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THE FULL PICTURE - SIMON ROBERTS

 

Broadly speaking, I’m interested in how photography is used to promote the idea of national character through depiction of landscapes and monuments. How landscapes are continually redrawn and reimagined depending on the artistic and political viewpoint of the individual. 

Over the past decade,my work has concentrated on a sustained interrogation of the British landscape at a time of economic and political uncertainty. Photography’s envisioning of Britain is part of a long-standing and wide-ranging culture of image making in a variety of media, both pictorial and written, expressing contrasting and sometimes conflicting notions of Britain and Britishness as forms of cultural character and identity. 

This particular photograph was taken in Greenwich Park during the 2012 London Olympics where the equestrian events were being held. It depicts Marcus Ehning from Germany riding Plot Blue in the Individual Jumping Final Round A. I’d spent a couple of years attempting to get accreditation to photograph the Olympics, proposing to the International Olympic Committee that I could produce a different perspective to the deluge of images shot by sports and news photographers; I was hoping to produce a unique photographic legacy of London 2012. My request was granted and I had open access to any Olympic site for the duration of the competition. 

The XXX Olympiad was held on the fifth anniversary of the credit crunch, against the backdrop of economic uncertainties, Eurozone turmoil and predictions of a long, slow financial recovery. In many ways it was a period reminiscent of the last Olympics held in London, in 1948, which were known as the austerity games. London 2012, it was widely claimed, presented an opportunity for the British public, and indeed much of the rest of the world, to momentarily forget the economic gloom that surrounded us.

In my series I was not so interested in the individual athlete or sporting event. The value in my photographs is the framing of a wider tableau, which, in this image, includes the whole equestrian course, the spectators, the central building of The Queen's House (a former royal residence and one of the most important buildings in British architectural history), and the backdrop of the City of London and Canary Wharf. There’s a painterly quality to the photograph, in fact Greenwich Park has been characterised by a long history as a hill top site for extensive views of London, which have been widely celebrated in paintings, prints, poetry, and prose - such as Turner’s ‘View of London from Greenwich’ (1825).

Note the masts of the Cutty Sark, one of the world’s most famous ships, the sun has just broken through the clouds helping increase the vibrancy of the colours and casting shadows on the course. There’s also a hint of humour with the twelve slightly naff obstacles which pay homage to important British landmarks or historical notes, such as Fence 4 depicting the Magna Carta and Fence 11 - Nelson's Column as a replica in miniature. Overhead is a somewhat sinister black blob, an eye-in-the-sky television camera which frames the whole picture and reminds us that this event was a stage set and an inspired global marketing pitch from an economy desperate for growth. Landscape as theatre.