I received a beautiful little book in the post yesterday, a small and fairly rare book of photography by Fay Godwin – Glassworks and Secret Lives. Godwin began to take an interest in photography at 32 years old, and started out taking portrait photos of authors, who she met through her publisher husband Tony. When she split from her husband, she turned her back on portraiture and began to take an interest in landscape photography.
She collaborated with author and poet Ted Hughes, and produced many works which responded to his poems and the English countryside. His vision of the landscape was not unlike that of Neo-Romantics, and although Godwin denied that her work was influenced by them, it has a loneliness and desolation to it, a haunting sadness and sensitivity which some would argue is in the style of the Neo-Romantics.
Fence by Fay Godwin
But it is her later work which this small book shows – works which she made in colour using “fast and grainy colour film” to “…explore the detail in forgotten corners, behind glass, plastic and other materials.”
‘Untitled, from Pioneer Glassworks,’ 1989
I really love the subtle reflections in this piece, looking at what is in front of the camera, yet still being able to capture elements of what is behind. A haunting, ghostly layering, dreamlike and entrancing.
I decided to have a go today using some “props” which I could use to photograph the landscape through. I found cling film, perspex, a glass jar, petri dish and an old plastic carton. I took them out into the woodland to have a play around.
Various props to photograph though
I began with the cling film, which was wrapped between branches to form a ‘window’.
The cling film catches the sun and gives the impression of looking through scratched glass. Next I had a go using a clear plastic carton, which I found captured some interesting reflections…
By chance I caught the light just at the right moment to reflect the branches and trunk of the tree onto a clump of lichen – an unexpected result as I moved the plastic carton over the lichen, but unfortunately I could have done with another pair of hands to get the photograph more in focus.
Another go with the carton in a different location…
This is my favourite piece using the carton…it reminds me of the sweeping blurry skies of a Tuner painting, yet I love the way that the tiny fronds of fire moss can be clearly seen.
Shadow of brach cast on scratched surface
Hollow in a tree reflecting the bright landscape behind it
The shots of the leaves above (and one below) were taken through perspex, making a more layered reflected effect
Below; Perspex over frogspawn, with water droplet on top
This technique creates a vortex effect similar to some of the landscape paintings from the romantic era, a blurred vignette which draws the eye into the central point of focus.
I want to experiment more with photographing elements of the landscape through transparent surfaces which have different thicknesses and discrepancies or patterns. I’m going to continue collecting old cartons, bottles and jars to see what results they give. The reflections in the glass give mysterious effects which give the images a kind of spiritual quality – one method of capturing the ‘spirit of place.’