The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, 2013 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
There’s something about Simon Roberts’ photographic surveys of England that leave me feeling a little uneasy. This is not a bad thing; better to feel something than nothing at all when encountering art.
I published a piece Very English Tourism Spots are Just Intensely Managed Distractions on Medium dealing with my hesitations.
I think my unease stems from the fact that while Roberts is critiquing the quirks of the English and riffing on nostalgia (certainly) and cliche (probably) there remains space in his work for massive misunderstanding — massive under-estimation to be precise.
Roberts’ work could be read as uncritically nationalistic by those who are already that way inclined. Although the ironic title of his latest series National Property: The Imperfect Picturesque directs people away from simplistic and politicised readings of the photographs, the scenes he captures are nonetheless relatively bucolic. They smack of the quaint English countryside and of honest folks at leisure (which they are) but they leave so much of England and experiences of people in England out too.
￼Trough House Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria, 2014, 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
I’m hesitant to frame this even as an argument. It’s hardly fair to critique something on that which it is stated not to be. And Roberts, nor any other photographer, can be held accountable for the jingositic readings of work by pockets of distant audience.
Many English photographers (Parr, Dench, Stuart) hold a mirror up to their nation with biting snark. Roberts’ mirror is little more removed, less in your face and returns images that are not immediately or obviously critical.
All of these are still forming thoughts. It is one of the luxuries of being a blogger, that with enough caveats, you can share early thoughts and canvas response. So, what do you think?
Willy Lott’s House at Flatford, East Bergholt, Suffolk, 2014. 150 x 122cm, Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. Image courtesy of Flowers Gallery.