'From the deep indigo and black scarlets of the industrial heart we sailed through the unimaginable beauty of unspoiled countryside. These conflicting landscapes really shaped, I think, my whole life.'
Barbara Hepworth on growing up in Wakefield.
This online exhibition is an expanded version of the show presented at the Hepworth Wakefield. It includes more recent acquisitions such as a series of works by John Davies in which he records the trees in an urban park threatened by a property development; constructed, conceptual views of nature by Helen Sear; and a sustained study of the Fens by Paul Hart.
For the first time in human history, more people are living in urban environments than in the countryside, yet the impulse to seek out nature remains as strong as ever. This new exhibition of photographs by leading British photographers such as Shirley Baker, Bill Brandt, Anna Fox, Chris Killip, Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones explores our evolving relationship with the natural world and how this shapes individuals and communities.
Drawn from the collection of Claire and James Hyman, which comprises more than 3,000 photographs ranging from conceptual compositions to documentary-style works, Modern Nature included around 60 photographs taken since the end of the Second World War, through the beginnings of de-industrialisation to the present day. It explored the merging of urban and rural landscapes, the rapid expansion of cities and the increasingly intrusive management of the countryside. Rather than present a Romantic dichotomy between the rural and the urban, the exhibition presented a more contemporary sensibility that is frequently situated in the edgelands, the often scruffy margins, in which town blurs with countryside.
A number of photographs on display, including The Caravan Gallery's quizzical views of urban centres and Chris Shaw's 'Weeds of Wallasey' series (2007-12), capture the ways in which nature infiltrates the city. Others, such as Mark Power's 'The Shipping Forecast' series (1993-96) and Marketa Luskacova's NE Seaside (1978) images document trips out to the coast and countryside, driven by the sometimes powerful need to escape urban life. They are by turns poetic and humorous, occasionally absurd.
A strand running through the exhibition looked at how children reclaim space for play and exploration, exemplified through works including Daniel Meadows's National Portrait (Three Boys and a Pigeon) (1974), Jo Spence's 'Gypsies' series (1974) and Paul Hill's Legs over High Tor (1975).
James Hyman said: "Claire and I were delighted when The Hepworth Wakefield approached us about staging an exhibition curated from works in our collection. The Hyman Collection seeks to support and promote British photography, and is especially committed to exhibitions and education, so we were excited to work with The Hepworth Wakefield on this exhibition and related events, and fascinated by the theme that they chose to present. As a young gallery The Hepworth Wakefield is fast developing a reputation for curating important exhibitions of photographs, as a part of their dynamic exhibition programme, and we hope that our partnership with The Hepworth Wakefield will encourage their ambitions in this area."