Saturday, 4 September 2010

We English- Simon Roberts, photographer and Shane Meadows, film-maker. Collective Identity

During the summer holiday, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Media Museum in Bradford, which I had not looked round for many years. If you get the chance to go, you should, as there are some really interesting exhibitions about the history of the media and some interactive features you can play around with, like a bluescreen TV studio and operate some large TV cameras on a set. While there I heard a boy arguing with his parents that the museum wasn't anything to do with his course (which I assumed must be GCSE Media Studies) because it wasn't very up to date (they were in the Photography gallery which traces the history of photography sinvce about 1820). His mother was (angrily) pointing out that to understand the present it is important to know something about the past, and I'd definitely agree! The TV gallery in particular was fascinating for this, with a feature where you could select a video of any one of 1000 classic british programmes and go to a booth to watch it- a bit like live youtube! It also contains loads of old TV sets, dating back to the 1930s, many of which look amazing (and amazingly small!)

Anyway, one of the seasonal exhibitions, which came to an end this weekend, particularly caught my interest as it was not only visually intriguing but also tapped into the argument being made above and could be a really interesting case study for the Collective Identity topic in the A2 exam. The exhibition and lots of useful background material actually continues permanently online, so everything you need would be there.

Simon Roberts' exhibition and book 'We English' looks at the English at leisure; he travelled across the country in a motorhome from 2007-8 taking photographs of English people at sporting events, in the countryside, at the seaside and in a range of outdoor leisure activities. Having previously done a book of photographs about Russia, he was keen to investigate a topic closer to home:

"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."

Part of the exhibition featured photos which inspired his work for the project, many from the late 19th and early part of the 20th Century, such as this one of Margate beach(1890s)

His pictures, like this one of Skegness beach, go against a prevailing tradition of landscape photos without people to show a sense of the collective in their landscape.

Simon discusses his work in the project on Russia and the ideas behind 'We English' in this really interesting video interview

Simon Roberts: Lens Culture Conversations with Photographers from Jim Casper on Vimeo.

On his extensive blog about the project, there is a lot more background information and thoughtful discussion of the idea of Englishness, as well as links to other viewpoints. This would be a fantastic starting point for a study of englishness for the A2 exam, given the range of material available on the blog.

As the exhibition ends, so another text focussing on this collective identity begins, as channel 4 begin their four part series This is England 1986, in which director Shane Meadows takes the characters from his film set in 1982 and updates us on what has happened to them four years on. The trailer gives a bit away, but it looks 'not to be missed'!

The ShaneMeadows fansite gives you a lot more information and links to a good overview interview with Shane from The Independent.Lots of people used the original 'This is England' as a source text for the Collective Identity question in the June exam. I'd expect to see many more using the Tv series next summer, but it would be nice if some of them used simon Roberts' photos as a comparison.

This is England 86 is on tuesdays at 10 pm on Channel 4 from september 7th

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