We English Photographs by Simon Roberts. Introduction by Stephen Daniels. Published by Chris Boot, 2009.Simon Roberts produced the images for We English during a year visiting popular recreational sites across England. It’s an intriguing way to investigate a country, one which served my family well when living in England while I was 13 (we actually visited some of Robert’s locations). It’s served Roberts well, too. Documenting his countrymen beach combing, pheasant hunting, visiting car boot sales, hiking and spending afternoons at the lake, Roberts’s images are landscapes of English leisure, both natural and social.
Quite simply, the images are beautiful, though perhaps not immediately revealing – their beauty can encourage the clumsy habit of overlooking what they contain. The best of these photographs are remarkable in the layers that Roberts’s has managed to capture – environment, group and individual. And truly the three inform and shape the others.
The 86 photographs in the book depict an array of interactions with the outdoors. Though sometimes sparsely populated, the effects of human use are visible in every image, ranging in severity from the scars running up green hillsides to the garish architecture of seaside Black Pool – all causalities of joyful use. But while are landscapes molded by the activities of the masses, they are enjoyed by the individual, and Roberts’s large-format
images are detailed enough (and the book’s printing sharp enough) to look at the individual. This is really where Roberts won me over; tiny black specs in the sea become surfers, a mother takes a picture with her child, a kid sits alone in contemplation among the crowd. Each figure is fascinating, an individual acting within the group.
This edition does a wonderful job of presenting Roberts’s images. Even so, I feel like there’s more to this work. The book ends with an essay by Roberts which reads like an engaging artist
‘s talk, referencing and explaining not every image, but those that serve as speaking points in the evolution of the project, providing a personal, logistical and sociological context. I wish this text had been longer – Stephen Daniels’s introduction is an informative history, but I’m not convinced it was the best set-up for Roberts’s work. I’m interested in hearing more from Roberts on this project – and I’m curious to see what he does next. —Sarah Bradley