Jem Southam

February 5 — March 20, 2004


Jem Southam is one of the most significant figures in British photography of the last twenty years. Emerging as an artist during the 1980s, Southam's images fused the formal composition of traditional landscape representation with the social conscience of modern documentary projects. His meditative photographs are about the ways in which man and nature constantly restructure the earth. Southam often returns to the same locations over several months or years, recording the gradual transformation of the landscape. Although the scenes are tranquil, the locations are in a state of flux; "as geological events and time scales collide, as cliffs dramatically recede, as sea and rivers swirl in confluence and ponds appear as surface wounds opening into the depths of the earth, the land is revealed as contingent and unreliable." (The Shape of Time, PhotoWorks 2000) Selections from four series, depicting "the interplay of natural, cultural and mythic elements on a new monumental scale," are included:

Upton Pyne chronicles the life cycle of a property in rural England. On a bicycle ride, Southam happened to pass a house set within a rambling thicket of trees next to a pond. Intrigued by the site, he returned to visit and photograph for five years, as the seasons passed and the property changed hands, capturing the vagaries of nature and the efforts by each subsequent tenant to make improvements to the land. The viewer leaves these images with a profound sense of place and an intimate knowledge of Upton Pyne.

Rockfalls depicts violent change in the landscape—the accumulation of massive piles of rubble at the base of seaside cliffs—caused by the steady erosive influence of wind and water. A sense of finality descends as these mounds of shattered rock wait to be reclaimed by the ocean.

Rivermouths examines the point at which estuaries meet the sea. These locations are perhaps the most mutable of all Southam's subjects; the topography here changes on a dramatic scale every day as the tide ebbs and flows, reshaping sand, seaweed and rock in endless permutations.

Ponds documents a series of man-made dew ponds, their artificiality made more apparent by their perfect circular forms. Southam captures these images from the same vantage point each time he visits a site, heightening our perception of the changes in water level and surrounding vegetation.

Jem Southam was born in Bristol, England in 1950. He graduated from the London College of Printing in 1972, and developed his photographic work through five main series: Bristol City Docks (1977-1984), Paintings of West Cornwall (1982-1986), The Red River (1982-1987), The Raft of Carrots (1992), and The Shape of Time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds (2000). Jem Southam has received The Charles Pratt Memorial Award, the Arle Rencontres Prize, and the Leopold Godowsky Jr. Color Photography Award. His publications include The Shape of Time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds (2000), The Raft of Carrots (1992), The Red River (1989), Bristol City Docks (1982), and The Floating Harbour (1981).

This exhibition is presented in association with Charles Isaacs Photographs.