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One of the most significant photographers working in Britain today, Jem Southam creates photographic narratives of landscape transformed by time and humans. Upton Pyne chronicles the evolution of a small pond, the result of industrial waste on the site of a former manganese mine near his home in Cornwall, England. The artist describes the series as a “collection of histories,” which he gathered during regular visits to the pond during 1996-2003. The photographs detail a very particular place and the passing of time. They also address broader concerns about the relationship between humans and the natural world, from questions about the environment to debates on urbanization. Fundamentally, Southam’s work meditates on the human longing for an Arcadian past.
The series is structured in the three parts. The first follows the efforts of one neighbor, who strove to transform the pond into his own notion of Eden, replete with fish, trees, flowers, and benches for contemplation. After three years he suddenly stopped and the pond once again fell into disuse. Part two sees another resident take over, this time with the goal of making it into a suburban-style leisure area, including picnic tables, swing-sets and plastic ornaments. In the final segment, Southam stands at the pond’s edges and turns his camera out, connecting the pond and viewers of the photographs with the surrounding landscape.
Jem Southam: Upton Pyne is funded by the Linda Wyatt Gruber (Class of 1966) Photography Fund, Elizabeth Bein Keto ’48 Endowed Memorial Art Fund, the Wellesley College Art Department, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Wellesley College co-sponsors include the Botanic Gardens and Environmental Studies Program.