Guardian, Saturday May 28, 2005 by Paul Marinko
Fay Godwin, famed for her collaboration with the late poet laureate
Ted Hughes and her belief in the right to roam the countryside,
has died aged 74.
Paul Hill, a professor of photography at De Montfort University
and a close friend, said she died yesterday in Hastings, East
Sussex, after a short illness.
Godwin was best known for her landscape work and portraits of
authors such as Hughes and Doris Lessing.
her reputation when she teamed up with Hughes in 1979 to produce
The Remain of Elmet, a collection of poems and photographs.
Born in Berlin in 1931 to a British diplomat father and American
artist mother, Godwin settled in London in the late 1950s.
in photography emerged at the relatively late age of 35 after
she began taking pictures of her two young sons.
book, The Oldest Road, was published in 1975 and marked the arrival
of a considerable new force in landscape photography.
later the Arts Council gave her one of its first major awards
After working with Hughes, she went on to collaborate with other
writers, including Philip Larkin, Salman Rushdie and the former
Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams.
years she moved from black and white to colour photography, and
from vast landscapes to intimate images of natural life.
But her landscape
interests were not confined to photographic subjects. As a passionate
walker she campaigned for open access to the countryside and was
president of the Ramblers Association from 1987 to 1990.
used her photographs to draw attention to harm being done to the
environment. This resulted in a critique called Our Forbidden
Land, which won the first Green Book of the Year Award.
She was made
an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1990.
Godwin is survived by two sons, Jeremy and Nick, and two granddaughters.
The Telegraph, Monday May 30, 2005
who died on Friday aged 74, was the foremost landscape photographer
in Britain, and also collaborated with the poet Ted Hughes, going
on to produce portraits of other writers; her insight into the
British countryside, which led her to be compared with the great
American photographer Ansel Adams, was also her recreation, and
she was president of the Ramblers' Association from 1987 until
which captured the differing moods and textures of moors, forests
and country trails with a remarkable sensitivity and lack of sentimentality,
were mostly produced in black and white, but with an extraordinary
tonal range. Her portraits, several of which are now held by the
National Portrait Gallery, were equally successful; even Philip
Larkin was captivated by her ability. Her pictures also drew attention
to environmental campaigns (an abiding interest), and her critique
Our Forbidden Land won the first Green Book of the Year award.
were the more remarkable since Fay Godwin did not take up photography
until she was in her mid-thirties. She never stopped experimenting:
in her latter years, much of her work became more abstract; in
the 1980s, she began to work in colour, and at the age of 70 embraced
the possibilities offered by digital photography with enthusiasm.
She was born
in Berlin on February 17 1931, the daughter of Sidney Simmonds,
a British diplomat who had married Stella MacLean, an American
artist. Fay's childhood was peripatetic, and she attended nine
different schools before embarking on a career as a travel rep.
In the 1950s she settled in London, and worked for a time in publishing,
before marrying Anthony Godwin, the editor-in-chief of Penguin
books, in 1961.
had two sons, but her husband left her in the mid-1970s, and died
shortly after they divorced. His parting shot was to suggest that
Fay Godwin get a sensible job: "A nice safe job as a secretary
with ICI, something like that," she recalled. She took his
advice as a challenge. "Of course, the man saying you'll
never make it makes you think: 'Yes, I jolly well will.' I went
out and bought a large camera on the never-never."
had begun taking pictures only in the early 1960s, when she discovered
that her husband was not much good at family snaps. "I discovered
I loved doing it," she said. "Eventually I taught myself
to print, and it really went on from there."
by producing photographs of writers for the dustjackets of books:
Kingsley Amis surrounded by empty whisky bottles; a young Angela
Carter in her garden; the poet Robert Lowell stretched out on
a sofa. But she realised early on that her landscape work, on
which she worked assiduously, often printing until the early hours
of the morning, was destined to be poorly reproduced in walkers'
handbooks. So instead she sought out a literary agent, and arranged
an exhibition of her work.
