Election art: Strike a pose
Ben Duckworth gets a viewing of the work of the House of Commons' first-ever election artist
During the campaigning days of this year's general election, Simon Roberts drove a motorhome around the UK chronicling candidates of all political persuasions. As the first official House of Commons election artist, Roberts would take pit-stops as he caught up with campaigns, stand on top of his temporary home and take photos using an old-fashioned plate camera. The results form The Election Project, an exhibition in Portcullis House, Westminster which runs from 17 September until December. Consisting of 25 images, one for each day of the election campaign plus one taken during the height of the coalition talks, Roberts focused on the relationship between canvassing politicians and the voting public. "Rather than just following along with the tightly media managed campaigns of the three leaders, I decided also to have a look at more marginal constituencies and also the huge range of political parties canvassing around the country," he explains.
Roberts talks us through three key images from the exhibition:
1. Gordon Brown visits Rochdale,
28 April 2010
"Gordon Brown had been visiting a community ex-offenders project. The idea was he would meet these ex-offenders who were clearing a tow path. It was to show Gordon meeting the public because there was so much criticism that he hadn't during the campaign. In the photo he is being filmed live by the BBC. Gillian Duffy has walked down the street [she is stood on the pavement in a dark coat with a red collar]. This picture is taken when she starts heckling. Sue Nye, Brown's ‘gatekeeper' has started walking over to her and the camera crew starts to record her. He was introduced to Gillian and they had that conversation. Of course, we know what happened next.
"I selected this picture rather than the photograph of him outside Gillian's house apologising, as it is almost the genesis, the seed, that grew into this big news event. What I like about it is all the elements of the theatrical performance are here. You've got the security in the foreground, the media pen, the exoffenders, the public filming with their mobile phones, you can see the architecture of Rochdale with these new housing estates and people looking over the fence. You have these elements that talk as much about the UK political landscape as it does about the activity."
2. Nick Clegg, Warrington South,
16 April 2010"This was taken after the first TV debate. Suddenly Clegg was the new prince of politics and there was this massive press entourage wanting to film him. He did this press pool in the car park of Tesco, while going to look at Warrington Rugby Club. I like the fact that this is a claustrophobic picture. There he is, surrounded by the hordes of press. There are details here like the three people pointing at him on the right side of the frame including a boy on his parent's shoulders. It almost mirrors the booms of the microphones going in and the picture's framed with that big portrait of him on the side of the battle bus."
3. Ed Balls, Morley and Outwood,
17 April 2010"This was taken in Drighlington, a village in Ball's constituency of Morley and Outwood. He was playing rugby with young members of the Drighlington rugby league club on a Saturday morning. He got stuck in. But what was funny was the kids tried to rugby tackle him, and he got very nervous. The first team lads are stood on the edge of the picture looking at Balls with their arms crossed. Everyone else was looking elsewhere. Of course, this was one of the constituencies where the Conservatives were really gunning for Labour. They were hoping Ed Balls would be their Portillo moment. When I was driving around, it was full of Tory posters - the ones which featured the face of Gordon Brown."
The Election Project will be exhibited at Portcullis House until December. It will open to the public during Open House weekend (18-19 Sept). For further public opening times please check Parliament's website: http://www.parliament.uk/
For more details about the project and to view all the public submissions, visit: http://www.theelectionproject.co.uk/.
This article was first published in Total Politics magazine.