James Hyman is pleased to present an exhibition of black and white photographs from the 1940s to the present that reflect a range of responses to English society.

The exhibition explores constructions of Englishness, from eccentric to conformist, aristocrat to working class, northern and southern, black and white, old and young, work and leisure, rural and urban. Covering a spectrum from playful and quirky to dark and serious, from compassionate and empathic to detached and even satirical, these photographs not only help to define a country but also to forge a national photographic culture.

The exhibition takes as its starting point 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. The humanism that informs the work of Hardy and Mayne is followed by the more idiosyncratic vision of Tony Ray-Jones, whose view of quintessential British leisure and pastimes is more playful. The exhibition also includes work by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen from her most famous series Byker, charting life around her home in Newcastle.

This aesthetic is developed in the work of subsequent photographers. Homer Sykes’s celebrated book, Once a Year (1977) depicts mysterious local folk customs, endless rain fills Martin Parr’s pictures of ‘Bad Weather’, and curious incidents pervade Mark Power’s Shipping Forecast. Anna Fox, too, focuses on English social events that, different to the work of Homer Sykes, often appear strikingly mundane.

By way of contrast, an eye for detail and anecdote are given a more overtly socio-political dimension in prints from Colin Jones Black House from the 1970s, a striking image from Christ Killip’s series exploring northeast England in the 1980s, and Ken Grant’s more recent depiction of Liverpool.