Press Release

How We Are: Photographing Britain

Tate Britain  Linbury Galleries
22 May – 2 September 2007

How We Are will be the first major exhibition ever to present a photographic portrait of Britain from the invention of the medium to the present day. Opening on 22 May at Tate Britain, it will show the extraordinary variety, scope and diversity of one-and-a-half centuries of photography in the UK, uncovering a range of remarkable stories about British life.

Displayed broadly chronologically, How We Are will include over 500 images by 100 photographers. Works by celebrated figures such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Madame Yevonde, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, David Bailey, Martin Parr, Elaine Constantine and Tom Hunter will hang alongside images by less-familiar photographers, who have observed and documented the country’s celebrities, street life, landscape as well as their own lives and obsessions.

How We Are will explore how people have looked at themselves and others through photography and how our sense of identity – both personal and national – has been shaped by the photographic image. Portraiture and images of social documentary will appear throughout the exhibition, revealing both the public and private side of British life. Key themes will include celebrity portraiture and national heroes, heritage and a longing for the past, Britain’s relationship with the land and wildlife, British customs and traditions, and the idea of the home.

Highlights include formal portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron of illustrious Britons such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, photographs of Nelson’s column under construction by Henry Fox Talbot, Homer Sykes’s images of quirky traditional English festivals and eccentric customs, the Sassoon family’s private album, Percy Hennell’s pioneering colour photographs British Women Go to War, Jane Bown’s gritty images of protestors on Greenham Common in the eighties, Vanley Burke’s images documenting the life of the black community in Britain, Stephen Dalton’s dramatic images of suburban garden wildlife, Zed Nelson’s portraits of contemporary beauty contests, studio portraits taken by Grace Lau, and Paul Graham’s photographs of life on the A1 including service cafés, people, architecture and landscape.

How We Are is curated by Val Williams and Susan Bright. Val Williams is a writer and curator and Professor of the History and Culture and Photography and Director of the Photography and the Archive Research Centre at the University of the Arts, London. Susan Bright is a writer, curator and research fellow at University of the Arts. An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition published by Tate Publishing (softback £24.99).