The Normandy Coast, with its craggy coastline and medieval fishing villages, has long captured the interest of artists. Its seascapes are featured in the work of Impressionist masters Monet, Manet and Boudin. Many photographers, such as Gustave Le Gray and Henri Le Secq, also worked in the region prior to or at the same time as the early Impressionists, starting around 1850. Iconic scenes and motifs appear in both the photographs and the paintings of the period.
In 2014 the Centre Photographique, in Rouen asked Simon to look at the region of greater Normandy as part of an ongoing project initiated several years ago, involving a selection of photographers, to focus on landscapes of the region. This time, Roberts’ residency has revealed a territory conceived of as a vast human landscape.
“Beware, O voyager, the road travels as well,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. A landscape, far from being a frozen reality, is experience and interaction, a negotiated interface between the environment and the person who peoples it with his or her footsteps and emotions. Collectively and individually, we and the landscape weave together a storyline mixing the real and the symbolic, the cultural and the natural, the objective and the subjective. Over two years of work the photographer has followed a trail of local fêtes, parades, memorial ceremonies and leisure activities. While everything around him is movement, flux, mobility, he stands still. Camped on the top of his van or perched on top of a ladder, he captures the fleeting encounter between an environment and those who occupy it for a day. The tone of the encounter is often casual, as in a still showing a group of friends adopting a corner of the Yport cliffs, readying a barbecue grill as if in a corner of their own garden. Finally these are “affective” landscapes, sites made for sharing.
From such a vantage point, the lens of Simon Roberts seems panoramic. The resulting space between the lens on one hand, and its subject and characters on the other, avoids the pitfall of the anecdotal or ephemeral to confer on scenes as trivial as a swim or bike ride the majesty of a landscape portrait. In the physical space of his large images Simon Roberts crafts a generous, inquisitive and friendly portrait of Normandy and of those who wander her byways. His images, as they explore rural hamlets, beaches, and sports fields, reveal an unexpected and joyous diversity of customs and manners of “living” her landscapes.