In Conversation with Lars Boering

September 27th, 2012 admin

An interview I did with Lars Boering during De Donkere Kamer #12 at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, where I discuss my practice, projects and books. September 17, 2012.


February 24th, 2010 admin

Here is the second ‘film teaser’ from the National Media Museum in the run-up to the exhibition of We English (which opens at the Museum on 12th March). The film discusses my reasons for getting public participation in the project and was mostly shot last December on a couple of cold and windy day’s in and around Bradford (hence my bad hat and sometimes pained expression!), whilst I was producing the photograph for the Bradford commission.


January 18th, 2010 admin

Just before Christmas I spent the weekend in Bradford shooting a new picture for the We English exhibition, which opens at the National Media Museum in March. Following from my original concept for the project, people were invited to suggest ideas of events and leisure pursuits I could photograph for the commission – see my previous blog post here. What follows is an account of the weekend originally posted up on the National Media Museum blog here. (nb. I was followed around by a film crew from the Museum making a series of short podcasts, which will go up on their website shortly).

The upcoming photographic exhibition, Simon Roberts: We English explores national identity and people at leisure in England’s rich landscape. The project was developed from Simon’s childhood memories, and the range of associations and images they evoke, how landscapes formed an important part of who he is, and a fascination with ideas of belonging and memory, identity and place.

As part of the exhibition, the National Media Museum asked for suggestions from the public for an outdoor leisure activity or event happening in the Bradford District, which could be photographed by Simon Roberts and included in the show..

We wish to thank everybody for their suggestions, and for providing us with so many possibilities – it was impossible to visit every event but all the suggestions received were greatly appreciated. Please visit http for more information, and see the result of Simon’s dedicated and personal exploration of Englishness and the English at leisure when the exhibition opens at the National Media Museum on 12th March 2010.

So in August 2007, Simon – intrigued by the tradition of the road trip in photography – took to the road in a motorhome with his pregnant wife and daughter, in search of landscapes and depictions of the English at leisure. It is this subject that led to him touring the Bradford District on a cold weekend early in December, with a dedicated team from our Exhibitions Department, in his search for the exhibition’s final photographic work.

Here is a brief account of that weekend and some of the locations visited:

The team set off on Saturday morning at 9.15am, and after venturing to Lister Park in Bradford to observe the Saturday morning power walkers, the next port of call was the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor. In Simon’s words:

“I was pleasantly surprised to discover a crisp winter’s morning when we headed out to Ilkley Moor. On arrival, I saw a group of fell runners on the horizon, unfortunately too far in the distance to work in a photograph. The [moor’s] rocks themselves were very photogenic and offer spectacular views of Ilkley, and I could see a lot of potential for photographs in the summer months when there would be hordes of people clambering over the rocks, picnicking and hiking. Alas, there were only a few walkers about today. As the rain set in, I ran for cover, and headed back to Bradford.”

“The next stop was Myra Shay Park, home to BD3 United FC, where that afternoon the under 13 boys team had their training session photographed under the watchful eye of coach Michael Purches, who married into the city’s Pakistani community and now goes by his Muslim name of Abu Bakr. Simon first came across this location several weeks ago and was struck by the “excellent panoramic views of the Bradford skyline including the chimney stacks of Lister Mills, once the largest silk factory in the world.”

Simon and the team headed towards Haworth in search of ‘Top Withens’, a ruined farmhouse and popular walking destination, said to have been the inspiration for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. As the light faded across the Yorkshire Moors our team disbanded for the day, ready for round two the following morning.”

Of the second day, Simon reported:

“On a bright and sunny Sunday morning I photographed the first half of BD3 United’s match against Calverley United at Priesthorpe School. No exciting views this time, however I was able to shimmy on top of a Portakabin to get a good vantage point over the pitch. Calverley United’s supporters turned up with a sandwich toastie maker, and were doing a good trade in bacon butties. BD3 won 4-2.”

Aside from the obvious advantages of a clear vantage point at a football match, Simon explained that photographing from elevated positions enables him to get a greater sense of people’s interaction with the landscape and with one another.

“Sunday was certainly a game of two halves. Sandwiched by a brief journey to Five Rise Locks in Bingley it was back to the football pitch, this time to watch the second half of Second West versus New Tyke Rangers at the Carr Bottom Stadium off Little Horton Lane in BD5, just up the road from the Museum.”

Simon said: “There was an excellent vantage point from a bridge overlooking the game, which was part of the Bradford Sunday Alliance Football League. The pitch was nestled in the centre of a small housing estate.Well I say pitch, it was more of an undulating quagmire with twenty two men sliding about and shouting obscenities! Second West won 4-1.”

The Museum’s own winning team concluded the weekend with a well-earned meal at the Karachi Restaurant, finishing the day’s film interviews (to be included in the exhibition alongside footage of Simon on location around the Bradford District).