The Oldest Road, an account of the Ridgeway in Berkshire, with
text by JRL Anderson, was an immediate success when it appeared
in 1975, eventually selling some 25,000 copies. The Victoria and
Albert Museum acquired one of her pictures. The Oil Rush (1976)
was followed the next year by The Drovers' Roads of Wales, with
Shirley Toulson, which charted the paths from Wales to the London
markets. Islands was produced with the writer John Fowles, but
her reputation was cemented by Remains of Elmet (1979) in which
Fay Godwin's velvety shots of the valleys of West Yorkshire were
set beside poems by Ted Hughes.
major bursaries from the Arts Council and travelled widely in
Scotland, where she fell for the stone circles at Callanish and
the quality of the light in Sutherland. Unlike Ansel Adams, she
was interested in the way in which man's interventions had sculpted
landscape: drystone walls and paths were recurring features, and
a fellowship at Bradford resulted in a series devoted to the post-industrial
urban landscape of West Yorkshire. She began to use colour: "It
never particularly interested me to photograph landscape in colour,
but the urban landscape really excited me."
Our Forbidden Land (1990) was a polemic for the right to roam,
and against pollution and development; she followed it by invading
the Duke of Devonshire's land with a group of pro-rambling MPs.
her work with writers. Fowles wrote for Land, a major exhibition
at London's Serpentine Gallery, which toured the UK in 1985 to
The poet Simon Armitage wrote an introduction to Landmarks (2001),
in which he said of her photographs: "There seems to be a
point of view, but never a caption. There is clarity of picture,
and confidence of tone, and certainty of mind, but one which resists
simple annotation or direct summary."
had other exhibitions at the National Museum of Photography in
Bradford, at the Photographers' Gallery, and at the Royal Photographic
Society (of which she became an honorary fellow in 1990) in Bath.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery held a major retrospective
books included The Whisky Roads of Scotland; Bison at Chalk Farm;
The Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend to Rye and The Secret Forest
of Dean. There was a change to her style with Glassworks and Secret
Lives (1999), in which leaves, seeds and petals were shot through
netting and broken glass, and mixed with litter and debris, at
she embraced digital photography, but sparked a long correspondence
in the Guardian when she bought one of the first iMacs, and complained
furiously about her inability to get it to work.
of walking - "wonderfully sinful" - was constrained
to a degree by a bad skiing accident when she was 25, which led
to much of the cartilage in her knee being removed when she was
She was scared
of dogs, bulls, thunderstorms, and muggers.
is survived by her sons.
Times, Tuesday May 31st, 2005
February 17, 1931 - May 27, 2005
Acclaimed photographer with a striking ability to recognise and
reflect the components of a landscape
was one of the supreme exponents of that most English of obsessions,
contemplation of the British landscape. As a landscape photographer
she had no betters and few equals in a career stretching over
40 years. Her output was prodigious: thousands of images, all
memorable and many sublime. Her photographic compass, in black
and white until 1999, was narrow but superbly controlled and perfectly
directed to her view of herself and her mission: “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
was born in Berlin, the daughter of a British diplomat and his
American artist wife. She was educated at various schools as the
family moved around the world, but in 1958 settled in London,
where she took a job with the publisher John Murray. Although
she had no formal training she had become interested in photography
through taking pictures of her children. With the break-up of
her marriage to Anthony Godwin, the editor-in-chief of Penguin
books, she began to take photographs for a living.
Her publishing background suggested portraiture as a lucrative
avenue, and she started taking photographs of writers for use
in their publicity material. Phillip Larkin, Arnold Wesker, Ted
Hughes and Saul Bellow were among her sitters, all photographed
in the soft natural light that was emerging as her preference.
These early meetings led to major collaborations with writers,
including Islands (1978) with John Fowles, Remains of Elmet (1979),
and Elmet (1994) with Ted Hughes.
In her early
career, Godwin was unsure which direction her photography would
take. She was already an accomplished photojournalist and she
considered freelance magazine photography. But this work is always
ill-paid, and requires the photographer to be always available
and on call, so she plumped for book illustration instead.
After an early bad experience of illustrating a book on commission
she decided that her future lay in working on her own projects.
