Roberts’ work explores senses of belonging in landscapes. Since land invariably belongs to somebody, landscape is closely linked to notions of ownership, by individuals or institutions. Landscapes are also linked, beyond legal ownership, to larger worlds of nature and nation, beauty and history, as the term belonging extends to more shared senses of attachment, citizenship and entitlement.
The National Trust along with English Heritage, Ministry of Defence, Utility companies, and the Forestry Commission are among the largest UK landowners. The photographs in this series are an exploration of public interaction and usage of landscapes in private/ quasi-public hands, and how that frames shared experiences of place, a sense of cultural belonging, and the various ways this is claimed in the ways people conduct themselves, and in the company they keep.
These photographs reveal the degree to which natural looking landscapes are peopled, in various groups, hikers here, picnickers there, and the degree to which the landscape is managed, shaped for visiting as well as well as for other commercial activities like farming and forestry. In National Property: The Picturesque Imperfect, Roberts explores how people perform in such places, striking out into the landscape or keeping close to the car park and its conveniences. They do many things, some view the landscape, taking photographs, others look away, or at other visitors.
In many of these photographs we witness the somewhat mundane ways in which we interact with the landscape – walking the dogs, diving into a river, cycling along a tow-path – interacting with the landscape perhaps with no sense of the historic significance of the place itself. Roberts finds subliminal signals in the landscape, capturing a sense of tension just under the surface of the photograph – the police car in Kielder Water, the jockeying for position to take a picture at Flatford Mill, the managed pathways at Stonehenge, the gas delivery van ‘spoiling’ the view of Sheringham Park. This is the nation as a people as well as a place, its landscape a social theatre.
Edited extract from text by Stephen Daniels
Professor of Cultural Geography, University of Nottingham