Preview: Modern Nature

Two doctors are on a mission to educate us – but not about healthy living. Claire and James Hyman want to show us that photography is more than the snaps on our iPhones

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“There was no plan to collect photography, it just happened,” says Claire Hyman, an NHS oral surgeon and the unlikely collector of over 3,000 artworks, mostly photography from its nineteenth century beginnings through to contemporary practice. Her husband is a doctor too, though not of the medical variety. James Hyman is an art historian, so for him it’s a more natural fit.

“It’s important to both of us that this is not a hidden private collection but is accessible,” says Claire. “We recently donated 125 photographs, by many of the greatest British photographers of the twentieth century to the Yale Centre for British Art in the USA, and are also loaning more and more pictures.”

Sixty images are currently on loan to the Hepworth Wakefield. Curator Nicola Freeman was given free rein over the collection and teased out a selection of photographs for new exhibition Modern Nature, which explores the relationship between man and nature at a time when, for the first time in human history, more people are living in urban environments than in the countryside.

Photographs by leading British photographers such as Shirley Baker, Anna Fox, Chris Killip, Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones demonstrate our evolving relationship with the natural world and how this shapes individuals and communities. Claire has a special interest in photos capturing childhood and one strand running through the exhibition will look at how children reclaim space for play and exploration, exemplified through works including Jo Spence’s Gypsies series (1974) and Paul Hill’s Legs Over High Tor (1975).

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“There are many stereotypes about urban and rural life, so it was interesting to explore something messier and more complex about our engagement with our environment. The exhibition explores the presence of nature in the city and of people in the countryside, and the scruffy areas between,” says James.

The couple have a few favourites from the exhibition: Bill Brandt’s tempestuous Yorkshire landscape; Daniel Meadows’ image of boys holding a pigeon; and Leeds-based Peter Mitchell’s photographs of scarecrows.

“The Bill Brandt is one of the largest prints he ever made and this print is so stark and so contrasty that it really jumps at you,” says Claire, making the point that the size, scale and presence of photographs matter. “We hope that people will think about photography as an art form. The photograph on a wall is not the same thing as the image we see on an iPhone.”

The couple are excited to see the photos exhibited at the Hepworth Wakefeld. “It’s a wonderful venue and we are delighted that such strong British photography is being shown alongside the best British sculpture, paintings and drawings,” says James.

“It’s important to us that photography is presented in this way and recognised as integral to the story of British culture – not just some side annex in the story of art.”

Modern Nature is at the Hepworth Wakefield until 22 April 2019. View more images from the Hyman Collection at

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