Influenced by the Lake District guides of Alfred Wainwright, her
first book was a walkers’ guide, written in collaboration
with J. R. L. Anderson, The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the
In 1978 her
talent as a landscape photographer was recognised by a major award
from the Arts Council, which led to the publication of her most
influential work Land (1985). A compilation of work undertaken
over a ten-year period, this showed Godwin at her most fluent,
documenting British landscapes from the Orkneys to the Sussex
coast. Her ability to recognise and reflect the components of
a landscape was striking: Stones of Stenness, Orkney (1979) shows
a group of standing stones contrasting intriguingly with a circular
hay bale. In Large White Cloud near Bilsington, Kent (1981), she
used no more than a furrowed field, a tree and a cloud to produce
an enduring image of the countryside of the South of England.
Her use of
line, light and shade and direction was classic rather than innovative.
In Path and Reservoir above Lumbutts, Yorkshire (1977), the path
leads the eye into the picture from the bottom left, a stone wall
picks up the path and leads to the reservoir. Careful technical
control ensures that the reservoir is highlit, the path and surrounding
grass are of medium tone, present but not overwhelming. The surrounding
hills are dark, as is the sky, save for a sunburst on the horizon.
It is as mature a piece of photographic art as one could wish,
Godwin at her most accomplished.
In 1986 Godwin
was awarded a fellowship at the National Museum of Photography,
Film & Television in Bradford and spent her year exploring
the host city by way of colour photography. It was her first sustained
colour period, and she produced a body of work which was interesting
rather than influential. She continued to work in colour, her
images changing to soft, abstract, lyrical treatments of mainly
natural subjects. A number of these mixed media photographs were
shown in Glassworks and Secret Lives (1999), which she published
herself after being unable to find a commercial publisher, perhaps
because the work was so unlike what her public had come to expect.
or in collaboration she published more than 20 books. With Alan
Sillitoe she produced a guide book, The Saxon Shore Way (1983);
with J. R. L. Anderson she published The Oldest Road (1975); and
there were also volumes with Richard Ingrams, Derek Cooper and
Peter Purves. Apart from Land, her most influential was Our Forbidden
Land (1990), which followed her presidency of the Ramblers Association,
and found its origins in her long-held antipathy to all those
who sought to restrict access to the countryside.
was exhibited all over the world, and she was as happy to be seen
in the smallest galleries. She held many exhibitions at the Rye
Art Gallery in East Sussex, but there were major showings too
at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1976), the Hayward Gallery
(1980) and the Barbican (2001).
Such a body
of work does not come easily. Time and patience are prerequisites.
One commentator suggested to Godwin that she had been lucky to
catch a certain perfect sky. “I didn’t catch it,”
was Godwin’s reply. “I sat down and waited three days
She is survived by two sons.
photographer, was born on February 17, 1931. She died on May 27,
2005, aged 74.
Guardian, Tuesday May 31, 2005 by Ian Jeffrey
chronicler of our changing natural world
who has died aged 74, was an outstanding landscape photographer,
in line of succession to Edwin Smith, Bill Brandt and Ray Moore.
The book for which she will be most remembered is Land (Heinemann,
by Ken Garland, it is stylish in the classic mode, but 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.
It is in
the neo-romantic tradition, but also gives an oddly desolate account
of Britain, as if reporting on a long abandoned country. We like
to think of it as belonging to a British tradition in topography,
and we leave it at that. However, we should remember that Land
is a book of photographs - and that photographers are aware of
At that time, the model was Robert Frank's dystopian account,
The Americans (1959). In 1975, Josef Koudelka contributed Gypsies,
a vision of the family of man fallen on very hard times. Fay's
rendering was more lyrical, but a lot of the evidence in the pictures
points to mediocre development and careless desecration. The book
concludes with a set of what she called "stranded materials",
L-shaped cement slabs used as sea defences at Pett Level, Sussex,
where she had a house. The slabs, with what look like eyeholes,
seem to stare towards the sun: found versions of the Easter Island
Fay was born in Berlin. Her father was a British diplomat and
her mother an American painter. She was educated at nine schools
and, in the 1950s, after working for a travel company, she went
into publishing. In 1961, she married Tony Godwin, of Penguin
Books. They separated in 1969, by which time she had begun her
Her first book, co-authored with JRL Anderson, was The Oldest
Road: An Exploration Of The Ridgeway (Wildwood House, 1975). It
was designed by Ken Garland and Associates, who also designed
her other Wildwood books: The Drovers' Roads Of Wales (written
by Shirley Toulson, 1977) and Romney Marsh And The Royal Military
Canal (written by Richard Ingrams, 1980). In 1975, she took the
pictures for The Oil Rush (written by Mervyn Jones, 1976, and
published by Quartet).
