Jem Southam (born 1950) is one of the most critically respected British landscape photographers working today. Celebrated for his important contribution to colour photography in Britain, Southam documents subtle changes in the landscape in relation to the passage of time.
Born in Bristol in 1950 Jem Southam studied at the London College of Printing for a Higher Diploma in Creative Photography from 1969 to 1972. Beginning in the 1970s, he began documenting the landscape of the South West of England, patiently and thoughtfully recording changes at a single location over periods of months or years. His richly detailed works document subtle changes and transitions of the landscape, allowing him to explore cycles of life and death through spring and winter, and also to reveal the subtlest of human interventions in the natural landscape. His work is characterised by its balance of poetry and lyricism within a documentary practice.
Working exclusively in series, he has produced several bodies of work, including The Raft of Carrots, The Shape of Time: Rockfalls, Rivermouths, Ponds, The River – Winter, The Painter’s Pool, Upton Pyne and The Red River. Southam’s early and seminal body of work The Red River (1982-1987) followed a small stream in the West of Cornwall from source to sea, documenting the legacy of tin mining on the river’s valley and the people who live there. The Moth (2018), revisits sites from The Red River made almost two decades earlier. Inspired by the old English poems ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘The Seafarer’, the series moves freely between interior and exterior, from sweeping vistas to quiet, overlooked details of rural life.
Southam has held solo exhibitions at The Photographers' Gallery, London, Tate St Ives, and The Victoria & Albert Museum, London. His work is held in many important collections, including those of the Rijksmuseum, Museum Folkwang, the Yale Centre for British Art and the The Victoria & Albert Museum. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Photography at the University of Plymouth.
Stories from the archive
Recently Jem Southam has been spending time beginning to organise his archive, locating original prints, putting them in archival sleeves, scanning negatives and so on. While doing this, he has rediscovered images with strong associated stories. Click on the linked pages to see some of the stories from his archive.