September 24, 2013
British photographer Simon Roberts has spent the past three years creating Pierdom, a comprehensive survey of Britain’s piers. He loosely followed in the footsteps of Francis Frith, whose company made the last major photographic survey of these peculiarly British structures. Roberts' earlier We English series, was concerned with the culture of leisure in contemporary English society.
Predominantly constructed during the 19th century in the context of expanding Victorian seaside resorts and railways, these seaside structures were often erected as landing docks for pleasure steamers and other sea craft. Growing to accommodate the needs of day-trippers escaping the smog of the city, engineers began to incorporate bandstands, cafes and music halls into their designs, embracing the growing notion of ‘pleasure seeking’ by the seaside.
Simon Roberts, Clevedon Pier, from Pierdom, 2011
The history of the pleasure pier follows the story of Britain’s relationship with the seaside. Our piers bear witness to the growth of the coast as a pleasure destination for a monied elite, as well as the working class enthusiasm for the seaside brought on by the development of the railways and the introduction of bank holidays.
At the turn of the century the British coastline boasted over 100 piers, some modest and functional, others elegant, exotic Victorian structures thrusting out into the sea. Now under half remain, the others destroyed by fierce weather and fires, with many dismantled during the 2nd World War to prevent German landings. Britain’s piers have become cultural landmarks, tracing history, national identity and economic fortunes from Victorian industrialism to the post-war boom, and finally now to the recent economic downturn.
Simon Roberts, Eastbourne Pier, from Pierdom, 2011
Roberts’ large format (5x4) photographs are often taken from elevated positions incorporating peripheral details and the elements. Others are made close from underneath the piers' steel and wood structures.