A world-renowned landscape photographer has revealed highly valuable trade secrets to photography enthusiasts in Cornwall.
Jem Southam, who has had his work displayed in galleries across Europe, the USA and the UK, including the V & A museum in London, visited Cornwall College Camborne to deliver an inspiring and enlightening presentation to a packed audience of art students and tutors.
The event was held as part of the Groundwork project, a two year contemporary arts programme, supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence scheme and managed by Cornish arts organisation CAST.
Organised by Teresa Gleadowe the chair of CAST (Cornubian Arts & Science Trust) based in Helston, she said Groundworks “is a marvellous project bringing international arts and artists to Cornwall”.
“We wanted to work with education providers, especially Cornwall College as they have an exceptional reputation for arts provision,” she continued.
“So far we have brought not only Jem to talk to the students, but we’ve also seen Richard Wentworth and Abigail Reynolds”.
Jem has been involved in photography since the sixties, with his love for taking pictures blooming in his early twenties when he decided to go walkabout in the UK, walking back from Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the Scottish borders to his home in Bristol.
He said he believed at the time that in order to take great pictures you had to immerse yourself into the world you wanted to capture.
“I remember walking back with my brother who decided to come with me on this rather epic trail, that I totally believed you had to be engrossed in the landscape, to be part of it and to have many experiences in order to get the best photographs,” he explained to the audience.
“After a few weeks on the road, or footpath my brother decided he’d had enough so I soldiered on alone, the trip taking me several months to complete, carrying everything I needed and sleeping under the stars, but still under this impression that you had to be at one with nature and I was going to give my all.”
The story behind Jem’s mammoth journey was accompanied by photographs that he took on his adventure, showcasing his now familiar images of wooded landscapes.
“I spent many years thinking my methodology was right and in the end it actually stopped me from taking pictures, then one day I saw an old oil painting of a hay landscape and in it was a little figure in the corner and this got me thinking that actually you don’t need to spend days or weeks out and about, all you need to do is take local walks and see what’s right on your doorstep.”
This was Jem’s eureka moment and one which would change his life forever and it was that realisation of great pictures can be found at the bottom of your garden and not the other side of the world, that Jem really wanted to impart to the audience.
Lisa Mortensen, Curriculum Lead, Art & Design Cornwall College Camborne commented, “We are delighted to be part of this arts project which is giving our students the opportunity to work with international speakers. Having the artists here in person gives a much more real and authentic experience to our students and I hope that they will recognise some of the themes that drive our guest speakers”.
Part of the presentation was to see the equipment that Jem uses to capture his remarkable images. Mainly working on a 10 x 8 plate camera which is like a large Victorian three legged camera, Jem uses everything from a digital SLR to an iPad.
Jem explained how he develops his work, “Well I start with a photograph, I take a photograph of something that interests me and then I try and find out why it interested me. And so this leads to another picture and another and my works always start from a single picture and then they grow organically. I’ve got no vision when I begin how it’s going to end up and the projects could last a week or it could last five years, but they grow and as they grow they take shape and they form, so it’s allowing the photography and the pictures to lead you rather than an idea”.
Lisa concluded, “We have an outstanding art provision offering courses in all major art disciplines and we have a very special relationship with Falmouth University. Having access to incredible artists enhances the student experience and can often provide inspiration to develop additional interests and passions. We look forward to working with CAST on many new projects”.