“Roberts’ election photographs are like theatre sets, with myriad small dramas being played out in them. They repay scrutiny; as gestures, expressions, and involvement – or lack of – in the campaign process, are revealed. The public submissions, on the other hand, show a very British combination of cynicism, humour and the absurd. Taken as a whole, Roberts Election Project is far more than simply a record of what transpired to be an historic year in British politics. It is also an important overview of the British people and landscape in 2010.” – Greg Hobson, curator, 2010
The Election Project is the result of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, having selected an official British Election Artist to create an historic record of the 2010 UK General Election. These 24 crucial days of electioneering were captured throughout the length and breadth of the country, in as wide a variety of constituencies and of as many diverse political parties as possible.
In the spirit of We English, the major project that preceded this one, the sights and scenes of the election trail were captured on a tripod-mounted, large-format plate camera seated atop a camper van. Far removed from the seemingly generic close-up shots that smother news media, this wide field of view allowed for a distance between the action and the lens, which enabled focus to be squarely placed on the relationship between canvassing politicians and the voting public, all situated within the British landscape.
Rather than focussing solely on the event itself, the photographs make onlookers part of the visual drama playing out in this unusual and theatrical space. As flocks of amateur and professional photographers followed the UK election trail, congregating around newsworthy events, they became points of interest in their own right.
In the context of a political landscape where many people had become disillusioned with and distrustful of politicians, it was clear that the artistic process could equally be democratised to provide the electorate with a space in which they could share their visual reactions to the campaign trail. A specially created website, ‘The Election Project’, allowed people to upload their own visual opinions of the election theatre taking place. It brings to mind a 21st century version of Mass Observation, the organisation launched in 1937 with the aim of creating “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 crowd-sourcing. The Election Project echoes this dual approach, being comprised of 25 large-format colour tableaux photographs, each representing a day 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.
View installation shots here
‘Simon Roberts’ work – The Election Project in context’ by Greg Hobson (pdf)
‘The Election Project Public Gallery – an anthropology of ourselves?’ by Sean O’Hagan (pdf)
‘How the election was won’ by Peter Wilby (pdf)
‘In response to The Election Project’ by Ian Jeffrey (pdf)