On her return from the weekend trip, I spoke to the Exhibitions Organiser Ruth Haycock, who told me that having stood for hours in the cold that weekend, she really admired Simon’s complete commitment and passion for the project, in fact, that of his whole family. Not only in dealing with the weather conditions (which, on this particular weekend, were somewhat fitting considering Simon’s road trip in 2008 was undertaken during one of the wettest years on record, and therefore this final piece was shot in similar conditions to those he endured a year ago), but his incredible level of patience in waiting for just the right moment to take the shot, capturing “We English” enjoying our most cherished and loved pastimes.


January 4th, 2010 admin

Here is a video interview I did recently with Jim Casper at Lens Culture as part of his ‘Conversations with Photographers’ series where I discussed my approach to making Motherland and We English.

Casper introduced the interview with the following: “British Photographer Simon Roberts chooses to embark on long-term, in-depth visual studies of people and the places they live. He describes his work as socio-documentary photography, which when viewed as a whole, can be seen as a rich, subjective source of visual anthropology of contemporary life.”

Simon Roberts: Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers from Jim Casper on Vimeo.


October 24th, 2008 admin

Forgive this self indulgence, but I’ve just been sent some photographs from my Dad taken while he joined us in the Lake District back in September. It’s not often you get to see yourself in action. Here are a few of them….

Crummock Water © John Roberts

Scafell Pike 1 © John Roberts

Scafell Pike 2 © John Roberts

Scafell Pike 3 © John Roberts

Cleator Moor 1 © John Roberts

Cleator Moor 2 © John Roberts

Wasdale and Wast Water (I’m the red dot!) © John Roberts

Ennerdale © John Roberts


September 27th, 2008 admin

A reader of the blog emailed me today to suggest I looked at roadside memorials as part of the project-

“Dear Sir,

This may seem macabre but there is a whole book just waiting to be written whose subject would be the shrines which have sprung up on roadsides where a loved one has been killed in an accident. Some are attended more regularly than many a grave, with floral tributes frequently restored. Others have grown to iconic proportions with photos and the deceased’s number plate.

All have a tale to tell I’m sure. For starters, if it’s still there, look near the lay by on the A628 near Woodhead between Glossop and Barnsley (the Woodhead pass). It’s just before the lay by which is more like an old quarry entrance and has a snack bar trailer in it. The shrine is in a very dangerous section.”

Although not something I intend covering for We English, I think it’s worth a mention on the blog, especially following on from my post Death, Read All About It, last week.

During our travels we did come across a large number of roadside memorials marking the location of fatal road accidents. These shrines, marked with plaques, wooden crosses and flowers, are considered not only an appropriate but also an expected response to tragedy.


Roadside Memorial, Purley Way, Croydon

The card reads “In Loving Memory, Von – Always Remember You and Always Love, from Cary, Maggie, Chris, Ruth, Lesley and family.”

According to Brake, the road safety charity, while many local authorities are happy for small memorials to be placed at the roadside, some authorities object to permanent memorials, even small ones, and even go as far as restricting the length of time that flowers can be placed at the scene of a crash. Dr Una MacConville from the Centre for Death & Society at University of Bath has undertaken research into these ‘spontaneous shrines’, as she refers to them. She claims that these restrictions are for “health and safety reasons” and authorities are claiming they are acting on foot of advice from the police who fear the tributes, many near dangerous roads, could distract motorists. These restrictions have been considered “crass and insensitive” by bereaved families and road safety campaigners, some of whom feel these memorials are being removed in order not to draw attention to the death toll on certain roads.

One of the most interesting phenomenon related to roadside memorials has been the appearance of Ghost Bikes around England, and abroad. Ghost Bikes are small and somber memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque. The first ghost bikes were created in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003, and they have since appeared in at least 62 cities throughout the world. 


Ghost bike, Brighton

James Danson-Hatcher, 23, was fatally injured when he was hit by a car travelling at about 60mph near a Brighton beauty spot. The accident happened at the junction of Saddlescombe Road and Devil’s Dyke Road, on the outskirts of Brighton, at about 5.30pm on April 5. Mr Danson-Hatcher, was riding home after a visit to Devil’s Dyke when he was hit by a Fiat Bravo. A recent inquest inquest into the accident heard Mr Danson-Hatcher, who had ambitions to be a professional photographer, was described by his family as a competent and experienced cyclist who regularly rode to Devil’s Dyke to cycle across the Downs. His father told the hearing cycling was his son’s main means of transport and leisure activity and said it was a “cruel irony” he died while on his bike.

As the Ghost Bike website quotes “the bikes serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel.”


