Blog Arts

JEM SOUTHAM: THE LONG WHITE CLOUD

Robynne Limoges / London Comments / for The3NinesArts.com

At the HUXLEY-PARLOUR GALLERY, London 13 February - 9 March 2019 

©Andrew Nadolski, Portrait of Jem Southam

Jem Southam has been one of England's pre-eminent landscape photographers for decades. His work is in major collections around the works and the subject of numerous international solo exhibitions.
Since the 1970's Southam has been producing images within a specific narrative context, that of exploring and observing a given environment over a period of months or years. He does this in order to observe, participate in, record, significant visual changes within the landscape. This has given him, particularly, an ability to document natural transformations but also changes imposed upon landscape by the presence of man. That patient observation, that persistent interest in change, large and small in a single location, has become his trademark, if you will.
Southam's subjects for more than 30 years concentrated on areas of the South West of England, where he lives and works. In one interview he spoke about a work starting from the inside out, referring I think to the fact that he doesn't consciously set out to make a series about a particular place, but rather the methodology is in seeing or coming upon a 'place', being intrigued enough to take one picture on his large format camera, and if he finds the results of that 8 x 10 inch negative compelling, he returns to take a second image. The process repeats. He is drawn back again and again to observe topographical changes created by natural phenomena but also, and in some series especially, the skewing or realignment of the balance between nature and human intervention. His series trace cycles of decay and renewal. They are informed by his absorption of personal, cultural political, scientific, literary knowledge about the site. His goal seems to be in creating work that builds intuitively into a series, one that can be translated to the viewer as a narrative of place and history. The continuous narrative is important to him, rather than the single iconic image to which other photographers might aspire.


©Jem Southam, The Pond at Upton Pyne

His printed images include incredible amounts of detail, emphasized by the C-type print process, on which, quite apart from the fascinating subject matter, the viewer can marvel and contemplate the smallest of details. Other times, he contact-prints the 8 x 10 inch negatives himself, in order to achieve what he refers to as a different kind of intensity and intimacy. Whichever approach he takes he confirms that, "...there's still an epic story to be told which exists wherever humans have made their homes."
A beautiful example of his work is the diptych, 'The Pond at Upton Pyne, January 1997' (from the series, "The Pond at Upton Pyne"). Five other famous series include "Bristol City Docks", "Paintings of West Cornwall", "The Red River", "The Raft of Carrots", and "The Shape of Time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds".

©Jem Southam from the series Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds
©Jem Southam, Whale Chine, from the series Rockfalls, 1994
©Jem Southam, from the series 'Rockfalls, Rivermouths and Ponds
©Jem Southam, Rockfalls diptych

In 2018, Southam, spurred by the poetry and power, the universality of movement, constant movement, in nature, particularly water, but also people, he stepped away from his lifetime's geography and chose New Zealand as his first overseas destination.
The Huxley-Parlour Gallery exhibition shows us work never exhibited before, captured in a six-week journey around the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
I think this work shows Southam at an exciting juncture. The large format prints envelop the viewer in their monumental landforms, as they are momentarily defined and transformed by water. The hero of the series is the sublime cycle of water from matter to air, to cloud, to vapour, to dissipation, to reconfiguration.
One will still see Southam's preoccupation with reflection, transience of season and weather, subtle colour. But this magnificent series is darker tonally and to me much more about an absolute moment within a state of constant flux, portraits of phenomena that exist so briefly before dissipation or conversion that they take the breath away.
The exhibition is called "The Long White Cloud", in honour of the connections Southam discovered between the drama of nature and the mythologies of the land itself.
Southam writes the following in the forward to the exhibition, 'Aeoteroa' or 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' was the name given to the North Island of New Zealand when the Maori navigators first saw signs of the new land in the formations of drawn out strands of clouds spreading across the horizon. It is the dynamic at the heart of this apparition that these pictures aim to explore. The remarkably rich and varied physical profusion of landforms...made manifest through the momentary shifts of light and the weather.

©Jem Southam, A Sudden Squall, The Stirling Falls, Milford Sound, New Zealand, Autumn 2018
©Jem Southam, Ice Calf, Glacial Lake Below Mount Cook, New Zealand, Autumn 2018
©Jem Southam, The Noreth Wall of the Fjord, Milford South, New Zealand, Autumn 2018
©Jem Southam, Base of a Rain Cascade, Milford South, New Zealand, Autumn 2018
©Jem Southam, Rain Cascades, Mountains, Fjordland, New Zealand, Autumn 2018

Huxley-Parlour Gallery

3-5 Swallow Street

Mayfair, London W1B 4DE

Telephone 0207 434 4319 for specifics on opening days and hours

(In general, open Mondays - Saturdays 10.00am - 5.30pm)

Jean-Daniel Lorieux toutes les femmes en étaient ...
Erwin Olaf, une approche cinématographique de la p...

Related Posts

 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Sunday, 18 August 2019
If you'd like to register, please fill in the username, password and name fields.