In June, Britons voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, surprising the world and even themselves. The most frequent Google search in the U.K. after the vote was “What does it mean to leave the EU?” Britons now face the consequences of their decision and will determine what it says about their country. This future will be informed by the country's past – one that has been photographed extensively by the likes of E.O. Hoppé and Martin Parr, who have offered their own take on modern British identity in their photographs. These pictures form the backbone of a new group exhibit, An Ideal for Living, curated by Flora La Thangue on show now at the Beetles and Huxley gallery in London.
La Thangue traces Great Britain's last hundred years – burdened by the weight of two costly world wars and a diminished empire – with photographs that express internal issues of class, custom and style. Included are images of leisure, riots, working class neighborhoods and 1960s counter culture, mixed with refreshing hints of British humor. There’s an uncomfortable tension between two waiting parlor maids and the lavished table settings in Bill Brandt’s black and white photograph. Charlie Phillips creates a similar tension in his 1967 portrait of a Notting Hill interracial couple. From urban to rural, landscape to portrait, the selected photographs acknowledge Britain's diverse experiences and people.
As Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May initiates the country's divorce from the E.U., photographers will continue chronicling their country. Their work, like the photographers in this show, will be an important record of this new chapter and contribute to the ever-changing definition of British culture.
An Ideal for Living: Photographing Culture, Class and Identity in Modern Britain opens on July 27 at Beetles and Huxley in London. It runs until Sept. 17.
Michael Bucher is a contributor at TIME LightBox.