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Fay Godwin

Fay Godwin
Born (1931-02-17)17 February 1931
Berlin, Germany
Died 27 May 2005(2005-05-27) (aged 74)
Hastings, England
Nationality British
Education Self-taught
Known for Photography
Notable work Remains of Elmet (1979, with Ted Hughes)
Land (1985, with John Fowles)
Glassworks & Secret Lives (1999)

Fay Godwin (17 February 1931 – 27 May 2005) was a British photographer known for her black-and-white landscapes of the British countryside and coast.


  • Career 1
  • Published work 2
  • Awards and recognition 3
  • Personal life 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Godwin was introduced to the London literary scene.[2] She produced portraits of dozens of well-known writers, photographing almost every significant literary figure in 1970s and 1980s England, as well as numerous visiting foreign authors.[3] Her subjects, typically photographed in the sitters' own homes, included Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble, Günter Grass, Ted Hughes, Clive James, Philip Larkin, Doris Lessing, Edna O'Brien, Anthony Powell, Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, and Tom Stoppard.

After the publication of her first books—Rebecca the Lurcher (1973) and The Oldest Road: An Exploration of the Ridgeway (1975), co-authored with J.R.L. Anderson—she was a prolific publisher, working mainly in the landscape tradition to great acclaim and becoming the nation's most well-known landscape photographer. Her early and mature work was informed by the sense of ecological crisis present in late 1970s and 1980s England.

In the 1990s she was offered a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) in Bradford, which pushed her work in the direction of colour and urban documentary.

She also began taking close-ups of natural forms. 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 (ISBN 0953454517), which was distributed from a small local bookshop in her adopted hometown of Hastings in East Sussex.[2]

Published work

The slipcase Rainbow Press 1979 first edition of Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, her book collaboration with poet Ted Hughes, has become highly collectible and fetches several thousand pounds. The book was also published in popular form by Faber and Faber (with poor reproduction of the images), and then re-published by them in 1994 simply as Elmet with a third of the book being new additional poems and photographs. Hughes called the 1994 Elmet the "definitive" edition. Godwin also said, in a 2001 interview, that this was the book she would like to be most remembered for.

In an obituary for The Guardian, art critic Ian Jeffrey called her 1985 book Land (ISBN 0434303054), published by Heinemann, the "book for which she will be most remembered":[4]

Designed by Ken Garland, it is stylish in the classic mode, but what sets Land apart is the care that Fay gave to the combining and sequencing of its pictures. Working with contact prints on a board, she put together a picture of Britain as ancient terrain—stony, windswept and generally worn down by the elements....[a work] in the neo-romantic tradition...[that] gives an oddly desolate account of Britain, as if reporting on a long abandoned country.

Godwin's last major retrospective was at the Barbican Centre, London in 2001. A retrospective book, Landmarks, was published by Dewi Lewis in 2002.[5]

Awards and recognition

Godwin was the subject of a 9 November 1986 documentary, broadcast on The South Bank Show.

She was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 1990 and had a major retrospective at the Barbican Centre in London in 2001.[3]

Personal life

Godwin was born Fay Simmonds in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Sidney Simmonds, a British diplomat who had married Stella MacLean, an American artist. She married publisher Tony Godwin in 1961; the couple had two sons, Jeremy and Nicholas.[2]

Godwin was less active in her final years; in a December 2004 interview for Practical Photography, she blamed "the NHS. They ruined my life by using some drugs with adverse affects that wrecked my heart. The result is that I haven't the energy to walk very far."[6]

Godwin died on 27 May 2005, in Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003."[7]

Godwin's archive, including approximately 11,000 exhibition prints, the entire contents of her studio, and correspondence with some of her subjects, was given to the British Library[3]


  1. ^ Fay Godwin from the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail website
  2. ^ a b c Obituary: Fay Godwin, from The Independent via FindArticles
  3. ^ a b c Fay Godwin archive saved for the nation from the website of the British Library
  4. ^ Fay Godwin: Photographic chronicler of our changing natural world, a May 2005 obituary from The Guardian
  5. ^ Landmarks " photographs by Fay Godwin. from the Dewi Lewis website
  6. ^ No Man's Land – Fay Godwin's last interview, from
  7. ^ Fay Godwin, former President of the Ramblers' Association, has died, from the Ramblers' Association website

External links

  • Searchable Gallery of Fay Godwin images
  • Fay Godwin archive at the British Library
  • Official website
  • Fay Godwin, landscape photographer from BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs
  • Fay Godwin, a June 2003 episode of Woman's Hour from BBC Radio 4 (RealAudio streaming audio available)
  • "Sitting for Fay". 2009-06-30.  
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