I previously considered the work of Simon Roberts here:
- Documentary – Simon Roberts (When Did You Last Cry?)
- Documentary Exercise 3-6: Documentary, identity and place
The Last Moment (2011-2014)
For this project, Roberts appropriated press photographs taken from British broadsheet newspapers, then, through a process of scanning, layering, marking and exposing he created abstract images which highlighted every camera in the photograph. Each image recording device is marked with a circle which highlights them above the background which is muted and barely visible with the effect that each one appears to float in negative space.
In an essay about the series, Miranda Gavin explains that ‘The Last Moment’ is an attempt by Roberts to investigate our rapidly shifting visual culture and contemporary attitudes to image making such as the way create and consume photography, the seemingly endless deluge of images and the obsessive need to document our lives. The materiality of the photograph and the crossover between digital and analogue media is important with the scanning process revealing the tiny round dots of the newspaper printing process. The idea of translucence and the relationship to optics and lenses is also significant with the masked off, not entirely white background layer creating a ghostly background on top of which the disembodied ‘eyes’ of the isolated image making devices appear as their own self-contained world. Gavin concludes the essay with this analysis:
“The role of photography today is multifarious and in a constant state of flux. As photography has become ever more available and mobile, the perceived function and value of photographs has changed. In the world of social media where life is played online, the act of taking a photograph is not confined to the production of a final image, a physical object, but is more about the intangible nature of photography, the ritual of sharing photographs, and of asserting the photographers presence. It is against this backdrop that Robert’s contemplates The Last Moment.” (Gavin, 2014)
The simplicity of the idea for this series and the effectiveness of Roberts execution appeals to me. The works are on first inspection abstract patterns which reward close examination – I imagine they would be extremely effective printed large in a gallery space. The series succeeds in resonating with thoughts and concerns I have about the ubiquity of the digital image without being overtly about this – engaging with the work is sending my thinking in multiple directions which is a particular strength and something to aspire to in my own practice.
‘Folly Marches On’ is a video installation (see here) featuring scanned images of the three British Prime Ministers (David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson) who were involved in Brexit negotiations following the 2016 referendum. It is Theresa May who features most prominently in the series, and the representation of her by the media can be read in gendered terms. From his artists statement, Roberts makes these observations:
“While Folly Marches On features all three UK Prime Ministers involved in Brexit negotiations, it is Theresa May, the only female contender, who receives the majority of image, or press, attention. The news photographs of Theresa May reflect a specific public perception of her character; that she was inflexible in her impression management. Moreover, the amount and design of media attention focussed on the female former Prime Minister reinforces an imbalance in the media’s representation of male and female characters in the public sphere, in particular politics. This “gendered mediation” sees the media reinforcing gender-specific stereotypes instead of working against them. So, while men might be expected to adopt the masculine norms of politics, women are perceived as aggressive or cold when they follow suit. However, if they act too “feminine” they are viewed as weak and ineffectual, which means there is no way to gain the mediatic upper hand.” (Roberts, s.d.)
This series particularly resonated with me because of my work for assignment 2 featuring Boris Johnson for which I used appropriated images from the internet taken during the 2019 General Election campaign. The comment that no female politician would survive scrutiny if they had even a degree of the ‘colourful’ personal life that Johnson has is something that is discussed regularly and something that is particularly relevant given he took over from a female leader. The high incidence of threats of physical and sexual violence towards female politicians is something that has been widely reported and it difficult not to consider the media complicit in this. There is such a reliance on image in politics that is difficult to see how discourse can move beyond this and focus on the substance of arguments and policy.
‘Folly Marches On’ is accompanied by ‘The Crying Game’, a viewmaster slide viewer showing some of the most common gendered tropes used in the media portrayal of May who was often represented with relentless close-ups and an almost forensic exposure. This is a brilliant concept, the viewmaster slide viewer was a common childhood toy that I remember from my youth but which is now archaic and defunct. I would imagine looking at the slides of May through the viewer forces a consideration of how fair and justified the press treatment of her was – looking back, I certainly feel a sense of regret that I did not pick up on this at the time and disgust at the disparity between the coverage of May and Johnson.
A Daily Sea (2020)
Between 19th March 2020, when the UK Covid-19 lockdown began, and 13th May, when Government advice changed and the lockdown began to be eased, Roberts took a series of images looking out to sea at Brighton, posting these to Instagram with a sea-related poem or quote. During lockdown I have been making a series centred around my daily walk from my house and back so this work really resonated with me. My series is much less focused the Roberts, which is the point for me at the minute as I have no idea where it may go. I admire the way he quickly arrived at a way of working within the confines of the lockdown rules and has produced a series that is both beautiful and poignant.
- Simon Roberts Website
- Simon Roberts Instagram
Gavin, M. (2014) The last moment. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Miranda-Gavin-New-Vedute-essay-1.pdf (accessed 4th July 2020)
LensCulture (s.d.) The Last Moment. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/simon-roberts-the-last-moment (accessed 4th July 2020)
Roberts, S. (s.d.) Between the acts, part III – folly marches on. Available at: https://www.simoncroberts.com/work/between-the-acts-part-iii-folly-marches-on/ (accessed 4th July 2020)