/12 River

Jem Southam

The Red River

The Red River comprises a sequence of 50 photographs that follows a small stream in the West of Cornwall from its source to the sea. It travels from moorland, through areas of small scale farming, tin mining and urban communities to the tourist beaches on the coast. The whole river valley and been extensively mined for tin and copper ore over hundreds of years and it is the extractions of water from the mine and its use to crush ore that stains the river red. The work started as a result of stumbling on a tiny red stream while Jem Southam was walking his dog in the area which is not far from his home, and continued over a period of six years. It began as a series of ‘topographic’ views but increasing dissatisfaction with the sense of detachment of this strategy lead to a more intimate and varied approach. The Red River is broken into seven sections, an introductory topographic view depicts the configuration of the valley. Other photographs describe the surface of the land, the homes and gardens of its inhabitants and the cultures of animal husbandry, plant horticulture, mining and tourism that have historically shaped the landscape. The work is also intended as an allegorical journey through a series of myths that have historically influenced our perception of the land.

Documentary Dilemmas Aspects of British Documentary Photography 1983-1993, The British Council 1994