May 2012 Justin Partyka
Our artist for May 2012 is acclaimed photographer Justin Partyka. He will be exhibiting the following work:
“Peggy, Cambridgeshire, 2010” (digital c-type photographic print 25.5 x 35 inches) from the series Black Fen
Black fen they call it round here. Black — for the peaty soil; black — for the mood of the area, for its history and for its future.
— Mary Chamberlain, Fenwomen, 1975
Black Fen is an ongoing series of photographs exploring the mysterious flatlands of the Fens. To drive across this landscape feels like crossing a great sea. The road undulates from the ever-shifting land, tossing the car like a small boat. Occasionally an unpaved drove branches off providing access to a house, farm buildings or fields deep in the middle of the fen. The presence of water is constant.
A complex network of dykes and drains criss-crosses the fields, the murky waters rising and falling as the fenland locks and pumping stations work to prevent the water from taking back the land. All around is an abundance of crops which fight for space with an encroaching wildness of weeds and bushes that grow thick and fast out of the fertile earth. Once a place of swamps and marshes, this landscape exists because of the pioneering work of Cornelius Vermuyden and his fellow Dutch engineers, who in 1626 began draining the fens with the support of King Charles I. Today covering an area of almost 1,500 square miles in Eastern England, the Fens are one of the world’s largest areas of reclaimed land.
About the Artist
Justin (b. 1972) is from the county of Norfolk. He trained as a folklorist at Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada, and in 2001 began a long-term project photographing the agrarian community of East Anglia. Justin’s photographs first received recognition when they were included in the exhibition of British landscape art, “A Picture of Britain” at Tate Britain, 2005. Since then they have been exhibited widely including at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Gainsborough’s House, the Jerwood Space, the Boutographies Photo Festival in Montpellier, France, and most recently at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading.
In 2010 he was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of the book Fenwomen published by Full Circle Editions. Other publications include Granta magazine, the Drawbridge, the Guardian Weekend magazine, and in 2011 the limited edition book of Justin’s long-term project Field Work: Photographs from East Anglia.
Photographs from the series Black Fen are available as limited edition prints in two sizes as follows:
17.6 x 24 inches – edition of 7: £395
25.5 x 35 inches – edition of 5: £795
Prints are digital c-type on Fuji Crystal Archive professional paper. They are available mounted and framed at additional cost.
‘Fenwomen’ by Mary Chamberlain is a classic work of oral history, recently updated and featuring photographs by Justin Partyka. It was the first book by the feminist publisher Virago Press in 1975, and is a unique documentary of women’s lives in the village of Isleham in the Cambridgeshire Fens. It tells the story of “women as labourers and labourers’ wives, whose daily toil for the survival of themselves and their families had never been acknowledged, much less lauded.”
This new edition of the book by Full Circle Editions features 23 new photographs by Justin Partyka specially commissioned for this publication. Taken in and around Isleham during 2010, these photographs present a portrait of the village over thirty years since the oral history was originally collected. Much has changed in the village, but as these photographs reveal, Isleham’s strong sense of place is still intimately shaped by the mysterious flat fenlands that surround it.