwin, F. National Trust’s Milldale in the Peak District [Photograph] p.95

Godwin’s work looked at the effect of man on our landscapes, in ‘Our Forbidden Land’ examples were documented from a factual and a personal perspective and some of these examples had accompanying photographs. Godwin was passionate about highlighting the effect of development on the countryside and the right for the public to walk on public footpaths that were part of someone else’s estate for example, farm land or had become part of restricted access areas for example where the Ministry of Defence had occupied land and public right of ways ran through them. The Ministry of Defence are one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom and buy up land for military bases and for practicing military exercises.

’Our main concern when disposing of redundant land is to ensure that it is cleared of explosive materials and other potentially harmful substances. In other respects the property is generally sold in its existing condition, unless it is necessary to remove dangerous buildings or installations. In the specific case to which you refer at Ard Uig. the site was sold as long ago as 1973. It is since it has been in private ownership that it has deteriorated and suffered from the effects of vandalism.’ MoD statement

Left: Godwin, F. Aird Uig, ex-RAF Camp [Photograph] p.156

I found it interesting to read how the farmer’s tried to keep the public off of footpaths that ran through their farmland with tactics such as having their dogs worry the walkers, putting bulls in fields where footpaths exist and spraying pesticides when they knew people were on the footpaths. I can understand both points of view, firstly if it is a public footpath then by law you are allowed to walk on it no matter what type of land it runs through but on the other hand if I had a property which had a public footpath through it I would feel slightly put out if it was a path that is used often. I wouldn’t mind ramblers or those that respect the environment to use it but I have seen how the holiday industry means many people in numbers and those that have families arrive in their hundreds. I could envisage families walking pathways and littering or letting their dogs foul on them and not cleaning up after their dogs. as well as the wear and tear of feet etc…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJR_UJnry8s

Notes


Bibliography

Books:

  • Godwin, F. Meal Mòr, Glencoe [Photograph] In: Godwin, F. (1990) Our Forbidden Land. London: Johnathan Cape Ltd. Front Cover
  • Godwin, F. National Trust’s Milldale in the Peak District [Photograph] In: Godwin, F. (1990) Our Forbidden Land. London: Johnathan Cape Ltd. p.95
  • Godwin, F. Aird Uig, ex-RAF Camp [Photograph] In: Our Forbidden Land. London: Johnathan Cape Ltd. p.156
  • Godwin, F. Untitled 1 and Untitled 2 [Photograph] In: Godwin, F. (1990) Our Forbidden Land. London: Johnathan Cape Ltd. p.16

Websites:


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