This week, I attended Simon Roberts‘ talk at the RPS Documentary and Visual Journalism group. After working as an agency photographer in the late 1990s and winning the Ian Parry Award, Roberts worked as an editorial photographer for the colour supplements before beginning to work solely on long term projects for books and exhibitions. Roberts covered two of his book projects in this talk:
He also briefly touched on his first project, ‘Motherland‘.
We English (2007)
The theme of ‘We English’ is leisure. Roberts beliefs that how we spend our leisure time say a great deal about us. He shoots 5×4 from the roof of his mobile home in order to obtain an elevated perspective that emphasises the mid-ground and removes the presence of the ‘artist’. Roberts aims to have people one third of the frame size or smaller. He says he is shooting “people with landscape, but the landscape is primary. ” He consciously challenges himself to photograph things he normally wouldn’t, e.g. the car park rather than the beauty spot.
The full ‘We English’ project can be seen here.
The Election Project (2010)
Commissioned by Parliament as the official election artist, Roberts used Egglestone’s ‘Election Eve‘ as his starting point. He aimed for one photograph per day, each on a different theme, although in practice he exceeded this target. Once again he used the 5×4 from the roof of his mobile home enabling him to provide context by capturing the melees of press photographers. He also showed the mundane realities of ordinary politicians fighting for their seats.
Roberts provided an interesting insight into his working practices – he plans meticulously. For example, in order to cover the election, for which he would have no advance notice of its announcement, he spent 3 months pre- planning. This included using google street view to pre-plan which street in Redcar would have a view of the closed steel plant at its end – key to making his point in his image of Redcar.
Roberts mentioned that two of the images in the series were montages. One he discussed, the other has yet to be ”detected’ by anyone – now there’s a challenge to work out which one it is!
The Election Project can be seen in full here. My favourite image from the series is Nick Clegg below.
This project was only covered very briefly. Some of Roberts approach tied in nicely to my current reading of Train Y our Gaze. Roberts says his portraits in Russia were inspired by August Sander and for this reason he ensured he didn’t enter into any dialogue prior to making the portrait. The example he discussed is below.
The full Motherland project can be see here.
All in all this was a very worthwhile evening. Roberts is an engaging speaker and he’s particular good at explaining his aims and thinking processes both for his projects and the individual images.