books, in a square format, are attractive items, but they are
documentaries, sometimes murkily printed. The same was true of
The Oil Rush, a thoroughgoing piece of reportage taken at Aberdeen
and Peterhead, and on the North Sea oil rigs themselves. In a
note in the book, Fay remarked that the pictures were taken during
an August heatwave, and that several times she "was refused
permission to make trips to rigs, platforms, pipelaying barges
and other facilities, because I am a woman."
It is worth
pointing out that these early books, with their many pictures,
represented publishers' attempts to cope with television, the
medium that was promising to make photographic documentary a thing
of the past. From the 1970s onwards, photographers had to look
elsewhere to survive, and a preferred option was to turn to art.
into art proper came with Remains Of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence
(Faber and Faber, 1979) with poems by Ted Hughes. Elmet, associated
with the Calder valley, west of Halifax, was the last Celtic kingdom
to fall to the Angles. It fostered the industrial revolution in
textiles, but, by the 1970s, when Fay went there, it had decayed
to the point of looking like a figure for the end of the world.
may be unfair to Calderdale, but Remains Of Elmet has to be understood
as an invention in the apocalyptic style, which interested photographers
in the 1970s (and which certainly informed Land). Resonantly printed
by the Scolar Press, Ilkley, it looks like a thoroughly self-confident
work in art, but it was assembled with difficulty, the pictures
taken on camping trips with children in a Renault 4.
none of Fay's early successes were easily come by, for they all
entailed trips to the wilder part of Britain. During the 1950s,
she had severely damaged a knee in a skiing accident, and that
was always a hindrance, although not one which she let stand in
her way, for she became president of the Ramblers' Association
during the late 1980s.
There is one odd picture in Remains Of Elmet of a spent cartridge
case lying in long grass next to a pile of grouse droppings. It
is an emblematic picture, and a pointer to the kind of imagery
that would increasingly preoccupy Fay during the later, more radical,
phase of her photography.
in Our Forbidden Land (Jonathan Cape, 1990). The Britain she had
investigated for her 1970s guidebooks had alerted her to the destruction
wrought, in particular, by road building, military training, forestation
and development. She liked ramshackle smallholdings, which were
the work of individuals making do and getting by; she hated distant
authority. Look at her essay, Who Owns the Land? (1994), 17th
in Charter 88's Violations Of Rights In Britain series. In the
short-term, she deplored how English Heritage and the National
Trust "have copyrighted our heritage", and, in the long
term, imagined "an Orwellian future".
me that she never made very much from publishing, despite 17 books.
One way around the problem, she added, was to take a number of
copies in lieu of a fee, and sell them after lectures and workshops.
Many people in her position would have gone into teaching - and
then gone under. She remained independent to the end, and one
outcome of this was Glassworks & Secret Lives (Stella Press,
1998), after an exhibition at the Warwick arts centre in 1995.
hardly ever switch format successfully, and for most of her working
life Fay had taken pictures in black and white. The Glassworks
series are in colour, and are of foliage - flowers and seed heads
seen obscurely through screens and nets.
Why she turned in this direction is a moot point, but many of
the pictures remind me of medical imaging. I think she was beginning
to reflect on her own mortality, and that she saw herself as implicated
in this wider world, in which metamorphosis was the norm.
Fay was a most scrupulous person. Look through her books and you
will find many acknowledgements, especially to printers and designers.
She was well aware that nothing is got for nothing, and that we
exist in a web of dependencies. She was a great manager, I always
thought, and indomitable.
