Jem Southam: The Long White Cloud


I recently visited the Huxley-Parlour Gallery in Mayfair to view the Jem Southam exhibition called ‘The Long White Cloud’.

Unfortunately the exhibition has now finished, I didn't get to see it until quite late on in the run so I didn't have enough time to write this post in time to encourage you to go and see it, sorry.

When I read about this mini project by Jem it seemed to be quite different from most of the work I know and love from him. I also watched this nice little interview that Martin Parr did with him and was interested to hear that he is now shooting with a digital camera and I guess that this series is shot on digital. It’s interesting to hear his thoughts on this and how a busy year with film could mean making 50 photographs in a year for him, but with digital he might make 50 in a morning, which is still about 500 less than most people!

You can watch that interview here:

This video marks the launch of a brand new series by the Martin Parr Foundation, Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr. In this series, Martin talks photography with those passing through the Foundation in Bristol. For the first Sofa Session, Martin Parr is joined by leading British landscape photographer Jem Southam.

Be sure to subscribe to the Martin Parr Foundation YouTube channel.

Anyway, back to to this body of work.
This is the bio and statement from Huxley-Parlour

13 February – 9 March 2019

Huxley-Parlour are pleased to announce an exhibition of new works by Jem Southam, perhaps the most important British landscape photographer working today. In 2018, after a lifetime of making work in the South West of Britain, Southam made his first overseas trip to produce his latest body of work in New Zealand. The works in the exhibition are the result of a six-week journey around the North and South Islands, and have never been exhibited before.

These new photographs build and expand on themes that Southam has explored throughout his forty-year career. They show his continued fascination with the subtleties of colour, with reflection and transience, and with the effects of the shifting seasons and weather on the landscape. Southam’s work is characterised by its balance of poetry and lyricism within a documentary practice. His photographs present a sociological and physiological investigation into the landscape, touching on man’s intervention in nature, and the cycle of decay and renewal.

Influenced by tales of New Zealand’s discovery by seafaring Polynesians, in The Long White Cloud Southam focuses on bodies of water found on the island.The series took him to Milford Sound and Mount Cook where he documented the watery landscapes enveloped by a huge variety of atmospheres and conditions. The resulting large-scale photographs document the country’s lakes, rivers and dramatic waterfalls, with Southam gaining inspiration from the constant and seamless cycle of matter, from air to water to cloud and vapour, and back again. Exploring notions of the sublime in the varied natural landscapes of New Zealand, these photographs accentuate the connections between the drama of nature to the inherent mythologies of the land.

‘Aeoteroa’, or ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’, was the name given to the North Island of New Zealand when the Maori navigators first saw signs of the new land in the formations of drawn out strands of cloud spreading across the horizon. It is the dynamic at the heart of this apparition that these pictures aim to explore. The remarkably rich and varied physical profusion of landforms of New Zealand apprehended and made manifest through the momentary shifts of light and the weather. – Jem Southam

Born in Bristol in 1950, Jem Southam’s work is housed in major collections including Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum Folkwang, Essen; and the Yale Center for British Art, Newhaven. His work has been the subject of numerous international solo exhibitions notably Tate St Ives (2004), V&A Museum, London (2006) and The Lowry, Salford (2009).

I’ll admit that when I first saw some of the images online from this series they didn’t do that much for me, but I wanted to see them in the flesh and I’m glad I did, as this really changed my mind on them.

Yes they are different from his usual work, they seem more spontaneous to me than previous work, perhaps if indeed they are digital, this could be the reason?!

Seeing them printed large and displayed beautifully is just a wonderful way to enjoy work like this, the photographs definitely spoke more to me after seeing them exhibited. You really do see the themes that we are used to in his work, but with a slightly more spontaneous approach and of course a different image ratio.

The prints were offered for sale in signed editions of 7, the cost of which went up as the edition sells through. Some were sold out and some were still available, if I had that sort of cash I might even of been tempted, but £3,500-£4,500 was well out of my reach. One day perhaps I will be lucky enough to own a print.

I think this body of work shows his range and I’m excited to see what he produces next.