Fay's Interview

  Fay's self portrait, taken at Pett Levels
Until her untimely death in May 2005 Fay lived at the very picturesque village of Pett Levels near Hastings. She suffered a stroke in the spring of 2005 and was taken to a hospital in Bexhill Upon Sea. Her memorial sevice was at the British Library in London, a fitting tribute we feel to a life time devoted to the British landscape. UKlandscape was honoured to have the double privilige of the last interview Fay made and to have been a part of her memorial service.

In introducing an artist who needs no introduction there seems almost an element of cheek! But in the case of Fay Godwin I feel there are several things that need to be said. Whilst studying photography in the late 70's my fellow students and I frequently compared notes on who was doing what and taking what. Many names were raised and were as often dropped but the one name that was mentioned over and over again was Fay Godwin's. Her work not only inspired my generation but the generations after mine as well. She was respected by us not only for the quality of her images but also for her commitment to her work. A commitment that still shows today as her modern work is as classic and consistent as her early. An artist worthy of the title!


Where do you live in the world? East Sussex

What is your background? Born Berlin 1931 , Germany, father a British diplomat, mother an American artist. Educated at various schools all over the world. 1958 Settled down to live in London. 1966 Became interested in photography through photographing my young children. No formal training. 1975 Publication of first co-author book, The Oldest Road, with writer J.R.L. Anderson. 1978 Recipient of major award from Arts Council of Great Britain to continue landscape work in British Isles, much of which is included in Land. 1984 Start of British Councils overseas tour of Landscape Photographs. 1985 Publication of Land. Major exhibition of Land at the Serpentine Gallery, London. 1986 South Bank Show their first full-length documentary to feature a photographer. 1986/7 Fellow at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford. 1987/90 President of the Ramblers' Association, UK. Then life vice president. 1990 Awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society. 1990 six week lecture and workshop tour of New Zealand. 1992 Awarded Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. 1995 Award from Northern Arts for the Year of the Visual Arts, and from the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation to work on the contribution of small farmers to the character of the Cumbrian landscape.

What is your current project? Finding a way to live and work after appalling NHS drugs have wrecked my heart.

You tutor at very popular photographic workshops. What is your main motivation for doing this? I enjoy being part of a process which enables photographers to contribute to a workshop. We all learn in this process, including myself.

You published many books associated with poetry or prose. How did this close relationship between photographs and writing come to be? I have always loved reading, so was interested in the literary world, and took many literary portraits

Your Work

For many years people see you as The Master of landscape photography. Does landscape still thrill you or are you searching new areas. Thrill is not a word I would have used! I love the land, and have loved exploring it, but have been moving on towards other kinds of work since the Bradford colour urban landscapes in 1986/7.

In 1975 you published your first walkers' book called "The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway". In 2001 the publication "Landmarks" was published to coincide with your major retrospective at the Barbican (London). Between these two publications which different phases did you go through? Much walking, and feeling perhaps I owed something back to the land I loved so much, hence one of the books I am most proud of, "Our Forbidden Land". Alongside this I did the Bradford work, and then moved on to the "Glassworks" series, abstract close up colour work.

The book "Glassworks & Secret Lives" (Your colour work) had to be self-published! why was that? Because in the dreary British way I had been 'pigeonholed' as a black and white photographer, and at my age it was not permissible to move on.

Is your dedication to Landscapes a way to resist against modernity? What a thought! I passionately love modern architecture, design, modern ways of looking at landscape etc. What I loathe is the multi-national conglomerates who must take responsibility for the degradation and pollution of so much of our landscape with their factory farming and greed.

Your photographs are often seen as being politically active. Is there a hidden agenda in your photography? The viewer must bring their own view to a photograph.


Black/White or colour? What do you prefer? I love both

Do you print your own pictures? Not any more

Do you have a digital camera? If yes, what do you like about it? No, I don't have one, though I may get a simple one soon.

