The Celestials, by Simon Roberts

 "For me, this degree of abstraction speaks of the essence of what we went through in lockdown: our altered states and perspectives, collective uncertainty and deepening awareness of the interconnectedness between us and the natural world." ​            - Simon Roberts

Simon Roberts​ (b.1974, UK) is ​one of the most acclaimed contemporary photographic artists working in the UK today. His work is ​renowned for exploring notions of landscape: how it is depicted, utilised, commodified, and interpreted.

This new series of works reflect upon his experience of the UK's Covid-19 lockdowns, as well as concerns of the time such as climate emergency, our relationship to the natural world, and to one another.

The Celestials,a series of cyanotypes, were made using the negatives of photographs taken by Roberts from plane windows during his travels over proceeding years. He was drawn to these sky-scapes partly because, finding himself unable to travel, they had suddenly become an ‘estranged perspective’, and partly because of the looming spectre of the climate crisis. Recently released satellite images showed clearer, bluer skies due to the immobility of lockdown; the earth was breathing again and, like many people, Roberts saw this as a sign of hope and a reminder of the changes still needed.

The startling shade of ‘Prussian Blue’, unique to the cyanotype, imbues The Celestials with an otherworldly, dreamlike intensity. The images​ ​were created by first treating watercolour paper with a solution of iron salts, then layering multiple photo negatives together on the paper before exposing it to sunlight. This tactile and unmediated process was important to Roberts, as it allowed for greater openness and receptivity to what emerged.

Feelings of hope and anxiety, stimulated by current events, put Roberts in mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, The Transcendentalist ​(1843), as he too found himself searching for some sense of a natural, divine order to transcend the chaos and absurdity. Inspiration is also attributed to Alfred Stieglitz’s abstract photographs of clouds, Equivalents(1925 – 1934). Stieglitz’s idealism and singular exploratory voice appeared particularly pertinent to Roberts, and he sought to build on these ideas of transcendental escapism.

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