The British Library

Fay Godwin Archive

Fay Godwin Image

In 2008 The British Library acquired the archive of the celebrated photographer Fay Godwin (1931 - 2005).

 

Renowned for her stunning black and white landscape photographs of the British countryside and coast, Godwin also produced an extensive series of portraits of literary figures including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Drabble, Tom Stoppard and the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, with whom she collaborated on the acclaimed 1979 book, Remains of Elmet.

The archive includes the entire contents of Godwin's studio: negatives, contact sheets and exhibition prints (around 11,000 prints in total), as well as correspondence with some of her sitters including Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Doris Lessing.

Fay Godwin had no formal training, but became interested in photography through family snaps. She went on to produce portraits of well known writers, photographing almost every significant literary figure in 1970s and 1980s England, as well as numerous visiting foreign authors.

 

Her sitters included Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie, Ted Hughes, Margaret Drabble, Tom Stoppard, Saul Bellow, Günter Grass, Anthony Powell, Edna O'Brien, Clive James, Jean Rhys and Angela Carter. These photographs were mostly taken in the sitters' own homes, offering a tantalising glimpse into their personal lives and working environments. Her collection of writers' portraits provides an illuminating insight into British literary society of the late 20th century.

Ted Hughes image

Her love of walking eventually inspired her to pursue landscape photography, often photographing isolated and remote areas of the British landscape and producing many beautiful pastoral scenes as well as contrasting urban landscapes. President of the Ramblers' Association from 1987 to 1990, she was also renowned for her work as an environmentalist, her interest reflected in many of her best-known images that examine the complex relationships and tensions between man and nature.

Fay Godwin image
Fay Godwin Image
Fay Godwin Image

In 1978 Godwin was awarded a major Arts Council Bursary to enable her to continue her landscape work in the distant parts of Scotland. Her work appears in many public and private collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Council, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Stanford Museum of Art and the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield. At the beginning of 1984 a collection of her work began a world tour by the British Council, the first collection of photographs to be toured by their fine art department. In 1987 she was made a Fellow of the National Museum of Photography and in 1990 received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society. In 2002 the Barbican Centre mounted a major retrospective exhibition, Landmarks and Godwin was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts at De Montfort University in 2002. Fay died in May 2005, aged 74.

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