Fay Godwin (17 February 1931 – 27 May 2005) was a British photographer known for her black-and-white landscapes of the British countryside and coast.
|“||My way into photography was through family snaps in the mid-1960s. I had no formal training, but after the snaps came portraits, reportage, and finally, through my love of walking, landscape photography, all in black and white. A Fellowship with the National Museum of Photography in Bradford led to urban landscape in colour, and very personal close-up work in colour has followed.||”|
|— Fay Godwin, ca. 2000|
Godwin was introduced to the London literary scene. She produced portraits of dozens of well-known writers, photographing almost every significant literary figure in 1970s and 1980s England, as well as numerous visiting foreign authors. Her subjects, typically photographed in the sitters’ own homes, included Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble, Günter Grass, Ted Hughes, Clive James, Philip Larkin, Doris Lessing, Edna O’Brien, Anthony Powell, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, and Tom Stoppard.
After the publication of her first books—Rebecca the Lurcher (1973) and The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway (1975), co-authored with J.R.L. Anderson—she was a prolific publisher, working mainly in the landscape tradition to great acclaim and becoming the nation’s most well-known landscape photographer. Her early and mature work was informed by the sense of ecological crisis present in late 1970s and 1980s England.
In the 1990s she was offered a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) in Bradford, which pushed her work in the direction of colour and urban documentary.
She also began taking close-ups of natural forms. A major exhibition of that work was toured by Warwick Arts Centre from 1995 to 1997; Godwin self-published a small book of that work in 1999, called Glassworks & Secret Lives, which was distributed from a small local bookshop in her adopted hometown of Hastings in East Sussex.
The slipcase Rainbow Press 1979 first edition of Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, her book collaboration with poet Ted Hughes, has become highly collectible and fetches several thousand pounds. The book was also published in popular form by Faber and Faber (with poor reproduction of the images), and then re-published by them in 1994 simply as Elmet with a third of the book being new additional poems and photographs. Hughes called the 1994 Elmet the “definitive” edition. Godwin also said, in a 2001 interview, that this was the book she would like to be most remembered for.
In an obituary for The Guardian, art critic Ian Jeffrey called her 1985 book Land, published by Heinemann, the “book for which she will be most remembered”:
- Designed 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….[a work] in the neo-romantic tradition…[that] gives an oddly desolate account of Britain, as if reporting on a long abandoned country.
Godwin’s last major retrospective was at the Barbican Centre, London in 2001. A retrospective book, Landmarks, was published by Dewi Lewis in 2002.