Girl on cliff edge image ‘irresponsible’, says council – but artist says he’s been censored

Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts, displayed at a bus stop in Brighton and Hove
Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts, displayed at a bus stop in Brighton and Hove

An artist said his work has been censured after his image featuring the Seven Sisters cliffs was removed from advertising boards across the city.

But the image has been removed from sites around Brighton and Hove after a complaint which said the content was inappropriate.

Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts showing the Seven Sisters

Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts showing the Seven Sisters

Brighton and Hove City Council said it was concerned that the image showed people approaching the edge of a cliff, and one council worker said it was ‘irresponsible’ and ‘not appropriate’.

Simon Roberts, an artist from Brighton, took the images used on the poster at the East Sussex beauty spot during the week which Article 50 was signed, signalling the beginning of the UK’s departure from the EU.

The work was being displayed in Brighton and Hove as part of the Photo Fringe of Brighton Photo Biennial – which this year took the theme ‘A New Europe’.

Related stories: Exploring ‘a new Europe’ at Brighton Photo Biennial

Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts, displayed at a North Road advertising screen (above), and Simon's new image with the cliff's removed

Between the Acts, the artwork by Simon Roberts, displayed at a North Road advertising screen (above), and Simon's new image with the cliff's removed

Mr Roberts, who said the campaign was supported by Arts Council funding, has criticised the council over the move, and said: “It’s been shown in Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool.

“This is not a picture that is not already seen in the public eye.”

He said newspapers regularly ran images of people standing close to the cliff edge, and added that his wife had worked for Samaritans, so he was aware of issues around suicide.

“It is not as if this image is not in the public realm already,” he said. “I was trying to take up advertising space and disrupt what people would normally see in the urban environment.”

He said it was at dozens of sites across the city – most were posters, but ten were at billboards and bus stops.

Mr Roberts said a tweet saying the work was offensive sparked the move to take the image down from various sites across the city.

“I was not allowed to show a picture of a cliff which I felt was totally ludicrous,” Mr Roberts said.

“I then submitted exactly the same poster without the cliff – they still refused to take the picture.

“I suppose from the council’s point of view they do not want people to be encouraged to go to the edge.

“I photographed a girl close to the edge. I didn’t put her there, she was there.

“I felt the poster was helping to create a debate.”

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson said: “We believe in the right of artists to make provocative statements through their work, but as a strong supporter of #becliffaware and the efforts of many partners and organisations who work hard to discourage people from approaching the edge of the cliffs in and around Brighton & Hove, we feel displaying these posters on advertising spaces that we own contradicts ours and others’ responsibilities and energies to keep people safe on cliffs.

“We are also mindful of the impact of this imagery on the many families and friends affected by a high number of cliff falls and suicides in our locality and have therefore agreed with Clear Channel, who manage the poster sites that they should be removed.”

“We have not asked for posters to be removed or amended at advertising sites that aren’t owned by the council.”

Mr Roberts said: “The posters – both the original and the new version – have also been prevented from being displayed on all 80 seafront sites I had booked, which are owned by Coastline Posters but were formerly council property.

“So the council’s power goes much further than just the sites they currently own, this therefore opens up a much bigger question about civic power and who controls what Brighton and Hove residents are allowed to view in the public realm.”

A council insider added: “There are more than two dozen deaths along this stretch of coastline each year.”

They pointed out the commissioners of the piece described the girl close to the edge as having ‘bodacious courage’, and said: “Describing a child as having ‘bodacious courage’ as she’s standing looking over a cliff edge is both irresponsible and careless.

“It shows this campaign has been ill-thought out and this image is not appropriate to be advertised throughout seaside towns and cities like Brighton and Hove.”

To find out more about the work, visit: www.simoncroberts.com/work/between-the-acts

What do you think? Should the work be displayed as part of the Photo Fringe or was the council right to oppose it? Let us know on our Facebook page or by tweeting us at @BrightonIndy.