Jem Southam (born 1950) is one of the key landscape photographers of the last twenty years. Using a 10 x 8in plate camera, Southam photographs the ever changing aspects of the English landscape, his images reveal his on-going fascination with the landscape of the South West of England. His work plays with the idea of the 'spell' cast by the act of observation, and celebrates the photographic image.
For Tate St Ives, the artist was commissioned to investigate the Cornish Clay Country mines. The landscape created through the excavation of English China clay by Imerys in St Austell has a dark, mysterious and surreal beauty. Stretching along the moor land area between the A30 and St Austell, the enigmatic qualities of this industrial landscape and its surrounding historic communities have interested Southam for sometime. In this new series of work the artist's measured gaze penetrates the heartland of the 'Cornish Alps', exploring the spatial potential of this artificial landmass and the consequences of its perpetual flux.
Southam's detailed panoramas capture the marks of time embedded in his chosen terrain. Over a period of months, often years, he photographs in specific weather conditions. The results of his objective focus, presented in a series of monumental photographs, present a narrative at the meeting point of both natural and social histories. Operating within the artistic traditions of the Western landscape and American and German photography, Southam searches for the archetypal vista, which reveals more about humanity than simply shifting geological strata.