Not on display
- Jem Southam born 1950
- Photograph, C-print on paper
- Image: 905 × 1067 mm
- Presented by Michael and Jane Wilson in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota (Tate Americas Foundation) 2017, accessioned 2021
This is one of four works in Tate’s collection from Jem Southam’s series Upton Pyne (see Tate L03982–L03985). These large-format colour photographs were taken with a large-format view camera which produces 8 x 10 inch (205 x 255 mm) negatives that record a high level of detail. The photographs have been printed to a dimension of 914 x 1080 millimetres in editions of eight; Tate’s copy of December 2000 is number one in the edition. The images depict four different views of a pond on the edge of the small rural village of Upton Pyne, near Exeter in Devon, in the South West England. The titles of the four photographs indicate the date at which they were taken: March 2000, December 2000, January 2001 and February 2001. They are part of a larger series depicting a pond set within in a sparsely built-up landscape. In the four photographs the sky is of a similar, uniform grey. A few houses and sheds dot the surroundings, while the shores of the pond have been transformed into a sort of suburban garden, with planted vegetation, plastic garden furniture, flowerbeds, wooden benches and other plastic ornaments. Where January 2001 offers a view of the pond surrounded by trees, with little evidence of human intervention, December 2000 provides a more desolate depiction of a neglected site, surrounded by vehicles and cheaply constructed buildings.
The pond in these images is not natural, but a water-filled pit resulting from manganese mining. Over the course of many years, the pond and its surroundings were shaped by a number of individuals who intervened in the landscape – some in destructive ways, turning the pond into a pit, and others in more constructive ways, building benches and adding other ornamental features. Southam’s photographs, taken in series over several years, chart the subtle balance between natural processes and human intervention and the cycles of decay and renewal. Habitually using a large-format plate camera, Southam photographs the ever-changing aspects of the English landscape. His images reveal his ongoing fascination with the landscape of the South West of England, where he lives and works. These images – and those taken at Brampford Speke, a nearby Devonshire village (see Tate L03980–L03981) – reflect his trademark approach, in the patient observation of changes at a single location over an extended period of time.
Southam’s photography is at least partially indebted to the work of American photographer William Eggleston (born 1939), in the decision to abandon black and white in favour of colour photography, experimenting with different materials and techniques in order to render colour in a deliberate way. His work also relates to that of other British artists working in colour photography in the 1980s, such as Keith Arnatt and Paul Graham, who rejected the traditional practice of representing the natural landscape as idyllic choosing instead to focus on its constructed status. Southam’s pictures are mostly the result of long, regular walks in the countryside of southwest England. His first walks, in the mid-1970s, were partly inspired by the work of the Land artist Richard Long (born 1945), as well as by the writing of the poet and novelist Laurie Lee (1914–1997) who, in Cider with Rosie (1959), chronicles traditional rural life in an English village. Since then, Southam has continued to experience the English landscape in a slow way, mostly working in series and taking photographs of specific sites, which he gradually becomes attached to, over a number of years. The gradually assembled body of work is a response to a slow absorption and intimate knowledge of the site, a feeling of kinship with it, developed through visits and acquired knowledge, often through conversations with people who live in the area. In Southam’s words: ‘My overall artistic intentions are to make work that explores how our history, our memory, and our systems of knowledge combine to influence our responses to the places we inhabit, visit, create, and dream of.’ (Quoted in Schuman 2005, accessed August 2014.)
His practice has involved making extended studies of selected sites, often in proximity to water. Aware of the complexity of those landscapes, picturesque and yet inscribed with the traces of human construction and destruction, the land is to the artist the site of inscription of complex negotiations not just between man and nature, but between individuals’ contrasting desires and the different facets and cycles of nature. Yet his depiction of human interventions is mostly subtle and oblique. Southam has stated: ‘I eschew grandeur for the sake of it, preferring to revel in a subtler scale and history. But there’s still an epic history to be told, which exists whenever humans have made their homes.’ (Ibid.)
Gerry Badger, ‘Some Stories in Search of an Ending, The Narrative Landscapes of Jem Southam’, in Gerry Badger, Andy Grundberg and Jem Southam, Landscape Stories: Jem Southam, Princeton 2005, n.p., illustrated.
Aaron Schuman, ‘Landscape Stories: An Interview with Jem Southam’, SeeSaw, February 2005, <http://www.seesawmagazine.com/southam_pages/southam_interview.html>, accessed 27 August 2014.
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