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Practitioner Research - Simon Roberts, We English

Simon Roberts ‘We English’ is another photo book that I will definitely be taking a lot of inspiration from going forward. On his website, the book is described as “We English explores the themes of identity, memory, and belonging. Ordinary people are captured engaged in diverse pastimes, which presents a populace whose profound attachment to its local environment and homeland makes for a distinct examination of nationhood.” The word that really stood out for me was belonging. Whilst I think Roberts explores it within this book on a much broader nationwide scale, whereas I want to explore it as a much more personal and self directed piece of work. But the idea of belonging remains. Maybe I am misinterpreting it for my own personal gain, but it is that idea of feeling like you need to connect to something bigger than yourself and by belonging to a culture it fulfills that part of the identity.

Roberts fulfils this idea of cultural identity by creating large spanning landscapes, of which people occupy the tiniest of spaces. It is a tethering of these activities and these events to the landscape itself. It feels like Yan’s and Tom Woods work as well, in which the actions are almost inherently tied to the landscape that surrounds them, almost generating this consistent idea that the world around us is as much a character as the people that occupy the space. They obviously all take the idea in different approaches in this idea but it needs to be noted that it seems to be a running theme throughout all of them.

As can be shown in the title as well, the project argues the very idea of ‘Englishness’ and what it means to be English in a contemporary space. That idea of representation in the modern era, a time that has seen a lot of countries that would be depicted for their whiteness start to see an integration and collaboration of cultures. The same thing has started to occur in Ireland in the last 20-30 years, which is why I found it so important to research this photo book. These social and cultural changes start to shift the dynamic of what we perceive. national identity to be, in Ireland's case, it being the shift from gaelic catholicism to a wide array of races and religions. It starts to raise the question of what cultural identity even means now. So for me, that displacement of how I saw myself might simply be a cultural change that is completely normal in this contemporary space, but only through preconceived beliefs have I questioned myself. That is why I think ‘We English’ is so important right now to me in this project. Just by bringing up the idea of belonging, it raises the question of where I, as a first generation Irish belong.

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