Glassworks & Secret Lives, published
by Stella Press (£12.99), c/o Martello Bookshop, Rye,
East Sussex, TN31 7JJ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
non-trade enquiries only.
What happens when someone whose creativity we
receive with profound admiration betrays our expectations?
What happens, after we have conditioned ourselves to acclaim
the expected, if crreativity takes a course for which we are
unprepared? Consider - random examples, these - the
(in)famous cry of "Judas" at Bob Dylan's Manchester concert
in 1965; the opprobrium that greated Phillip Guston's
return to figurative painting in 1966. We want sameness,
comfort, more than we want the radical changes that some artists
need to make; we want sameness, comfort, more than we
want to recognise the same creativity that once comforted
us now permeating something that is new and challenging.
At least Dylan and Guston got a critical reception,
which meant that, as time passed, the quality and nature of
the rupture was recognised. The scandal that Glassworks
& Secret Lives conceals is that no publisher would
consider this work, and precious few exhibition venues.
It's only thanks to the involvement of Olympus that Fay Godwin
has been able to publish this book herself.
Why is this? Fay Godwin is one of our
best known landscape photogrpahers, a master of scenery in
black and white, and incidentally, working out in photography
a long-tradition of subtly depicting the politics of the British
countryside. But there's the rub. This work is
in colour, and Godwin has dispensed with the long view, the
sweeping vista and dramatic cloudscape. All the familiar
props of our engagement with Godwin's work have been swept
aside. Our response is to not even grant the space where
we might confront the work and criticise, come to terms with
the new image. That is not the way of '90's Britain.
We practise an invidious censorship over that which disturbs
us: the denial of access to the public sphere - whether
in gallery, or book, or magazine - through economics rather
than the authoritarian pen.
Glassworks & Secret Lives is a beautiful
book, every bit as sensitive to the world as Godwin's monochrome
works, but here the joy is in the detail, the intimate.
Where her earlier books were, in the broadest sense, political
and ethical essays, Glassworks & Secret Lives is rapturously
erotic. This is the world close-up and personal, it
is both metaphorically, and sometimes literally, that garden
to which Candide retreated as an escape from history.
Which is not to say that Godwin has forever given up on the
political, but rather that one needs balance in order to maintain
perspective. Nothing here invalidates or rebukes anything
that has preceded it.
Ian Jeffrey's brief, perceptive, essay recognises
and contextualises Godwin's new path through the countryside.
The whole project is a joy, and publishers everywhere should
be ashamed that this book had to be self-published.
Chris Townsend, writing in Hot Shoe International
, July/August 1999