Country Matters, London

Bringing together the work of Bert Hardy, Roger Mayne, Tony Ray-Jones, Colin Jones, Chris Killip, Homer Sykes, Sirkka-Liisa Kontinnen, Martin Parr, Mark Power, Anna Fox and Ken Grant, Country Matters at James Hyman, London, is an exhibition of photographic greats. Running 11 September until 11 October, the show includes black and white shots from the 1940s to the present day that reflect a range of responses to English society.

Country Matters examines constructions of Englishness, from eccentric to conformist, aristocratic to working class, northern and southern, black and white, old and young, work and leisure, rural and urban. Including both playful and quirky and dark and serious offerings, the photographs cover a range of emotions from compassion and empathy to detachment and cynicism. Collectively, these photos not only help to define a country but also to forge a national photographic culture.

The exhibition begins with vintage prints from Bert Hardy’s photographic assignments for Picture Post Magazine in the 1940s that address the unchanging patterns of life in the much-changed landscape Elephant and Castle area of London after the war. This is followed by vintage prints from the 1950s by Roger Mayne, that present the vitality of street life, specifically that of Southam Street in north Kensington.

In contrast, Tony Ray-Jones is more playful with his idiosyncratic records of quintessential British pastimes and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s Byker series moves away from London and up the country to Newcastle. There are also memories of a less idyllic country; Sykes’s celebrated book, Once a Year (1977) depicts mysterious local folk customs, endless rain fills Martin Parr’s pictures of ‘Bad Weather’, and Anna Fox identifies the mundane in social events. Placed together, these images reflect various angles of Britain and a selection of different practices.

Country Matters, 11 September – 11 October, James Hyman, 16 Savile Row London W1S 3PL.

1. Tony Ray-jones, Bournemouth, 1969.