Fay Godwin – on show and on film

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Born in 1931 to a British diplomat and an American artist, Fay Simmonds married publisher Tony Godwin in 1961, and was introduced to the cream of literary London. Already a keen amateur photographer, by the 1970s she had started taking portraits of the writers she met and by the end of the 1980s had shot almost every significant figure of the period – including Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, Angela Carter, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, and Tom Stoppard.

But Fay Godwin was also a keen walker – in fact she led the Ramblers’ Association from 1987 to 1990 – and it was for her landscape photography that she became best known. Informed by a sense of ecological crisis, she shot books such as Rebecca the Lurcher (1973), The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway (1975), and co-authored Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence with the poet Ted Hughes.

In the 1990s she was offered a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, which pushed her work towards colour and urban documentary; she also started taking close-ups of natural forms, and a major exhibition of that work was toured by Warwick Arts Centre from 1995 to 1997. Godwin self-published a small book of that work in 1999 called Glassworks & Secret Lives, which was distributed from a small bookshop in her adopted hometown, Hastings, on Britain’s south coast.

From the series Glassworks and Secret Lives by Fay Godwin © British Library Board

Given a major retrospective by the Barbican Centre, London in 2001, and a retrospective book, Landmarks, by Dewi Lewis in 2002, Godwin’s entire archive was moved to The British Library after her death in 2005. Some of her prints are now represented by Lucy Bell Gallery in St Leonard’s on Sea, the neighbouring town to Hastings, which is currently showing a selection of Godwin’s images in a group show celebrating its ninth anniversary. The 9th Anniversary Exhibition also includes work by Terry O’Neill, Brian Duffy, Michael Putland, Kevin Cummins, Bruce Rae, Ken Russell, and Gered Mankowitz.

Filmmakers Charles Mapleston and Libby Horner have also recently released a documentary on Godwin called Don’t Fence Me In – Fay Godwin’s Photographic Journey, which was made with her full co-operation from 2001-2005. Including contributions from Brett Rogers (director of The Photographers’ Gallery), Colin Ford (founding head of the National Media Museum) and Ian Jeffrey (writer and historian), it’s an illuminating insight into an extraordinary woman’s work.

Terry O’Neill, Fay Godwin, Brian Duffy, Michael Putland, Kevin Cummins, Bruce Rae, Ken Russell, and Gered Mankowitz – 9th Anniversary Exhibition is on show at Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0EJ until 30 March www.lucy-bell.com

Don’t Fence Me In – Fay Godwin’s Photographic Journey is published by Malachite, and costs £15+£1 postage direct from the makers. For more information visit www.malachite.co.uk

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy