“The nature of public, communal experience has been an implicit theme of Simon Roberts’ photographic work for the last decade. Since he embarked on his project We English in 2007, he has documented events and places across Britain that have drawn people together, all the while compiling evidence that the desire for common presence and participation, for sharing a sense of being ‘in place’, not only endures but might also harbour something distinctive about national character and identity.” – David Chandler
Merrie Albion represents ten years’s worth of photographing Britain. From We English and The London Olympiad to National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect and Let This Be A Sign, the book underlines a distinct shift in tone from the initial time at which these individual and shared moments were captured. The unassuming exploration of Britain’s evolving patterns of leisure shares space with a visual discussion about the country’s recent history through images of topical and significant events and places, bringing to mind the notion of a national visual survey.
Although the book combines both published and unpublished photographs, there is a strong sense that we are not seeing these photographs for the first time but rather re-seeing them placed within a dramatically different socio-cultural context that invites us to ask questions about the idea of Britishness itself. This comes as a time when the notion of what it means to be British is in flux. With conversations about Brexit still as spirited as when the referendum took place in 2016, and new discussions occurring about inequality in the cultural and social spheres, Merrie Albion redefines the places within these images and opens them up to an examination of their histories, particularly about the influence of the country’s past on its present.
Merrie Albion is the visual representation of a country’s anxieties, past and present. It is, as Chandler terms it, “a pictorial chronicle of our times,” which addresses the development of a diverse national culture whose story is still being written.
“Released in the wake of the nationalist triumph of Brexit, this brilliant new book takes the temperature of the UK, offering insights most necessary into notions of identity and belonging and, specifically, what it means to be British at this significant moment in contemporary history. With his customary elevated perspective and tableaux style, we oversee views of places and the people that populate them to form a survey: not only of spaces used for leisure and cultural activity but also subjects and events that can now be viewed as defining locations in recent times, such as the London 2012 Opening Ceremony or Grenfell Tower. A real socio-political mood piece, the power and urgency of which reminds us why Roberts is regarded as one of the leading UK photographers working today.” – Tim Clark, 1000 Words, December 2017
Merrie Albion – Landscape Studies of a Small Island was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing (November 2017) and made possible thanks to the support of The Incite Project. The book includes an introduction by David Chandler and essay contributions from AL Kennedy, Alex Vasudevan, Carol Ann Duffy, David Matless, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Ian Jeffrey, Irenosen Okojie, Nikesh Shukla and Tristram Hunt.
An exhibition of Merrie Albion ran at Flowers Gallery in London from 19 January – 10 March and in New York, in October 2018.
View installation shots here
Contact sheet of photographic plates (pdf)
At Ease by David Matless (pdf)
Gatherings by David Chandler (pdf)
i-SPY by Frank Cottrell-Boyce (pdf)
Occupying the Frame by Alexander Vasudevan (pdf)
Of Other Spaces by Irenosen Okojie (pdf)
Reality & Ritual in the Theatre of the Election by Tristram Hunt (pdf)
The Bath & West by Ian Jeffrey (pdf)