[THIS WEEK] Seaside piers haven’t fared well in recent years but Simon Roberts’ pictures of the skeletal remains show some optimism
Designers-cum-publishers FUEL have a back catalogue of well-designed books on curious, compelling topics. They’re perhaps best known for their series of books on Russian prison tattoos, represented in black and white photography and line drawings. Another favourite is the series which collects hand-made and improvised objects from around Europe, a collection of photographs and text describing the stories behind makeshift toys, fitness aids and tools: at times, naïve, loving, beautiful and tragic.
One of their latest books, published by Dewi Lewis, is a monograph for photographer Simon Roberts, Pierdom. Featuring a striking illustration of the piles of piers on its cover and an essay by critic Francis Hodgson, it’s a companion to a set of photographs which will be on show at the Flowers Gallery on Kingsland Road, London, from 10 September to 12 October. It’s perhaps appropriate that this exhibition, which documents 19th century piers around the UK, is opening just when we have the first hints of summer passing: the days shortening, and a bluster in the air.
Seaside piers haven’t fared well in recent years, possibly featuring in people’s imaginations more for their propensity to burn down than their status as havens of fun, frolics and music hall entertainment. Like the hand-made objects in FUEL’s books, Simon Roberts pictures of the skeletal remains of once-thriving piers have a pathos to them. But they retain some optimism: people play in their shadows, and they remain strong against the waves that batter them. The sequence is also a bracing reminder that we are an island nation, blessed with a beautiful coastline. Its palette is one of dull greys and greens, the accessories, sturdy boots and a warm coat, rather than flip-flops and shorts. Roberts’ evocative shots take you there: to Teignmouth, to Eastbourne, to Saltburn. One to welcome the onset of autumn with.