Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Ray and Fay

I'm amazed, and slightly ashamed, to discover that I have not once mentioned the name of Raymond Moore and only glancingly referred to the name of Fay Godwin in the two years of this blog's life. I'm not the only one; Ray and Fay seem to have dropped off the map in recent years. But, to anyone who knows what they're talking about, Raymond Moore and Fay Godwin are, in their different ways, arguably the most influential figures in British photography of the last 40 years.

Fay Godwin was and is considerably better known to the wider public than Raymond Moore; she, after all, did do Desert Island Discs, and he did not. Her work as a "right to roam" activist and president of the Rambler's Association brought her to prominence in a country that, rightly, values walking as an an activity over making or looking at art photography. She is clearly coming back up on the wheel of fortune: the National Media Museum, Bradford has an exhibition currently: Fay Godwin: Land Revisited, 15 October 2010 - 27 March 2011. Raymond Moore, by contrast, has more or less fallen off the wheel altogether.

If you can accept the idea of the world as an array of overlapping sets (Venn diagrams, if you can remember those), then the overlap between the sets of those who liked Fay and those who liked Ray was crucial in the 1970s and 80s. That was where the interesting stuff was happening, for example at Duckspool workshops or in the pages of Creative Camera. The sets left of Ray included the darkly austere work of Thomas Joshua Cooper, climbing into the high, conceptualist territory where the likes of Victor Burgin and John Goto roamed; to the right of Fay was the monochrome sublime of John Blakemore, falling off rapidly to the lower, populist ground of "golden hour" landscapes and sunsets. In the middle, in that overlap, was where the action was -- see those wonderful volumes / time capsules, the Creative Camera International Yearbooks, published 1975-79. Though what would have happened if the leftermost conceptual set had ever been forced to overlap with the rightermost pictorialist set is the stuff of theoretical physics.


Not by Fay or by Ray, but by me.
(we don't mess with copyright on this site)

Fay's work is easy to "get", but well seen, often witty, beautifully composed and printed, and above all celebratory of the British landscape you see once you have got your boots on and left the car park behind. It's all about looking for "right place, right time". A photographer in the Godwin mould might tramp the hills or the coast for hours, waiting to plant a tripod like an explorer's flag on a mountain top. She makes you want to get out there with the hillforts and pillboxes and large white clouds. The best of her photographs return you to the real landscape of footpaths in sheep-gnawed grass and rabbit droppings, not to some absurdly-coloured confection made with a graduated filter.

Everyone should own a copy of her book Land, published in 1985. It is an impeccably designed and sequenced book, from the Big Bang of the photo book boom. Her collaboration with Ted Hughes, Remains of Elmet, is also a classic. A personal favourite is The Drovers' Roads of Wales (1977, text by Shirley Toulson, photos by Godwin), as that was the landscape where the Prof and I first deepened our acquaintance and which we revisit every Easter, and that book was our guide (and in fact the book that turned me on to photography).

Ray Moore's photographs are more difficult to "get" -- impenetrable to some -- but are the work of an underrated genius. Seriously: he's up there with Josef Koudelka and William Eggleston, for me. His work is the very definition of my distinction between photographs made "from" rather than "of" their subject matter (see this old post). He has a personal language of tone and shape and line which he finds expressed most frequently in those scruffy, marginal "landscapes" that occur where the urban and industrial worlds shade into the natural world, or what is left of it. A mood of rapt melancholy pervades them. A photographer from the Moore camp mooches around the edges of caravan sites and car parks with a hand-held camera, looking for moments of sublime synchronicity which will pull everything together. It is not surprising that dogs, happily sniffing a trail through puddles and debris, figure so frequently in his images.

Everyone should own a copy of his book Murmurs At Every Turn, published in 1981. But, first, find yourself one. I have spent a lot of time tracking down copies of the printed Moore oeuvre. All out of print, all very scarce. Tragically, his photographic archive has also apparently ended up in limbo, having failed to find a buyer at Sotheby's (see this blog post). As far as I know, there has not been a single exhibition of his work since he died in 1987, and there is no retrospective volume of his work in process anywhere. This is unforgivably shameful, given his standing in British photography, and given the amount of money spent by wealthy know-nothings on derivative photographs at the flashy end of the spectrum.


Also not by Fay or Ray (but quite Late Godwin-ish).
I've been reviewing my "university windows" series and,
boy, have I got some stuff to show you...

14 comments:

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Mike, Thanks for the introduction to Ray and Fay, and the very insightful essay on them.
__________________
Bron

http://frame-notes.blogspot.com/

http://bronislausjanulis.com/Site/Home.html

Bronislaus Janulis said...

