Exercise : Simon Roberts

We English

Read the article on We English in Eight magazine (issue 25 , summer 2009)
Core resources : Foto8#25-WeEnglish.pdf

Download Stephen Daniels’ introductory essay to We English and the relevant contact sheets from simonroberts.com/work/we-english/#PHOTO-0

Write a short reflective commentary.

I initially re-read and have copied the notes I made when I went to see an exhibition of We English about four years ago:
On looking at this collection I was amazed at the intricate detail visible in his large scale work which is printed at 50 x 40. It is great to be able to get really close up to work like this as there is so much detail within the frame that is not immediately noticeable, tiny dots turn out to be human inhabitants of the landscape scaled images . He uses a 5 x 4 Ebony plate camera, “a brand new traditional old design“. Once the film is in the camera he is unable to see and compose through the lens, he comments that any human subjects therefore cannot be too sure if he is actually shooting them as his eye is not looking at them through the viewfinder. Additionally he uses a cable release frequently held behind his back. The camera forces him to work slowly, he has to ” look and study” carefully to compose , this slowness he feels helps “crafting a photograph” .These are not quick, candid, images, they are thoughtful and studied images of the British landscape that just happen to also include people. My favourite was of Saunton Sands, Devon, 23/5/2008. The frame is filled with soft beige neutral tones and gentle curves, with tiny, just visible, black dots of surfers.

We English examines the relationship between leisure and landscape , how people interact with the land in their free time. Roberts work does not depict the destruction of the land by day-trippers and holiday-makers , these are almost idyllic scenes with a consistent subtle colour palette. Robert’s made the decision that people should occupy less than a third of each frame. This decision meant some “harsh editing” ( Foto8. p.g 30) was necessary in order to stick rigidly to his personal brief.

Having spent time researching he received funding from various sources including the National Media Museum “achieved by a shrewd understanding of Bradford’s priorities. ‘They have a rich archive in their collection of Tony Ray-Jones and Bill Brandt , so of them its interesting as part of giving the grant , they also get some prints from the final project. So they get an updated, more contemporary work on England for their collection” ( Foto8. p.g 30) Funding was important to Roberts as the work was not simply intended to become a book , his intent was to exhibit the work too.

The work was well publicised as he travelled around the country with his family in a motor-home. Promoting the project launch via the BBC News online on St George’s day , regarded as England’s national day, was not only clever marketing but ensured reaching a diversified audience. The project website enabled interaction between the photographer and his audience. A weekly bulletin , in the form of a digital photograph , was published by the Times asking for suggestions to be made of events and locations that were pertinent to the project. This not only ensured continued interest but actively included the public in his project , creating a personal connection to the people depicted.

Important factors that ensure a successful documentary project , as used by Roberts , are commitment , research , publicity and skilful editing .

Bibliography / References

Core resources : Foto8#25-WeEnglish.pdf

http://www.simoncroberts.com/work/we-english/#PHOTO_0
Accessed 5/7/15

http://www.we-english.co.uk/index.html
Accessed 5/7/15

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2 thoughts on “Exercise : Simon Roberts

  1. Catherine

    I have the book and I really enjoy looking at it over again. Interesting about the people only taking up one-third of the frame. I wonder if that’s so it can be called Landscape as opposed to Documentary?

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  2. Judy Bach Post author

    I remember thinking this was a landscape project when I went to see it , but reading about his intention , to document leisure , makes me look at it from a different aspect. Great work whichever way you interpret it .

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