In 2010 Simon Roberts was selected as the official British Election Artist, an appointment made by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, to create an historic record of the UK General Election. Traversing the length and breadth of the country in a motorhome during the official 24 days of electioneering, Roberts aimed to capture as many political parties, in as wide a variety of constituencies as possible. In the spirit of his previous major work, We English, he continued to use a tripod-mounted, large format plate camera, often shooting from the top of his vehicle. This allowed him a wide field of view, far removed from the up close and personal shots that are familiar from news media. His attention focused on the relationship between the canvassing politicians and the voting public, situated within the British landscape.
Roberts’ photographs foreground the spectacle as that of onlookers rather than the event itself: flocks of amateur and professional photographers follow the UK election trail, congregating around newsworthy events, and therein become points of interests themselves. Further, in the context of a political landscape in which many people had become disillusioned with and distrustful of politicians, he tried to democratize the artistic process and give the electorate the space to share their visual responses. Roberts invited the public to visually express their opinions on the campaign by uploading their own photographs to a special website created for the purpose (www.theelectionproject.co.uk). A method that, in some ways, recalls the Mass Observation movement of the 1930s-50s, which aimed to create, in its own words, an ‘anthropology of ourselves’.
The final artwork thus engages with both the artistic tradition of the lone individual photographer using analogue processes, as well as with contemporary photographic approaches to gathering content digitally via public engagement, such as citizen journalism and crowdsourcing. The Election Project echoes this dual approach, being comprised of Roberts’ 25 large-format colour tableaux photographs, each representing a day he spent on the campaign, (plus a final image capturing an extra day focused on the coalition talks) and the 1,696 images that were submitted to the Public Gallery.
The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, established in 1954, is a cross-party group of Members appointed by the Speaker to advise on the use and management of the Parliamentary Art Collection in the House of Commons. In 2001 the official artist was Jonathan Yeo, with David Godbold chosen for 2005. In 2015 the artist was Adam Dant in 2017 Cornelia Parker received the commission.