Andy Sewell’s portrait of rural England

I grew up in Somerset, a flat county with oddly spaced hills and crossed by sluggish waterways. Summer brought unearthly sunsets and swifts in orbit above the house. There were silent places on the moors, where old vehicles decomposed among the elders, vinyl seats hardened and splitting, revealing yellow sponge that crumbled under your fingers like stale bread. In the towns people hung around on benches or made their way to work. At night they drank in the streets or sat in the light of their television sets. The man who cut my hair sang bars from songs I didn’t recognise.

I must have been seven or eight when the teacher set a homework question: what would an alien write home about if it came to visit you? It was meant to encourage dissociation, to help us understand that our lives were extraordinary if seen through eyes free of convention.

If an alien visited rural England now, what pictures would it take home? A hatchling goldfinch nestling in weathered human hands? Sticks of pink rhubarb in an orange plastic basin? Lines of washing in an open field?

Andy Sewell’s photographs are clearly a record of the countryside. But his pictures are about something less obvious: the redundancy of the ideas we have about the pastoral as they come up against modern life. As a knitting together of the artificial and the unmade, the English countryside is a perfect expression of our unstable world. Sewell shows us a landscape governed by forces beyond individual or collective control. He doesn’t mind if we are provoked. He’s happy to make us laugh. There isn’t something he needs us to believe. He doesn’t want to shatter our illusions, merely quieten them – to allow us to see the complexity of what’s before us. (Introduction by Ben Platts-Mills)

Slideshow photographs: Andy Sewell courtesy of James Hyman Gallery

These photographs were taken between 2009 and 2013 in rural Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Devon, Wiltshire, Hertfordshire and Kent.

The book, ‘Something Like a Nest’, by Andy Sewell, with accompanying text by Ben Platts-Mills, is available from andysewell.com

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