Ian Howorth

Top 10 England in 10 iconic images

© Ian Howorth

From social documentary through to high-end fashion, the history of England as told through photographs is as complex and divided as the nation itself.

─── by Isabel O'Toole, February 22, 2024
  • A nation of pagans and punks, royalists and refugees, there is no single facet of life on the isle that cannot be disseminated through a thousand images. Here we celebrate the diversity of genres, photographers and peoples that have contributed to our image of modern-day England.

    © Richard Billingham

    1. Richard Billingham – Untitled, from the Ray’s a Laugh series, 1995

    Billingham, the pioneer of ‘squalid realism’ began shooting his seminal series Ray’s a Laugh when he was only 19. Originally, Billingham thought that he would use his pictures as studies for art school paintings, but didn’t finish any. Eventually, his photos were discovered in his student room by a professor at his art college, who urged Billingham to submit them to galleries.

    The series documents the lives of Ray and Liz, Billingham’s parents whom he called by their first names. It reveals the chaos that they were forced to live in as a result of Ray’s alcohol addiction. Billingham chose to shoot the images on the cheapest film he could find and used a harsh flash to add to the candidness of the series. Between the rawness and disarray, Billingham’s images still manage to show tenderness and even joy. In 2001, Billingham was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Ray and Liz, in pictorial form, entered the photographic history books without ever leaving their small town of Cradley Heath.

    No Nazis in Bradford, Black and White Photography by Don McCullin, Children in England
    © Don McCullin

    2. Don McCullin – Children in Bradford, c. 1970

    McCullin is famed for his images of conflict on the frontlines of international wars, but he also shot extensively in England. This poignant photograph speaks of times when tensions were high and the disenfranchised youth expressed their anger and feelings towards authorities of the era.

    McCullin’s focus on the UK grew after studying the work of Billy Brandt, whom he idolised. Brandt photographed both the rich and poor, with equal respect. McCullin, who came from a working-class background, found that he could relate more to those struggling under the Conservative government of the time, and turned his lens on the impoverished. This image speaks a thousand words; the faces of the children express fear, dissatisfaction, anger, rebellion and innocence all at once.

    color photo of Beach Huts in Paignton, UK by im Aldis
    © Kim Aldis

    3. “Beach Huts of Paignton #1” – Kim Aldis

    Taken from an ongoing series titled ‘Beach Huts of Paignton,’ which documents the beach huts and users of a small UK seaside town, Kim Aldis‘ image immediately evokes the style of Martin Parr, showcasing a keen eye for color and the sense of humor for which Parr is renowned. Aldis’s work stands as a thriving symbol of the UK seaside town, capturing the eccentricity of these once-thriving, and now often somewhat surreal and impoverished places. The Union Jack-adorned beach chair adds a potent, and impactful emblem to the image.

    Photo of a red phone box in an English village by Daniel Casson.

    4. Daniel Casson – Pilsley Village, Peak District 

    While England may not be renowned for its rugged rural vistas compared to other European countries, Daniel Casson nevertheless, beautifully communicates the undeniable charm of his homeland. Verdant fields, stone-walled villages, and undulating hills form a mesmerizing mosaic that Casson captures with a sense of familiarity born from countless days spent traversing these landscapes, exemplified in his stunning depiction of a classic red phone box: a unique perspective on a much-photographed English icon

    Photo of a woman and a baby by Julia Margaret Cameron
    © Julia Margaret Cameron

    5. Julia Margaret Cameron – Untitled, 1863-1879

    Photographing between the period of 1863 and her death in 1879, Julia Margaret Cameron was one of the most important and creative photographers of the 19th century, a true pioneer. Shooting prominent figures in the arts and sciences of her time, amongst them, Charles Darwin and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Cameron is famous for her use of atmospheric lighting, soft focus and long exposure techniques.

    Her work is immediately distinctive from her peers; trends in photography at the time were rigid and traditional, whilst she chose to portray her subjects in a more enigmatic and allegorical light. Cameron made her work on glass plates, the necessary long exposures resulting in her photos having spiritual and romantic qualities. Cameron claimed to have been inspired by scenes from religion and literature, and her hugely influential work is now recognised as having huge artistic significance.

