The Moth derives from one black-and-white picture that Jem Southam made in about 1983: a solitary man standing on Gwithian beach in St Ives, Cornwall. From this singular, meditative moment, the book of otherwise unpeopled, colour photographs unravels like a succession of memories, drifting back and forth through time. Over the course of 30 years, Southam intermittently returned to the west of Cornwall to explore a place steeped in marine and mining history, and in the mythology of Celtic saints who exiled to Cornish shores. His poetic sequence of images, inspired by the alliterative verse of the old English poems The Wanderer and The Seafarer, moves from vistas of meadows to water streams, forgotten homes and farm dogs awaiting their food. Now and then, Southam’s fluctuating current of pictures is punctuated by a sublime moment in the rural landscape, only to be eclipsed by the hazy memory of The Moth.
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