Jem Southam

The south coast of England, with its crumbling white cliffs, is both a bulwark against foreign influence and a symbol of the anxiety behind British isolationism. Birling Gap, for instance, is falling into the sea, offering a dramatic metaphor of decline and a stark formal landscape of sea, sky and stone. The landscape is endlessly pictorial. Southam’s photographs are taken with a large-format camera and are highly finished and monumental. At first glance, they fall into the heroic landscape tradition of Ansel Adams. Yet look further and you see that Southam chooses landfalls, rivulets and other emblems of unfixed landscapes, setting up a sense of danger and change at odds with the size and authority of his photographs. His message is less about recording the picturesque or dramatic landscape, and more about capturing nature’s constant metamorphosis.

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