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Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 10:53 UK
Election 2010: South Yorkshire


General election gets official photographer

A former Sheffield student earned himself a key role in the 2010 General Election campaign.

Simon Roberts did not run as a candidate - he was selected by the House of Commons as the nation's official Election Artist.

During the 17 days of official campaigning, Simon travelled the country in a motor home photographing local landscapes and scenes that are connected to the 2010 General Election.

"It's a snapshot of the state of the nation in 2010," said Simon ahead of the project. "I'm looking for stories and locations which give reference to things that we're interested in at the moment, from local to national issues like unemployment or MPs' expenses. It's also about looking at those MPs who are working very hard in their area to make a difference."

Photograph by John Roberts, Former MP hits back over expenses claims
John Roberts uploaded this photo via theelectionproject.co.uk website

Simon studied Human Geography and Photojournalism in Sheffield in the 1990s. After graduating from Norton College he documented many photo stories, including a series on a local boxer, Daniel Teasdale, at Brendan Ingle's gym in Wincobank. It was for these photos that Simon received a boost to his career when he was awarded Sunday Times Magazine Young Photographer of the Year in 1998.

Plate camera

Simon spoke to BBC Radio Sheffield after the 2010 Election. He shot around 1000 photographs on an old plate camera, a method which he said helped give him an alternative perspective on the Election:

"Using the old plate camera meant I could produce pictures which had a different feeling. They were always taken from an elevated position - the roof of the motor home - so I was always slightly overlooking a scene rather than in the political bubble. I was taking it in as much as possible and looking at the context in which events were taking place."

The plate camera also allowed him access to politicians which he may not have had with a normal camera:

"People feel quite threatened if you're running around taking photos of them with a big zoom lens, but with this old sort of camera people don't feel so threatened. I was photographing Peter Mandelson on Blackpool Pier and he was so shocked when he saw me with this camera that he gave me a lot more time than if I had been a normal snapper!

The electionproject.co.uk is not just photographs by Simon Roberts - he is keen that peopl also use the website to upload photographs of election coverage affecting them:

"Part of my commission was to source pictures from the public via the website and we have had about 1000 photos sent in so far. It's an interesting archive and shows how the public are responding to the Election. The pictures show everything from the mundane to amusing photos. And they show the different emotions of the campaign, too.

"Before I started the project one of my biggest worries was if there would be anything interesting to photograph - but it turned out to be one of the most exciting elections for at least 20 years."

Photograph by Natalie Hocco. Leaders Wives, Private Eye front page
Natalie Hocco snapped this magazine front cover in a window

UK politicians suffered scandal after scandal, from the expenses row to cash for questions, and Simon says he definitely noticed a shift in public perception:

"There's this real sense of a void between the general public and the politicians. I think during the 2010 campaign we will see more candidates really getting out there and hitting the streets trying to win back the electorate."

After the Election

The 17-day election campaign is now over and Simon is no longer taking photographs - but despite the developing stories about a hung parliament and the next Prime Minister, he says he does not feel the need to keep photographing the unfolding events:

"What's the story now? It's mostly men in offices hammering out a deal - there's not a great deal to photograph. Other than that, huge numbers of press photographers camp out at the parties' headquarters. But once you've done that picture once, why do it again?"

Simon's photographs will join the Parliamentary Art Collection on show in the House of Commons in mid July 2010.

Simon also has an exhibition at Sheffield's Bank Street Art Gallery, depicting a year travelling across Russia in 2005: "It's the first time these photographs have been exhibited so it's really exciting to have them on show in the city where I studied."


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