Bristol Photo Festival is happy to announce the upcoming exhibitions in collaboration with the Royal West Academy, both originally planned for the first edition of the festival in 2020 but covid and RWA building works caused the delay to now. Its going to be exciting to finally see it come to fruition.

Jem Southam, A bend in the river © Jem Southam

A Bend in the River by Jem Southam @jemsoutham displays a series of photographs documenting subtle changes in the environment over time, following the movements of swans in two parts: representing arrival (at dusk) and departure (at dawn). These images were taken at a particular spot on a riverbank in the South West of England where Southam became lost in contemplation one December evening. He returned to the same spot each day during the rest of the winter. Over the following five years between 2015-2020 Southam continued creating series in the same location. The ever-changing surface of the water, passing clouds, trees waving in the breeze, ducks gliding across the river and swans flying to roost caught Southam’s attention and what began as a passing digital photo led to a powerful ongoing series of deeply affecting photography.

Jem Southam, A bend in the river © Jem Southam

The gathering of swans became a particular inspiration leading to the second part of the series Swan Winter which draws on northern European myth and Scandinavian folklore. Curiosity instigated a shift in the timing of Southam’s visits and he began heading to the river at dawn in search of where the groups of swans spent the night. Eventually, they swam into view in the half-light. Southam captures these dimly lit scenes with a haunting other-worldly quality, illuminating what is barely visible to the naked eye.

Southam’s use of a Sony digital camera in this series marks a departure from his usual preference for the large-format camera. It allowed him to experiment with a range of new opportunities unavailable in more traditional modes, pushing exposure values to the extreme.

A Bend in the River series is shown in full together with selected works from other series created at the same riverbank over the following years including The Wintry HeavensForty Dawns and The Flooded Pool. In these Southam’s attention turns towards the skies, the changes in light at daybreak and more distant, broader views of the riverside.

Jem Southam, A bend in the river © Jem Southam

Interspersed across Southam’s photographs is a curated selection of artworks that have inspired him and complement his practice. For example, pieces by artists such as JMW Turner, John Constable and John Leigh-Pemberton; illustrators of popular natural history books; and artists who worked for publications such as Ladybird and Shell. 

Alongside Jem’s exhibition the RWA Photo Open celebrates contemporary photographic practice in all its forms. This Open Call exhibition invited submissions from artists and photographers, at any stage of their careers, who create photographic work or explore the nature of photography in their work. Our former director Tracy Marshall-Grant @tracymarshallgrant1 has been part of the jury panel alongside acclaimed artist-photographers like Jem Southam, Amak Mahmoodian @amak_mahmoodian , Sian Bonnell @sianbonnel, Susan Derges RWA @susanderges and Judith Jones RWA Judith Jones

Both shows will open on the 28th January 2023.

Ticket price for Bend in the River includes entry to the Photo Open. No need to book in advance – tickets will be available on the day

More information:

Helen Sear, from the series Spirits of a Painted Forest, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and James Hyman Gallery, London.