Friday, 4 November 2011

Jem Southam - Landscape Stories

Jem Southam’s ‘Landscape Stories’ provided so much of the inspiration for my current project that I feel the need to declare my love for it.

I think what I love most about Southam is his sensitivity towards the landscape. You get a real sense of love for the subject, and what really impresses me is that he achieves this without ever needing to shout about it. It is shot in such a delicate and eloquent way that it fills me with warmth, despite most of the photographs being shot on typically drab British days. Maybe that is because I share the same feelings for these places and this weather… I would be really interested to hear a foreign opinion on this work!

Southam, J. 2005 (Landscape Stories)

‘Landscape Stories’ comes across as extremely personal and sentimental whilst also maintaining the utmost integrity. I get the feeling from the pictures that these are places where he has lived, rather than him just passing through. He has a complete understanding of the landscape and has a genuine relationship with it.

Southam, J. March, 1999 (Upton Pyne)

It is very easy to compare this book with some work from Joel Sternfeld (another photographer that I love!), largely because they often adopt quite a similar visual style. However, after first impressions are out of the way it becomes clear that they operate very differently. To me, Sternfeld’s pictures don’t come across as being as personal or as sentimental as Southam’s. Unfortunately, the work of both has so many levels that it is extremely difficult for me to understand why. Maybe it is because I get the impression with Sternfeld that he is a bit more of a passer-by in his landscapes than Southam. That is not to say that I love Southam’s work any more than Sternfeld’s because I don’t. I just love them for slightly different reasons.

Southam, J. January, 1999 (Upton Pyne)


  1. I didn't know the work of Southam but it is really interesting how you said that you get a feeling that he lived there and that he loves this place. I really believe that some of the most sincere work is when a photographer loves what he is photographing. I also thought it was really interesting that you used the work 'sentimental'. This is something that I have been thinking of in regards to my own work - I don't think it is a bad thing (though others will hate it). We often sentimentalise something as way of evoking a strong feeling, a passion, a voice. I was watching Jane Campion's 'Bright Star' the other day - it was romantic, sentimental and yet heartbreaking - it was beautiful too. I suppose what I am clumsily trying to say is that not everything has to be banal, grey, austere to be hard-hitting or thought-provoking - it can be beautiful too and still make you feel. I hope that makes sense :)

  2. Thank you for the comment :)

    Yes I don't believe that you can photograph something well unless you have a personal interest in it. You don't necessarily have to love it... you might feel strongly the other way but as long as it brings out some passion in some form or another. Otherwise, as you say, the work wouldn't have a voice.

    I think this is what I am struggling with at the moment. I feel passionate about the landscape that I am photographing but I am not sure I have a strong enough interest in its mining heritage. I am always interested in history and how a landscape has evolved, adapted, recovered etc but I have never had any involvement with mining and so am struggling to bring myself to the project.

    Didn't mean to waffle on that much! I apologise :)

  3. I wonder if you spoke to a miner (or ex-miner) or read a memoir, diary or poems about mining it may allow you to empathise with the role of mining - not saying it will but I know that reading about peoples experience really enhances my understanding of a work or a project that I want to do. I did an MA in Holocaust studies at Sheffield - obviously I didn't experience it but rather than reading history books I read memoirs & diaries and that was much more engaging. Just a thought - ignore me of course - now it's my turn to apologise for waffling ;)