I was born in Croydon, South London, in 1974. My mother is a Northerner, hailing from Cleator Moor in Cumbria, who met my London-born father when they were both working in the capital. My formative years were spent in Oxted, a provincial town in Surrey's commuter belt, while holidays were often spent walking in the Lake District (usually in the rain) or visiting my grandparents in Angmering, a retirement town on the South Coast.
Unremarkable beginnings, you might think, and for many people, they are merely typical childhood memories. Yet they spark off a range of associations and images, of feelings and senses, which all helped begin the process of making We English.
Initially, I was simply thinking about Englishness and how my upbringing had been quintessentially English. How much of this was an intrinsic part of my identity? In what ways was my idea of what constitutes an "English life" or English pastimes (if there are such things) different to those of others? My own memories of holidays, for example, were infused with very particular landscapes; the lush green-ness around Derwent Water or the flinty grey skies — and pebbles — of Angmering's beaches. It seemed to me that these landscapes formed an important part of my consciousness of who I am and how I "remember" England.
Having returned from Russia in late 2005, where I'd spent a year travelling across the country to produce the book Motherland (Chris Boot Ltd, 2007), I was ready to develop some of the same themes that I found in Russia. Motherland was an exploration of, among other things, the Russians' attachment to their homeland. This attachment to place was somewhat mysterious, simultaneously profound and mundane, and it led me to think about my own attachment to England. So We English also began as a development of my Russian work, springing from my fascination with peoples' (and my own) sense of belonging, of memory, identity and place.
And We English would be another journey, not quite as epic as the one across Russia, but nonetheless involving a 1993 Talbot Express Swift Capri motorhome, a two year old, a pregnant wife and my apparatus of choice: a 5x4 large-format camera.
Photobooks from publisher Chris Boot (now at Aperture) always show a real attention to detail and appreciation of the images presented.
Simon Roberts' We English series particularly benefits from the large format and clean, elegant design chosen for this beautiful book. Leafing carefully though the pages, it's easy to become drawn in and absorbed by the detail in each image, all representations of 21st century English people at leisure, whether at the races, by the sea, or in nature.
The book also has an academic essay by Stephen Daniels, and an illuminating commentary on each photograph from the photographer himself, tracing the development of the project, and his experiences shooting each picture.
This is a photobook to savor and enjoy.
by Simon Roberts
Introduction by Stephen Daniels
Publication date: October 2009
Hardcover: 112 pages
14.1 x 11.4 in / 360 x 290 mm
Publisher: Chris Boot Ltd
ISBN: ISBN 978-1-905712-14-4