For the start of the new school year in September, the Sit Down gallery presents Un air de vacances, by artist Simon Roberts. The exhibition invites us to discover the way a British looks at the French on vacation. Through his Impressions of Normandy* series, Simon Roberts captures a panorama of outdoor leisure. These scenes of sea bathing, cycling or picnicking, far from being trivial, are part of a history of the English and French landscape.
Here is Normandy, and its days of celebrations and leisure, seen by an Englishman. Our neighbor across the Channel, photographer Simon Roberts is a young figure in English photography. Born in 1974, he is part of this typically British photographic tradition, focusing on portraying what binds territories and beings. At the end of the 2000s, he produced a landmark corpus of images: brought together in a book entitled We English, they recount the English landscape, inhabited and surveyed, a lived in space, seat of daily life, festivals, even rituals. . In line with the assignments given in recent years by the Photographic Center, dedicated to the landscapes of the cliffs, the Seine valley or even rebuilt cities, the Center contacted Simon Roberts to look at the territory of the greater Normandy region. The residence led by the English photographer was an opportunity to reveal this time a territory perceived as a vast human landscape.
“Beware, O traveler, the road also goes” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke. Far from being a fixed reality, the landscape is an experience and a relationship, a common ground created between the environment and the one who invests it with his steps and his emotions. He and we (collectively and individually), together develop a framework that cheerfully mixes the real and the symbolic, the natural and the cultural, the objective and the subjective. The photographer for two years visited local festivals, parades, commemorations or leisure activities. When everything became movement, flow, mobility, he stopped. Camped on the roof of his van, or perched at the top of a ladder, he captured on the spot the encounter between an environment and its occupants for a day. Between these two protagonists, the tone is often familiar, as in this shot where a group of friends took over a corner of the Yport cliff as if their own garden, bringing out the barbecue. “Emotional” landscapes, shared places in a way.
Thus perched, the objective of Simon Roberts embraced widely. The resulting distancing from the subject and the individuals simultaneously draw photography away from the anecdote and the snapshot to give these scenes, sometimes as trivial as a sea bath or a bike ride, the majesty of a pictorial representation. In the space of these large canvases, Simon Roberts paints a generous, benevolent and curious portrait of Normandy and those who cross it. Exploring the seaside, rural towns, sports sites, his photos reveal a joyful and unsuspected diversity of uses and ways of “living” these landscapes.
Director of the Rouen Normandy Photographic Center (excerpt)
*This series was produced during a residency initiated by the Rouen Normandie Photographic Center from 2014 to 2016, which gave rise to two exhibitions in Rouen (2017) and Caen (2018). The residency continued in 2021 in Cotentin, Normandy, resulting the same year in an exhibition at the Château de Flamanville.
Simon Roberts : Un air de vacances
from September 8 to October 21, 2023
Galerie Sit Down
4 Rue Sainte-Anastase
75003 Paris, France