P.S.

Also insightful about you as an artist.

Bron

Mike C. said...

Why, thanks, Bron, on both counts -- that's very kind.

The situation with Ray Moore is nothing short of scandalous, and there's something very odd going on when an acknowledged master and mentor is allowed to fade from sight. Who knows what, though?

N.B. I see your "snow monster" is putting our little sprinkling into perspective. Stay warm!

And, folks, remember to over-expose by 2 stops in the snow! It's not as bright as your meter thinks it is.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Mike,

I've come full circle; when I was far more SERIOUS about photography, I mostly used an unmetered Pentax, which allowed a concentration on composition, and I do the same now by letting the camera do it's thing. Mostly, now, I paint, but Ray Moore hit me in the face with some of the things I was trying to do with a camera, as a young artist about town.

Very important, that "from" rather than "of".

And, after many years of involvement in the "art" world, it still muddles my brain ...

Mike C. said...

It can be a very inspiring thing, to go back in time and revisit what it was that got you fired up originally, even if both you and it have inevitably been transformed by the passage of time.

Only yesterday, I nearly exhausted myself flinging myself around the kitchen listening to the Led Zeppelin track "Rock and Roll" -- I'd forgotten how instantly that music can short circuit my lizard brain and turn me into arm-waving seventeen-year-old fool... Damn, that was fun.

"Been a long time", indeed... Raymond Moore does something similar, but rather quieter, for me. I take out "Murmurs at Every Turn" once or twice a year, and remember why I thought this was worth doing in the first place.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis said...

My education was a three foot stack of Aperture Magazine, from one of my early "Bosses, mentors". It was important enough, that I passed the stack onto another young photographer. One of the benefits of age is a more considered "it doesn't matter" attitude; specially towards sales and making a living.

Just remember the proper breakfast after an evening "flinging oneself about the kitchen", ibuprofen, mass quanities.

Mike C. said...

Ow, you're right, my shoulder hurts...

Some day, I must sit down in a library which has a solid back run of Aperture (we don't) and spend a day or two with it. I'm told the pre-80s issues are a revelation, but have never had the opportunity to check it out. I own a couple of nice ones, and some of those compendiums Minor White put together (I don't like them, much).

A magazine to check out if you ever get a chance is Blind Spot -- the first few years are sensational.

Mike

Frank Harkin said...

Mike

I didn't know about Ray Moore but I followed your link and had a look. I totally agree with you - there are some of the best photos I have seen and I will be returning to look again and again. Thanks for the link

Kent Wiley said...

Thanks for the heads up, Mike. I too find Ray very much to my liking. Fay I'm less certain about, at least looking online. Sigh... such a mediocre way to look at photographs.

Kent Wiley said...

Oh, BTW - Isn't the first photo of the graduation tent? Does your university have a ceremony coming up, or is this an old pic? (Just nosy...)

Mike C. said...

Wow, you have been paying attention, Kent -- you're absolutely right, that is indeed the graduation tent. I've been working on my "Mirrors, Windows, Walls" series, and -- as usually happens -- spotting good things I hadn't spotted first time through.

Actually, we do have a winter graduation, too, these days, as we're pumping so many kids through the degree factory that the logistics have exploded.

Yes, Fay Godwin has dated in a curious way, I think (though her prints are magnificent seen for real). She was a good, original and influential photographer (though the hand of Bill Brandt can be seen in her work), but Raymond Moore was a genius. Trust me, a copy of "Murmurs at Every Turn" is worth whatever it costs (there are a few decently priced paperback copies on abebooks right now, though hardbacks are always 200 - 300 dollars).

Reminds me that, one day, I must investigate the story behind Travelling Light (who published Murmurs) -- pretty much everything they published was gold.

Mike

Gavin McL said...

Well my photo education continues. Thanks for this article, after a few searches I've pushed the button (is that neologism allowed) on a couple of Fay Godwin books and the Ray Moore book - murmurs at every turn. I have a postcard of FG 's photo of Meal Mearg in Glencoe. I loved the fact that it didn't have a boulder or a stunted tree in the foreground but i'd never had the wit to turn the postcard round and find the name of the photographer. Thanks again and I look forward to more windows. I preffered the second photo. The jungle feel is interesting. Gavin

Mike C. said...

You won't regret it, Gavin -- I trust you didn't go for the hardback?? (I bought mine 20 years ago...).

Actually, I'm enjoying turning people on to good photographers -- a post on the amazing Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti coming up soon.

Mike

Gavin McL said...

Strictly paperback.

Did avoid the one in "average" condition though.

Looking forward to the Finn.

Gavin