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.
London-based collectors Claire and James Hyman have donated 125 photographs to the Yale Center for British Art, gifting key works by leading figures in British photographic history – including Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, Roger Mayne, Tony Ray-Jones, Martin Parr, Chris Killip and Anna Fox – to the 44-year-old institution in New Haven in the US. It’s a move that could be interpreted as a damning indictment of UK institutions’ commitment to collecting British photography – particularly as, the last time BJP caught up with James Hyman (our May 2015 issue), he said building such collections has been “left to private individuals, and it shouldn’t have been”. In the same interview Hyman also singled out Birmingham Library and its curator of photography collections Peter James for praise – yet in the intervening time, both the photography archive and James’ job have fallen victim to funding cuts. But Hyman says the donation should be viewed in a positive light as evidence of the growing interest in British photography abroad – an interest which may spark more commitment in the UK.
“It’s got nothing to do with Brexit or Europe!” says curator Greg Hobson. “I think we can’t begin to understand that yet. It’s just being addressed by photographers now. We’re discussing the exhibition A Green and Pleasant Land – British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now, which he’s curated with Brian Cass, head of exhibitions at Towner Art Gallery, and which recently opened at the Towner. Including over 100 works by 50 artists (52 if you count the people in duos separately), it’s a major survey of the land we live on and how photographers have shown it, including image-makers such as John Blakemore, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Fay Godwin, John Davies, Paul Graham, and Theo Simpson.