Rural Escapism

Rural Escapism

Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1905) once described her experience of growing up in the city: “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.”

The Hepworth presents a collection of works from a range of photographers, which each evoke a reconciliation with the natural world in an increasingly urban environment. Modern Nature: British Photographs from the Hyman Collection traces the development of these opposing landscapes in Britain since WWII.

The exhibition showcases 60 photographs from renowned documentary figures including Shirley Baker (1932-2014) and Bill Brandt (1904-1983), as well as more contemporary works from the likes of  Chris Shaw (b. 1967) and The Caravan Gallery, an artist partnership exploring regional identity and the concept of psycho-geography. An additional thread running through the collection considers the relationship between the child and the organic environment, as a space for play and possibility. 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) come into dialogue with this idea, highlighting the role of nature as a platform for imagination and potential.

Spanning a diverse range of settings –  from the terraced streets of working class towns to the open British countryside – the images communicate an overarching sense of escapism and longing. Harpenden-born photographer Mark Power’s (b. 1959) The Shipping Forecast series (1993–1996), for example, depicts the ritualistic family trip to the coast, and its role as an idealist haven from urban life. The intimacy felt between each subject, accompanied by localised climates, arouses a sense of familiarity and nostalgia in the viewer.

Modern Nature runs until 22 April. Find out more here.

1. Shirley Baker, Abandoned Car. 1961. Courtesy the artist estate.
2.  Bill Brandt, Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire, 1945. Courtesy the artist estate.
3.  Mark Power, HEBRIDES  Friday 27 August 1993. From The Shipping Forecast. Courtesy the artist.