Jem Southam was born in Bristol in 1950. He studied at the London College of Printing for a Higher Diploma in Creative Photography from 1969 to 1972. Beginning in the 1970s, Southam 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 Southam 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 characterized 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.
His 2012 series The River – Winter investigated how the concept of winter is embedded in society’s shared imagination. The series traced the passage of a single winter, following the path of the river Exe and its tributaries in Devon. 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.