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Potent chemistry

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Fay Godwin: Alchemy - Recent Colour Works At the Penny School Gallery, Kingston College, 55 Richmond Road, Kingston-upon-Thames until 17 November

The name of Fay Godwin will be familiar to anyone with an interest in a committed approach to landscape photography. From her first book, Remains of Elmet (1979), a collaboration with the poet Ted Hughes, to the wonderful Edge of the Land (1995), with its celebration of the British coastline in all its quirkiness and variety, she has established a unique reputation.

With the publication of Glassworks and Secret Lives in 1998, however, Godwin's work, now in colour, explored new territory; indicated by the fact that she was driven to publishing it herself.

Given her standing and the success of her earlier books, this is a rebuke to the conservatism and parsimony of the artistic publishing industry.But this beautiful little book only gives a clue to the stunning exhibition at Kingston's Penny School Gallery, where many of the images, together with more recent work, can be seen full size.

Of the show's title, 'Alchemy', curator Rosemary Williams explains: 'Fay is a true alchemist: her photographs are symbioses of the structure and geometry of the subject, coupled with her delight in the fusion of elements of light, wind, water and fire, all captured with the chemistry of photography. The results are images with a provocative, spiritual and ethereal presence.'

I would further suggest that this recent departure includes memories and reflections from the history of photographic art, recapturing the fascination of the earliest colour studies - Louis Ducos du Hauron's leaves of 1869, the various Autochromes of the early 1900s - as well as the later, intense New Objectivity, where Piet Zwart's study of a cabbage takes on a quite unexpected quality.Godwin's view of the humble red chard as a crimson forest appears to realise the Surrealist dream of transforming the everyday.

Sometimes, also, there is a layering of compressed or expanded space that, with its use of translucent screening elements, indicates an architectural sensibility.The depth and richness of this recent work, product of an intense camera eye, must surely be an outcome of her inspiring struggle against potentially life-threatening illness; in Nietzsche's words: 'What does not kill me, makes me stronger.'

A selection of earlier black-and-white prints is on sale at the gallery, alongside these new colour prints and Godwin's last two books. Next summer the full compass of her work can be seen in a retrospective at the Barbican Gallery.

David Wild is an architect in London

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