I came across Simon Robert's new project We English a little while back and was reminded about it in Colin Pantall's Blog the other day. After producing a book about contemporary Russia called Motherland a couple of years ago, Robert's has decided to turn his view inwards and to look at his own people and place:
"We English is a photographic journal of life in England in 2008, specifically documenting landscapes where groups of people congregate for a common purpose and shared experience. It’s about what people do in their spare time, their leisure pursuits and pastimes and how people derive meaning and identity from these activities. It’s also about people’s relationship with their environment, whether their immediate surroundings are urban, rural or anything in between. There is no such thing as a definitive set of images that encapsulate Englishness. We English is about social landscapes but it is not about social or political analysis. It does not seek to define but simply to represent.----------------
The project will extend, and reflect upon, a history of documentary photographic projects and the variety of approaches that British photographers have utilised to capture the lives of diverse communities across the country and explore issues surrounding national identity and the constantly shifting notion of Englishness.
The long and rich tradition of British photographers documenting their homeland, some of which could be seen in the recent exhibition at Tate Britain ‘How We Are - Photographing Britain,’ has seen work produced by the likes of Humphrey Spender, Bill Brandt, Tony Ray Jones, Ingrid Pollard, Martin Parr, John Davies and Jem Southam to name a few. However, the past decade has seen relatively little work produced by British photographers.
Engaging with literal, physical landscapes is a way of engaging with social and cultural landscapes. Since landscape has long been used as a commodity, an aesthetic amenity that is there to be consumed, it makes sense to use leisure activities, no matter how banal they might appear, as a way into an exploration of England’s shifting cultural and aesthetic identity...
We English will yield contemporary visions of my country that recognise the narrowness of long-held mental images of England and explore the ambiguities and complexities of our place within the world around us in a manner that amplifies and extends meaning."
He also has a blog which I think will be noting his progress, as well as a section on his site where people can make suggestions for the project.
BTW, Motherland is an interesting collection of work and well worth looking at.
Finally, the post in We English that I was reminded of this week was one where Roberts talks about Tony Ray Jones, a photographer whose career was cut far too short. Among other things, he posted some images of Ray Jones' notebooks when he was working on his own project on the English. A few useful reminders from a page titled APPROACH:
· BE MORE AGGRESSIVE
· GET MORE INVOLVED (TALK TO PEOPLE)
· STAY WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER (BE PATIENT)
· TAKE SIMPLER PICTURES
· SEE IF EVERYTHING IN BACKGROUND RELATES TO SUBJECT MATTER
· VARY COMPOSITIONS AND ANGLES MORE
· BE MORE AWARE OF COMPOSITION
· DON’T TAKE BORING PICTURES
· GET IN CLOSER (USE 50mm LESS)
· WATCH CAMERA SHAKE (shoot 250sec or above)
· DON’T SHOOT TOO MUCH
· NOT ALL AT EYE LEVEL
· NO MIDDLE DISTANCE