With Pierdom, Simon Roberts turns his camera to a specific architectural remnant that bears witness to leisure of the past—not just in England, but around Britain.
Mostly built in the 19th Century along the coastline of Britain, these piers were originally constructed as landing docks for pleasure steamers, but progressively catered to the needs of seaside day-trippers, who were escaping the grime and smog of the cities. In their heyday, the ‘pleasure piers’ incorporated cafes, casinos, theaters and even tramways. While some were modest structures others were elegant and exotic, thrusting out into the sea with characterstic Victorian aplomb.
At the turn of the last century, almost a hundred piers existed: now only half remain and several face an uncertain future. All have interesting tales to tell, usually involving fierce weather, boat strikes, fires and the practice of ‘sectioning’ in the Second World War, when many piers on the east and south coasts were partly dismantled to prevent them being used as landing stages by the Germans. Following in the footsteps of Francis Frith, whose company made the last major photographic survey of these peculiarly British structures in the early 20th century, Roberts has been documenting the remaining piers, mostly out-of-season, using his signature landscape style and traditional 4 x 5” plate camera. The photographs echo his work in We English: topographical landscapes, sometimes figurative and with a minimal colour palette.
Over the next year Roberts will be photographing every surviving Pleasure Pier in the country as identified by the National Pier Society.
A monograph of the work will be published in 2013. Text by Claudio Composti.
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