Fay Godwin – a subtle eye

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Large White Cloud near Bilsington, Kent, 1981.

Here lies a subtle eye; and an even sutler human spirit.

John Fowles, describing the landscape photographs of Fay Godwin in his 1984 essay featured in her book Land.

It’s a book I treasure.

As an avid collector of all things Fowles, it was the essay which lead me to the photographs; but I quickly fell under the spell of Godwin’s sublime and sometimes enigmatic landscapes. Fowles’ eloquent description of the photo above perfectly captures how I feel about the best of this artist’s work:-

A number of her pictures I know by heart, yet look at again always with renewed pleasure. Almost all her finest ones are jealous with their secrets. It is certainly so for the one I should count as my own most cherished favourite: that superbly balanced field, tree, cloud in Large white cloud near Bilsington, Kent. I have had it beside me all through this writing, and I am convinced it is a very great photograph. Yet I am hard put to analyse why it satisfies and pleases so much: says things I know I could never write, epitomises so many unspoken feelings. It is like a certain kind of rare poem, unalterable, perfect in its every syllable.

This short piece of text moves me almost as much as the photograph it describes. All art which touches us deeply seems to defy proper explanation. We might offer suggestions and contextualisations, but the analysis is always reductive and can only be partial. The art is jealous with its secrets. And yet there is a joy in trying to explain, and the best of the commentators open up new possibilities, new ways of approaching the art. Perhaps explanation is the wrong term, it is more about sharing, finding ways of expressing to others our sense of wonder or fascination or intrigue.

So, I find it hard to ‘analyse why’ Godwin’s best photographs ‘satisfy and please’ me so much, but can only say that they are indeed like a ‘rare poem, unalterable, perfect in its every syllable’

Here are some more poems…

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