Jem Southam Study Day

This absorbed me. He was accessible in his discussion of his work and the contemplation behind it. He talked of ideas coming to him, rather than an active searching for ideas. He does not work with the aim of publishing, but publishes some series of work in books which are accompanied by texts, written by other people with whom he collaborates.

He said he wanted to encourage his students at Plymouth University to write more. He talked about the stories which come to him as he works. These are largely based upon his interactions with the history and people associated with the places he photographs. There is a link here with the poem by Alice Oswald, Dart.(2002). She writes about a journey along the River Dart, and about the landscape and people.

I particularly like his series Rocks and Landfalls for the colours, the sculptural nature of the work and for the rawness of the images. These are not comfortable images, but link to the idea of the smallness of man in the face of the power of nature, but also link with the ubiquitous images of war and destruction. Collapse, of the land and of societies and of man-made structures. These images, in all their horror can have an awful beauty sometimes.

The detail in Jem’s photographs is too much to draw or paint, and anyway I do not like precision in drawing or painting. I have heard an artist (Sara Dudman) say that people hang paintings and drwaings on their walls in preference to photographs, because the painting demonstrates the interaction that the artist had with the subject. Jem’s photographs also show this.

He talked about the ‘Prospect – Refuge Theory’ developped by geographer Jay Appleton and developed in The Experience of Landscape. This proposes that landscapes are attractive to human when they offer a sense of refuge or a position from which to survey the surroundings. This originates Man’s primitive instinctive need for safety in an inhospitable environment.


I took this photo in Turkey and think it demonstrates the concept of refuge in a landscape.

He also stated that ‘landscape is highly contested space’. This is not a concept which is evedential in many of our much-loved lanscapes. It would be interesting to see it depicted. These photos below show the types of barriers people erect to protect their land, often in this area, from goats.



Oswald, A. Dart 2002. London. Faber and Faber

Appleton, J. The Experience of Landscape 1975. London. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.


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