Reflections on Simon Roberts’ Project: We English

Simon Roberts strikes me as a photographer first, and a bit of a shrewd business man second. I saw nothing wrong with this – images are for sharing; if he didn’t commit to the business side of things his photographs would be shared less so it is just a means to an end (while at the same time providing himself and his family wth an income). He applies his business sense by marketing and publicising his upcoming project/book arduously; thereby increasing the chances it will sell well. He also employs clever strategies like creating a dedicated, dynamic website for the project which changes and is added to according to how the project is panning out a the time. Besides the (80%) business side of things, I have come across Roberts’ work before and I feel his (20%) photographic work is very technically sound and still creates a message.

Amerta Movement Workshop, Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, 2nd June 2008 - We English - Simon Roberts
Amerta Movement Workshop, Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, 2nd June 2008 – We English – Simon Roberts

In We English for example, he utilises a predominantly high viewpoint and concepts like: ‘he decided people should occupy no more than one third of the frame’ – (Houghton, 2009), presumably to aid narrative in his work where: ‘Such an image announces itself as a tableau, a site where a compressed narrative can bloom across the frame’ – (Houghton, 2009). This approach works in my opinion because it is almost as if the viewer has to make the narrative up for themselves from the people in the third of the frame and their relationship with the surrounding landscape.

One possible narrative Roberts might be trying to suggest in at least some of his photographs for We English is that the idealised, romantic picturesque of the past views has remained for the most part. The views might be changing (largely because of the influx of people evident in the photographs Roberts takes) but they are still ‘good enough’ to attract the tourists to their countryside in large numbers. This influx paradoxically makes the views less attractive, while on the other hand displays the views popularity.

Lingmell Fell, Wasdale Valley, Cumbria, 22nd August 2008 - We English - Simon Roberts
Lingmell Fell, Wasdale Valley, Cumbria, 22nd August 2008 – We English – Simon Roberts

One point Stephen Daniels eloquently highlights in his companion essay for We English: The English Outdoors – (Daniels, 2010) is:

While the presence of other excursionists in these pictures is often only implied or at any rate discreet, some artists addressed the popular encounter with landscape, in crowded scenes, sometimes expressly theatrical ones, in which the landscape is an arena of performance and narrative.

Roberts with We English, according to my observations certainly doesn’t back away from photographing people when he sees them in the English countryside and in fact even makes a feature of them, similar to Daniels’ aforementioned quote from The English Outdoors. I would say he goes a step further when he photographs people at famous tourist sites in Switzerland with Sight Sacralization: (Re)framing Switzerland – (Roberts, 2016). Here he definitely concentrates on the relationship between land and people and makes a fairly strong argument I feel that the act of tourists visiting popular tourist sites is a performance in itself and takes almost more significance than the landscape which is the cause for their activities such as selfies. I found this work very absorbing and clever in making a tourist site (which nowadays is often not aesthetically-pleasing) something quite beautiful at times and with a powerful narrative holding the project together.

References:

Daniels, S. (2010). The English Outdoors. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: http://www.simoncroberts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/We_English-Stephen_Daniels_Essay.pdf [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Houghton, M. (2009). Foto8 Issue 25. [online] issuu. Available at: https://issuu.com/foto8/docs/issue25 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Roberts, S. (2008). We English. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/we-english/#PHOTO_0 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Roberts, S. (2016). Sight Sacralization. [online] Simoncroberts.com. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/sight-sacralization/#PHOTO_0 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

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