Your Pictures

What is your favourite picture? Can you tell us the little story to go with? I can't point to a favourite picture, I love so many, otherwise I would not have spent such a large part of my life on them.

Are you the type of photographer who just takes one shot on a subject? No, I always wasted lots of film.

Do you crop your pictures? Virtually never, though I don't believe in rules

Do you like to show your pictures? Yes! If the conditions are right

Do you think you have a fair? opinion of others photographer¹s work? I love lots of other photographers' work.

Do you keep all your photographs even the junk? I threw out a lot of colour negatives at one time, and later wished I hadn't, so I throw out prints but not negatives

Your biggest disappointment in photography? When I screw up a good picture

What is your favourite ingredient for a good photo? I like photographs which leave something to the imagination

Your Inspiration

Are you just suddenly inspired? Or do you plan a project? I plan a project

Being an inspiration to many photographers, who inspired you, if anyone, and who is your favourite photographers (artist)? Favourite photographers would be Strand (Paul), Walker Evans, Bill Brandt, and many of my contemporaries

What is your favourite subject? Anything that arouses my curiosity

Do you think overexposed locations have nothing more to say, or can new talents, new techniques bring new viewpoints? It would be a very sad world if one could not bring a new point of view to an overexposed cliché of a location

John Fowles said of you that "You are an inveterate pursuer of ancient roads". Are you perpetually out and about to find new spots? No

Your view on

What do you think about Contemporary Art Photography? This is such a wide subject! There is some great work, some of which will stand the test of time.

You received an Award from the Arts Council of Great Britain, plus many others; what changes have fame made in your life. The word fame is embarrassing to me - I am hardly a household name! Well, it hasn't helped my bank balance, but of course I am delighted when my work does get recognition.

Can you describe yourself in 3 words? No!

What would be your advice to a beginner in photography? Look at lots of exhibitions and books, and don't get hung up on cameras and technical things. Photography is about images.

Your dream

What is your dream as a photographer? To learn to print digitally, using Photoshop which I love, with inks and art papers which do not fade in a few weeks or months.

These images cover the span of Fay Godwin's work, up to the 90's.


The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway (with J.R.L. Anderson) 1975.

The Oil Rush (with Mervyn Jones) 1976.

The Drovers Roads of Wales (with Shirley Toulson) 1977.

Islands (with John Fowles) 1978.

Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence (with Ted Hughes) 1979.

Romney Marsh and the Royal Military Canal (with Richard Ingrams) 1980.

Tess: The Story of a Guide Dog (with Peter Purves) 1981.

The Whisky Roads of Scotland (with Derek Cooper) 1982.

Bison at Chalk Farm 1982.

The Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend to Rye (with Alan Sillitoe) 1983.

The National Trust Book of Wessex (with text by Patricia Beer) 1985.

Land (with essay by John Fowles, and introduction by Ian Jeffrey) 1985, selected for best of British book

design and production award, 1985.

The Secret Forest of Dean (with introduction by Edna Healey) 1986.

Our Forbidden Land, which won the first Green Book of the Year Award, from Books for a Change, 1990.

Elmet, completely new edition of book with Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, originally published as Remains of

Elmet in 1979, with new poems and new pictures, selected for best of British book design and production award, 1994.

The Edge of the Land 1995.

Glassworks & Secret Lives, (with essay by Ian Jeffrey) 1999.

Landmarks, with essay by Roger Taylor and introduction by Simon Armitage, 2001

Smaller publications
Essay for Charter 88: The Copyrighting of our Heritage: Who owns the Land? 1994.

A Perfect Republic of Shepherds, exhibition catalogue, published by Wordsworth Trust, 1997.

To Buy The Following Books By Fay Godwin Simply Click The Link

Elmet: Photographs by Fay Godwin


See The Above Bibliography For details On These Books.


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All images copyright Fay Godwin. All text copyright © 2002 UKlandscape. Please feel free to print this for your later personal enjoyment but do not reproduce without written permission.


May 2014
Roger Voller


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