She is survived
by her sons, Jeremy and Nick.
photographer, born February 17 1931; died May 27 2005
Independent, Thursday June 2, 2005 by Val Williams
Photographer fascinated by the landscape and ancient roadways
photographer: born Berlin 17 February 1931; President, Ramblers'
Association 1987-90, Life Vice-President 1990; married 1961 Tony
Godwin (two sons; marriage dissolved); died Hastings, East Sussex
27 May 2005.
photographer Fay Godwin appeared as a guest on Desert Island Discs
in the spring of 2002, her choice of music was a telling blend
of the rambunctious (Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock")
and the elegiac (Benjamin Britten's Suite for Cello).
Godwin's photography ranged from lyrical photographs of the British
landscape to penetrating portraits of some of the UK's leading
literary figures, including Ted Hughes, Angela Carter and Philip
Larkin. She transcended numerous cultural barriers in her photographic
work - she worked alongside Hughes (on Remains of Elmet, 1979),
the playwright Alan Sillitoe (The Saxon Shore Way: from Gravesend
to Rye, 1983) and the novelist John Fowles (Land, 1985) on books
about the British landscape, and combined photography with political
activism when she became President of the Ramblers' Association
in 1987, producing a remarkable visual polemic, Our Forbidden
Land, in 1990.
was passionate about photography, about the students she taught
at photographers' workshops, the environment, the position of
women in society, health issues and her home on the bleak Romney
marshes of Kent. A conversation at a private view would quickly
rise above the small-talk of such occasions and become a powerful
(and usually one-sided) blast on the state of photography, women's
lives and the environment.
She was born
Fay Simmonds in 1931 in Berlin, to Sidney Simmonds, a British
diplomat, and Stella MacLean, an American artist. In the Fifties,
she settled in London and, in 1961, married Penguin Books' editor-in-chief
Tony . Through her husband, Fay was introduced to the lively London
literary scene, subject matter for many of her later portraits.
But Fay Godwin was a relative latecomer to photography; self-taught,
she honed her skills by photographing her two young children,
Nicholas and Jeremy. When her marriage broke down in the Seventies
(soon afterwards Tony Godwin died), photography became a job rather
than a hobby as she produced photographs of authors for book jackets
and publishers' promotion.
established herself as a defender of the craft, as well as the
art, of photography. Along with John Davies, Thomas Joshua Cooper
and John Blakemore, she became internationally known as a maker
of fine black-and-white photographic prints which reflected a
deep and mystical regard for the landscape. She was one of the
first British independent photographers to break away from the
confines of the editorial and commercial worlds. Like so many
photographers who became prominent in the Seventies, she was determined
to fight for the right to follow her own photographic convictions,
to choose her own subject matter and to work at her own speed.
fascinated by the antiquity of the land, by the traces which men
and women had left behind them, manifested, in her early projects,
by ancient roadways across the countryside. The Oldest Road: an
exploration of the Ridgeway appeared in 1975 and The Drovers'
Roads of Wales in 1977. But it was Remains of Elmet (1979), with
photographs by Godwin and poems by Ted Hughes, that brought her
the acclaim which established her as one of Europe's master photographers.
The photo historian Philip Stokes noted that her photographic
studies of the landscape have a felicity which flows from their
rightness, rather from any gentling of her view of the places
photographed. Indeed, some convey a sense of formidable, cold
hardness. Many are located in the old, used lands formed by the
activities of predecessor tribes, ranging from Bronze Age agriculturalists
to early industrial man. The marks of each on the earth are recorded
by Fay Godwin with such impartial completeness that the limitations
on information lie with the perceiver rather than the image.
Godwin's photographs were included in the V&A's exhibition
The Land, selected by Bill Brandt in collaboration with the museum's
new curator of photographs, Mark Haworth-Booth. For the leading
members of the emerging photo establishment, Godwin symbolised
a new breed of landscape photographer, combining a challenge to
sentimental pictorialism with a commitment to the rugged poetic
possibilities of landscape photography. Her black-and-white fine
prints repudiated the brightly coloured representations of Britain
which had become so familiar in the post-war years. Here, they
announced, is a landscape of mystery and imagination, of wild
places, hard rocks and cold water, contradicting a view of Britain
as a gentle idyll of thatched cottages, limpid streams and peaceful
meadows. Godwin's countryside was violent and forbidding, a lonely
and magnificent place.
