Modern Nature: Photography that explores the merging of urban and rural landscapes in Britain

Daniel Meadows. National Portrait (Three Boys and a Pigeon) 1974. Courtesy of the artist

"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." – said Barbara Hepworth on growing up in Wakefield.

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 at The Hepworth Wakefield features leading British photographers Shirley Baker, Bill Brandt, Anna Fox, Chris Killip, Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones and 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 will include around 60 photographs taken since the end of the Second World War, through the beginnings of de-industrialisation to the present day. It will explore the merging of urban and rural landscapes, the rapid expansion of cities and the increasingly intrusive management of the 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 (1993–6) 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 will look 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).

Modern Nature runs from 13 July until 22 April 2019 at The Hepworth Wakefield. Admission is free.

Shirley Baker, Abandoned Car 1961. Courtesy the artist estate

Shirley Baker, Abandoned Car 1961. Courtesy the artist estate

Martin Parr New Brighton, Merseyside from ‘The Last Resort’ 1985. Courtesy the artist

Martin Parr New Brighton, Merseyside from ‘The Last Resort’ 1985. Courtesy the artist

Colin Jones Seven Sisters Colliery, Dulais Valley, South Wales 1965. Courtesy the artist estate

Colin Jones Seven Sisters Colliery, Dulais Valley, South Wales 1965. Courtesy the artist estate

Peter Mitchell Scarecrow 2016. Courtesy the artist

Peter Mitchell Scarecrow 2016. Courtesy the artist

Jo Spence Gypsies (27) 1974. Courtesy the artist estate

Jo Spence Gypsies (27) 1974. Courtesy the artist estate

Simon Roberts, Mel and Charlie’s Roundhouse, Talley, Carmarthenshire 2016. Courtesy the artist

Simon Roberts, Mel and Charlie’s Roundhouse, Talley, Carmarthenshire 2016. Courtesy the artist

Marketa Luskacova N E Seaside 1978. Courtesy the artist estate

Marketa Luskacova N E Seaside 1978. Courtesy the artist estate

Simon Roberts, Red Road Flats, Balornock, Glasgow 2014. Courtesy the artist

Simon Roberts, Red Road Flats, Balornock, Glasgow 2014. Courtesy the artist

Paul Hill Legs over High Tor Matlock 1975. Courtesy the artist

Paul Hill Legs over High Tor Matlock 1975. Courtesy the artist