June 30th, 2008 admin

The motorhome has done us proud over the past few weeks but it’s time to pull over for a check up. Why? Well we’ve got a leak somewhere, which is starting to seep through the floor and make some funny musty smells! Yesterday, I reversed into a tree which nearly forced the bike rack to penetrate the rear wall and today we had our third flat tyre. Of the four wheel hub caps, we’ve only got one left; one fell off a couple of days ago as we went round a roundabout, the other two simply vanished.  



June 17th, 2008 admin

One of the interesting dilemmas before starting a journey, especially one of this length, is what reading material to pack. Space is at a premium in a motorhome so you have to choose carefully.

I’ve finally finished reading H.V.Morton’s In Search of England and debating what to start next. Although, to be honest, I’m not getting much downtime to read, hence the length of time it took me to get through Morton! It’s amazing what little opportunity I have after a daily routine of photographing, traveling, finding places to camp for the night, servicing the motorhome (filling with water, emptying sewage, putting up/taking down beds etc), checking posts on the website, researching future destinations and events, updating the blog, loading and unloading film (in a portable dark bag), eating, helping to entertain Jemima and finally Sarah and I trying to get some personal time together!

So here’s a list of what I have to choose from on our cupboard shelf-

A Dream of England, John Taylor

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (Sarah’s recommendation)

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh (Sarah’s recommendation)

Catch 22, Jospeh Heller

Ed Ruscha and Photography, Sylvia Wolf

Landscape and Power, Edited by W.J.T.Mitchell

Larry’s Party, Carol Shields (Sarah’s)

Lonely Planet Guide to Britain

Notes From A Small Island, Bill Bryson

On Photography, Susan Sontag

Persuasion, Jane Austen (Sarah’s)

Sugar and Other Stories, A.S.Byatt (Sarah’s)

The Art Book, Phaidon

The English Year, Steve Roud

The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing (Sarah’s)

The Granta Book of Reportage

The Paris Review Interviews, Volume 2 (Sarah’s)

The Photo Book, Phaidon

The Story of England, Christopher Hibbert

The World of Robert Fisk

If you have any recommendations on good books for a journey around England, please post them below.



May 31st, 2008 admin

As you can see from our drive from Kimmeridge to the Bath & West Show in Shepton Mallett, the weather got decidedly worse!

Read about the flooding in Somerset.



May 25th, 2008 admin

Using a 5×4 view camera is a unique experience, quite removed from that of using a Mamiya 7 (my camera of choice for Motherland). Accordingly, I’ve developed a very different method of photographing my subject.

More often than not, I find myself wandering around a landscape looking for a scene that I think could make a photograph. If I see some potential, I’ll often take some digital photographs for reference, almost like a sketchbook. Once I’m happy with my location, I’ll set up the tripod and camera, which normally takes about 2-3 minutes (for the technically minded among you, please see Q Tuan Luong’s step-by-step guide to operating the view camera below) and finally place the film plate onto the camera back. I’ll then wait for the scene to unfold within my frame, taking the photograph at a given moment.

There’s often a lot of patience needed, either waiting for people to enter the landscape, or, because many of the scenes I’m photographing contain large groups of people, a moment when as many people as possible are distributed in an interesting way throughout the landscape. One fact about using a 5×4 plate camera (similarly with a 10×8 camera) is that once you’ve placed the film plate onto the back of the camera, you can no longer see through the lens. You are then relying on memory as to where in the landscape your framing starts and ends.

Having captured what I consider the final photograph from a scene, I now force myself to wait another few minutes to see what else happens, as often something does. This is a result of some frustrating missed opportunities where, having started to pack the camera away, I’ve spotted something happening, and not had time to re-frame and set up the camera to capture it. So I’ll now wait a further seven minutes to make sure. Why seven? Five just seemed too obvious. 


A step-by-step guide to operating the view camera by Q. T Luong

Operating the view camera is done in a series of steps, whose order is crucial. Reversing some of the steps will ruin the image. Reversing some other steps will unnecessarily waste time. Although this might seem complicated at first, if you always stick to the same sequence, it will become second nature. You will then be able to concentrate on the subject.

Here is the sequence that I favour in the field.

·       Choose the camera position, approximate orientation, focal length.

·       Set up and level the tripod and camera.

·       Attach the lens and open it to full aperture.

·       Focus roughly using the focussing knob.

·       Adjust precisely the composition while looking at the ground glass.

·       Focus precisely with tilts/swings.

·       Determine the optimal aperture.

·       Re-adjust slightly the composition (optional but recommended).

·       Adjust filters and compendium shade (optional but recommended).

·       Check for vignetting (optional but recommended).

·       Close the lens, cock the shutter, rap and insert the film holder.

·       Determine the shutter speed.

·       Set the aperture and shutter speed.

·       Remove the dark slide.

·       Look at the subject.

·       Fire the shutter with a cable release.

·       Put the darkslide back in.

·       Remove the filmholder.

·       Make a second identical exposure (optional but recommended).

·       Pack and move to the next spot.


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