Britain then and now captured in unique exhibition by pioneering documentary photographer Daniel Meadows

John Payne, aged 12, with friends and his pigeon Chequer. Portsmouth, 1974. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Daniel Meadows, a pioneer of contemporary British documentary photography, has been celebrating what he calls "the felt life of the great ordinary" for almost half a century.

Always challenging the status quo, he has worked collaboratively, fashioning from his encounters with strangers across England, a nation's story both magical and familiar.

Fiercely independent, Meadows devised many of his own creative processes. He first ran a free portrait studio in Manchester’s Moss Side in 1972. Then he travelled 10,000 miles in a converted double-decker bus, the Free Photographic Omnibus, setting up impromptu portrait sessions in towns and cities across the country's heartland.

You can see some of the pictures he captured at a new exhibition at the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries in Oxford from 4 October to 24 November. Its title Now and Then reflects the dimension of Meadows' work which has involved him photographing his subjects across long intervals in their lives. These photographs – children, adults, couples captured in the 1970s and again in the 1990s – along with their many connected stories, have made a very important contribution to documentary journalism in our lifetime.

On display is a set of 34 portrait photographs, arranged in pairs, each depicting the same people separated by an interval of 25 years between the 1970s and the 1990s. There'll also be 16 short digital stories made using material from across Meadows' archive – letters, newspaper cuttings, journals, diaries, negatives, contact sheets and audio recordings.

An accompanying book, Now and Then: England 1970-2015, is an anthology that samples the full range of Meadows’ documentary projects over his 45-year career and includes both portraits of people and the work they did, portraying the English landscape and many now long-forgotten trades such as the engineer for a steam-driven cotton mill and the steeplejack.

Lyn and Stella. The Brasher sisters from Hampshire. 1974 and 1999. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Lyn and Stella. The Brasher sisters from Hampshire. 1974 and 1999. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Ken Emery and Ed Murphy. Friends from Southampton. 1974 and 2000. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Ken Emery and Ed Murphy. Friends from Southampton. 1974 and 2000. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Michael and Peter McParland. Twin brothers from Barrow-in-Furness. 1974 and 1995. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Michael and Peter McParland. Twin brothers from Barrow-in-Furness. 1974 and 1995. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Karen Cubin and Barbara Taylor. Daughter and mother from Barrow-in-Furness. 1974 and 1995. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Karen Cubin and Barbara Taylor. Daughter and mother from Barrow-in-Furness. 1974 and 1995. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Mary Clarke. Hartlepool. 1974 and 1998. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Mary Clarke. Hartlepool. 1974 and 1998. Image credit: © Daniel Meadows. Courtesy the artist and Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford