Skip to Main Content

Clouds Descending - Jem Southam

John Grimshaw, Sustrans President
officially opens coastal exhibition

Exhibition at The Lowry:
Clouds Descending

Sat 15 November 2008 – Sun 22 March 2009

John Grimshaw, Founder and Director of Sustrans, the UK's leading sustainable transport charity, will demonstrate his knowledge of the Cumbrian coast, the subject matter of The Lowry’s latest exhibition, when he speaks at the official opening on Wednesday 12 November.

Commissioned by The Lowry, leading landscape photographer Jem Southam has been re-tracing Lowry's footsteps along the Cumbrian coastline, resulting in a remarkable series of images, focusing on the remnants of the area’s long and significant industrial past.

Like LS Lowry, Jem has been observing and recording the industrial landscapes and harbour towns of this area, in particular Maryport, Whitehaven, Workington, Sellafield and Barrow. His trademark patient observation of changes over many months or years, means that he slowly develops an intimate knowledge of the site, capturing the marks of time (both industrial and natural) embedded in his chosen terrain.

Renowned for photographing the ever changing aspects of the English landscape, Jem uses a large format camera to produce C-type prints from 8 x 10 inch negatives that record a high level of detail. When the pictures are enlarged from the negatives, under supervision at a commercial lab, they reveal an entrancing wealth of information. Others are 'contact printed' (placing the negative directly onto the photographic paper) by Southam himself, deliberately to achieve a contrasting intensity and intimacy.

Jem has taken various contributors in a range of different specialist fields on walks with him to the sites that he has been photographing and asked them to make a response to the place which will also be shown in the exhibition. These include Lindsay Brooks, an expert on LS Lowry and Richard Hamblyn - a popular science writer who is interested in geology and place and author of The Invention of Clouds and The Cloud Book. Nick Alfrey, an art historian who works closely with cultural geographers shared with Jem his intimate knowledge of how artists have informed our understanding of the landscape. Other contributors are Harriet Tarlo, a contemporary poet who is interested in landscape and environment and David Chandler, curator and critic. Jem also walked with his brother Matt Southam, an ornithologist, to gain further insights into the area.

The walks and conversations with this range of contributors all helped to inform Jem's work as he observes the balance between nature and man's intervention, tracing cycles of decay and renewal. Southam's working method means that he combines topographical observation with other references: personal, cultural, political, scientific, literary and psychological.

Clouds Descending, the name of the exhibition came from a Wesleyan hymn reference to the Second Coming, Christ descending from the sky. For Jem, however, it also refers to both the oppressive nature of Lowry’s skies weighing heavy on the figures in his work and also the sense of decline and abandonment of the coast he has been focusing on.

Due to Jem’s intensive working method, Southam rarely accepts commissions and has almost exclusively focused on the landscape of the South West of England where he lives and works. Jem is Professor of Photography at the University of Plymouth. However, The Lowry managed to interest Southam in producing this new body of work examining the industrial landscape along the North West coast. This unique exhibition initiated by The Lowry involved commissioning Jem Southam especially for this project which started in 2006. This exhibition is supported by Gulbenkian.

Clouds Descending is one of two unique photography exhibitions showing at The Lowry this Autumn. A Long Exposure: 100 Years of Guardian Photography (18 Oct 08 - 1 Mar 09) celebrates some of the most memorable picture stories from the newspaper’s seven staff photographers since 1908.

Posted on Tuesday, 04 November 2008 under News Galleries News


The Lowry is a private limited company registered in England and Wales (no. 3255905) and a registered charity (no. 1053962).