Britain, fine photographic reproduction was expensive, complex
and often unobtainable. Although Godwin's books promoted her photography
to an audience far beyond the small and marginalised UK photographic
community, she was determined to present her photographs as meticulously
produced artworks. From the beginning, she showed not at the emerging
photographic galleries opening in London and the regions, but
at the fine art Anthony Stokes Gallery in the West End. As one
of the first post-war British photographers to be accepted by
the British art world, she paved the way for later generations
of artist photographers, eager to widen their opportunities beyond
the photographic circuit.
By the mid-Eighties,
Godwin was at the height of her photographic powers. Her work
was popular across a wide range of audiences, from fine print
collectors and exhibition curators to a public intrigued by her
sense of adventure and her revelations of Britain's hidden landscape.
At the height of the growth of the heritage industry, where the
past was reconstructed to entertain the present, there was something
authentic about Godwin's view of history. She recorded the small
marks which mankind made on the land, scratchings on a hardly
the British Council toured a solo show of Godwin's work across
Europe, ensuring her international reputation, and a year later,
her exhibition Land opened at the Serpentine Gallery. Land made
Godwin famous, and the still gravitas of these small black-and-white
photographs hung on the walls of the Serpentine's pavilion in
the lush greenery of Hyde Park was moving and monumental. Her
photographs had a stark simplicity which appealed to both press
In her travels
through Britain's wildest terrains, Godwin became increasingly
aware of how little of our countryside we are allowed access to.
She was appalled by the amount of land held (and unused) by the
Ministry of Defence, disturbed by the extensive private estates
which prevented the British public from exploring its natural
heritage. She was shocked that the National Trust should demand
a fee when she photographed landscapes held in trust for the nation.
Increasingly radical, she became a central figure in the Ramblers'
Association, taking up its presidency in 1987.
For her next
project, Our Forbidden Land, she searched for locations which
would illustrate the loss of public access to the British countryside.
She photographed notices, crudely scrawled with directives to
keep out, land littered with detritus by the MoD, footpaths blocked
and rights of way obscured. She abandoned her usual collaboration
and wrote the text herself, producing a powerful and impassioned
plea for the right to roam. If this new work appealed less to
collectors, it could only enhance her reputation with a British
public increasingly interested in the natural environment. Our
Forbidden Land was published in 1990 and won the first Green Book
of the Year award; the Royal Photographic Society organised an
exhibition of prints from the project and Godwin became an Honorary
Fellow of the Society.
landscape photography, with its concern for fine printing, has
a particular and dedicated following. Godwin's sessions at the
Duckspool Photographic Workshops in Somerset proved to be a huge
draw. It was surprising, then, when she made an abrupt change
in her photographic method. She began to work in colour, making
urban landscapes during a residency at the National Museum of
Photography, Film and Television in Bradford and Glassworks &
Secret Lives (1999), a series of minutely detailed close-ups of
natural forms. Godwin was unable to find a publisher for this
latest series but, indefatigable as ever, she self-published,
distributing the book from a small local bookshop in her adopted
town of Rye.
To meet Fay
Godwin in these later years was to encounter a woman whose disappointment
with the publishing and arts establishment was clear and vocal.
An invitation from the Barbican Art Gallery in London to mount
a retrospective (Landmarks, 2001) was a compliment she undoubtedly
had not been expecting.
a complex, surprising and often daunting character. She battled
with ill-health for much of her adult life, yet walked hundreds
of miles in wild country carrying heavy photographic equipment.
She was an independent woman who succeeded at a time when photography
was anything but a woman's world. She expressed her anger towards
the establishment at the same time as supplying a connoisseurs'
market with exquisite fine prints. Many claims are made for photography
as an agent of change, and most are spurious. But Fay Godwin's
use of landscape photographs to change the way we look at our
world was genuinely, and powerfully, radical.