Mod­ern Na­ture

Bri­tish Pho­to­graphs from the Hy­man Col­lec­tion

Amateur Photographer - - 7 Days -

This well-timed ex­hi­bi­tion, drawn from the col­lec­tion of Claire and James Hy­man, looks at our im­pulse to seek out pock­ets of na­ture even in the greyest cor­ners of Bri­tain, says Tracy Calder

Our cur­rent re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world is com­plex: for the first time in his­tory, more of us are liv­ing in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments than in the coun­try­side, and yet our need to con­nect with na­ture has never been greater. We may not be re­quired to for­age for food, pro­tect our­selves from predators or build shel­ters like our ances­tors did, but threats to our phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing re­main. This time, how­ever, they come in the form of rising stress lev­els and in­creased cases of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety. Our re­liance on high-tech gad­gets such as smart­phones, for ex­am­ple, can dis­rupt our sleep, pre­vent us from be­ing mind­ful of our sur­round­ings, and en­cour­age us to make un­healthy com­par­isons be­tween our­selves and oth­ers via so­cial me­dia. When we re­con­nect with na­ture, stress lev­els fall, our senses be­come height­ened, and our at­ten­tion span im­proves. We know that spend­ing time in na­ture is good for us, and when we are de­nied ac­cess to the wild we suf­fer, and yet a study con­ducted in 2017 on be­half of cereal man­u­fac­turer Jor­dans found that 13% of re­spon­dents had not ven­tured into the coun­try­side for more than two years, 33% could not iden­tify a barn owl, and one in three did not recog­nise an English oak. We are los­ing touch with na­ture just when we need it the most.

This well-timed ex­hi­bi­tion, drawn from the col­lec­tion of Claire and James Hy­man, looks at our im­pulse to seek out pock­ets of na­ture, even in the greyest, most ce­ment- clad cor­ners of Bri­tain. It fea­tures around 60 im­ages cre­ated by lead­ing Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­phers in­clud­ing Tony Ray-Jones, Shirley Baker, Martin Parr, Jo Spence, Bill Brandt, Anna Fox and Si­mon Roberts. When viewed to­gether, the im­ages ex­plore our evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world, and how this need to rewild shapes in­di­vid­u­als and, fre­quently, whole com­mu­ni­ties. Look­ing at Daniel Mead­ows’ pho­to­graph ‘Na­tional Por­trait (Three Boys and a Pi­geon),’ 1974, (left) for ex­am­ple, we are re­minded of the nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity children have for the wild, and how this can in­flu­ence imag­i­na­tive play. The cen­tral char­ac­ter presents the pi­geon to the cam­era as though it were a gift, and the sense of pride at hav­ing dis­cov­ered such a crea­ture can be read in the boys’ faces.

Mean­while, Jo Spence’s picture of a swing fram­ing two horses (far right) is taken from her se­ries ‘Gyp­sies and Trav­ellers 1970s’, and rep­re­sents the idea of ‘edge­lands’ – those cu­ri­ous in-be­tween spa­ces where life thrives: aban­doned rail­way lines, empty build­ings or, in this case, a patch of land be­neath a mo­tor­way. Other themes in the ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude ‘Ro­man­tic de­tach­ment’ (il­lus­trated by Bill Brandt’s im­age ‘ Top Withens, West Rid­ing, York­shire’, 1945), ‘Mod­ern ru­ins’ (per­son­i­fied by Shirley Baker’s im­age ‘Aban­doned Car’, 1961), and ‘Into the wild’ (per­fectly en­cap­su­lated by Paul Hill’s shot ‘Legs Over High Tor, Mat­lock’, 1975).

The ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Mod­ern Na­ture, comes from Derek Jar­man’s 1986 jour­nal, cre­ated af­ter he dis­cov­ered he was HIV pos­i­tive and de­cided to cre­ate a gar­den at the front of his cot­tage in Dun­geness, Kent. In the deep shadow of a nu­clear power sta­tion, Jar­man cre­ated a pocket of wild­ness that ra­di­ates un­ex­pected beauty. His gar­den is play­ful and free, ig­nor­ing bound­aries and em­brac­ing hap­pen­stance. Jar­man knew that na­ture had the power to pro­vide so­lace and respite from the pres­sures of mod­ern life. He re­claimed a patch of unloved ground and turned it into a haven where na­ture could re­gain a small foothold. Rather fit­tingly, the Hep­worth Wake­field is in the process of cre­at­ing one of the UK’s largest free pub­lic gar­dens, soft­en­ing the space be­tween the im­pos­ing

‘The im­ages ex­plore our evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world, and how this need to rewild shapes in­di­vid­u­als’

yet beau­ti­ful grey struc­ture of the mu­seum and its near­est neigh­bours, a group of Vic­to­rian mill build­ings. Find­ing a bal­ance be­tween in­dus­try and na­ture is al­ways go­ing to be tricky, but the man­age­ment of spa­ces where ur­ban and ru­ral life meet needs to be tack­led sen­si­tively and with an eye to the fu­ture.

www. hep­worth wake­field.org

‘Mod­ern Na­ture: Bri­tish Pho­to­graphs from the Hy­man Col­lec­tion’ runs at The Hep­worth Wake­field in York­shire un­til 22 April 2019. For de­tails visit Na­tional Por­trait (Three Boys and a Pi­geon) 1974

On the Water­front, Wir­ral, 2013

Gyp­sies (27) 1974

Scare­crow 2016 Scare­crow, 2016

Red Road Flats, Balornock, Glas­gow, 2014

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