A Picture Book of Britain

The images in this book are the result of a long and fruitful dialogue between Photoworks and the artist Henna Nadeem. For the past six months, Nadeem has been working with photographs sourced from the highly popular series of Picture Books of Britain, published by Country Life Magazine between 1937 and 1980s. The original books, lavishly illustrated with landscape images, present a romantic and nostalgic vision of the land as a stable and timeless image, to set against what were to many the less palatable realities of a period of immense social change.

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1993, Henna Nadeem has worked with found photographic images of the landscape. Finding her material in books and magazines, she looks for images that evoke strong Western pictorial traditions. Then, in a process that begins to undermine the solidity of these images and ideas, she uses pattern templates derived from a variety of non-Western sources as a basis for grafting images together into delicately interwoven collages. The mesmerising results of this process present a perceptual challenge as two visual traditions collide and vie for performance.

Photoworks commissioned Nadeem to produce work using photographs from the 1960s colour editions of the Country Life publications as both her practical and conceptual source. In the resulting pictures, 1960s Britain seems in the grip of parallel realities, not just an unstable, evolving place but one going through a gradual and at times nightmarish metamorphosis. As well as fitting evocations of the period, of cultural clashes and ever-diverging experiences existing side by side, Nadeem’s extraordinary works claim a space for an unheard generation, for children growing up and finding their voice. It is this blend of child-like innocence and knowing subversion that gives the artist’s work its critical tension and this series its particular poignancy.

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