    Color Sport Photography Ian Bradshaw Streaker Michael O'Brien arrested international rugby match between England and France, 1974 

    6. Ian Bradshaw – Streaker Michael O’Brien is arrested at an international rugby match between England and France, 1974 

    Michael O’Brien started the trend of streaking at sports matches, a tradition that still, somehow, continues to this day. The Australian stock broker was dared £10 to run naked across the field at an England vs. France rugby game. In an extremely fortuitous moment, press photographer Ian Bradshaw managed to capture the instance where policeman Bruce Perry covered O’Brien with his helmet. “It was a cold day and he didn’t have anything to be proud of, but I didn’t think twice about using my helmet.”

    Bradshaw’s image shares a striking resemblance to a religious or Renaissance painting, with the naked O’Brien playing the role of a persecuted Jesus. The photograph won numerous awards including the World Press Photo of the Year. It was also chosen as the “Picture of the Year” by Life Magazine and “Picture of the Decade” by People magazine.

    Black and White Photography by Tish Murtha From Youth Unemployment, 1980s England
    © Tish Murtha

    7. Tish Murtha – From Youth Unemployment, 1980s  

    In the times of mass factory and mine closures, Tish Murtha’s sharp social observation and lyrical sense of place drove her to depict the social dereliction that was sweeping certain areas of the nation in the hopes that her work could potentially be used to help those being offered little political assistance.

    Her series Youth Unemployment has become key in showing the social and economic division present during the times of Margaret Thatcher. Murtha’s photos are populated with friends, family and neighbours. Her strong personal ties to the subject matter compelled her to create work that could confront the reality and impact of political decision-making of the day. In February 1981, Murtha’s work was raised as a subject for debate in the House of Commons.

    Black and White Photograph of Samuel Beckett leaving the Royal Court Theatre, England 1976 by Jane Bown
    © Jane Bown

    8. Jane Bown – Samuel Beckett leaving the Royal Court Theatre, 1976

    Jane Bown, who has worked as a staff photographer for the Observer for over six decades has worked in all areas of photojournalism covering everything from to catwalks to dog shows. Bown was remarkably adept at understanding light, with certain reports citing that she could gauge the camera settings by checking how the light fell on the back of her hand rather than using a light meter. She also supposedly did little to no research on her subjects before shooting them- giving her photos a fresh and non-judgemental air.

    There had been no rapport between photographer and subject during Bown’s most famous portrait. Samuel Beckett, the intensely private Nobel Prize-winning playwright was described as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” For photographers, this made him an especially appealing subject. Bown, who had been sent by The Observer to get a portrait had initially been allowed to enter the Royal Court theatre on this pretence. However, at the last minute, Beckett changed his mind. As he tried to swiftly exit down an alleyway, Bown cornered him. Beckett, who initially tried to evade her lens, finally agreed to three shots but eventually stood still enough for her to expose five frames.

    Color analog photography of fish & chips in England by Ian Howorth, from his series Arcadia
    © Ian Howorth

    9. Untitled, from “Arcadia” – Ian Howorth

    Much of Ian Howorth’s work is an attempt to ‘make sense’ of his identity. The Peru-born photographer moved regularly during his childhood, residing in nine different homes across three countries, before finally settling on the south coast of England—his father’s homeland—at the age of 16. Through his stunning analog images, Howorth captures everyday scenes, faded pastel facades, windswept beaches, and quiet corners of anonymous English homes with a sensitivity and artistry that renders them utterly compelling. This is beautifully demonstrated in his depiction of the iconic English dish of fish & chips (taken from his Arcadia series) reminiscent of the work of early American colorists like Eggleston and Shore, yet with a distinctly more ‘Anglo’ feel.

    © Edith Tudor-Hart

    10. Edith Tudor-Hart – Gee Street, Finsbury, London, c. 1936

    Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–73) has the most interesting story of all the photographers we have observed here. First, ‘Edith’ was her code name, and photography was not her true profession, but her hobby. A Viennese national, she had come to England to marry and remained there, but it soon became suspected – at least by covert government agencies – that she was a spy. As a secret service recruitment officer for the Soviet Union, she was a key figure behind the Cambridge spy ring at the height of the Cold War.

    In a document declassified 50 years after it was written, it came to light that the British secret service MI5 subjected Tudor-Hart to round-the-clock surveillance, opened her mail, tapped her telephone, bugged her home and eavesdropped on the conversations of her friends and associates. However, it was the same qualities that made her a good agent – her unique ability to blend in, or disappear – that also made her such a great photographer. In this photo, although the subjects are aware of Tudor-Hart’s presence, we gain an insight into her background in espionage. By taking a candid shot from an upper-story building, Tudor-Hart reveals her empathy and solidarity with the British people.


    All images © their respective owners