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In New Vedute (2015-16), Simon Roberts takes traditional Italian tourist postcards found in junk shops and flea markets, all of which have been written on, stamped and sent back to the UK, and reanimates them for a contemporary purpose. Framing one image within another, he uses these postcards depicting idealised views of Italy— grand historical monuments, ancient ruins, picturesque natural landscapes and holiday destinations—as backdrops upon which he then superimposes vernacular photographs from Italy, which include his father’s holiday snapshots, his own photographs taken with a compact camera and freely-available images found online.
The use of opaque layers recalls Roberts’ series, The Last Moment, and its translucency is a filter through which our understanding of Italy is constructed and challenged. The combination of contemporary and picture postcard photographs also highlights some of the political, social and economic challenges facing Italy today, especially in light of mass tourism, financial instability, unemployment, the refugee crisis and immigration. This creates an inherent tension that can be disconcerting and in merging two photographs, taken at different times for different purposes, Roberts is also playing with the way we, literally, see Italy.
It is in the space existing between competing versions of Italy that Roberts probes materially and metaphorically. Sometimes we see the same scene, sometimes it is geographically unrelated; at times the effect is disorientating, even humorous, particularly in the way scale and size create comic visual moments. Roberts is also reflecting on and questioning the importance of cultural emblems, the notion of typical Italian landscapes and the nature of the postcard. The series further taps into the relationship between British tourism and Italy, as well as that between photography and the ontology of the postcard, especially its cultural and iconographic significance.
As well as exploring the pictorial side of the original postcard, Roberts creates titles for his repurposed postcards using the exchanges written on the back alongside the date they were sent. New Vedute (2015-16) is thus a multidimensional body of work in which Roberts has reconceptualised the postcard for the digital age through fragmenting and disrupting (singular and) romanticised views of Italy.
Edited extract from text by Miranda Gavin
Writer on photography and lens-based media