As the concept and communication intent of this assignment have been evolving since its inception last year, I thought it was time to articulate my current thinking in an updated Statement of Intent. (original for reference). As ever this is subject to change, but it reflects the way I am currently approaching the work.
I Woke Up And Everything Was Fine
Politics, like photography, simplifies.
In 2016 the impossibly complex issue of whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union was distilled down to one question: Remain or Leave. This ruthless simplicity eradicated nuance from the debate and we were all suddenly obliged to fit into binary categories.
It became tempting to believe that such a blunt instrument could either cement your comfortable existence or drastically change your miserable one; that this one magic bullet will fix everything. The New Statesman summed it up the day after the vote: “This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world.”
It may have solidified into accepted wisdom now but one aspect of the result was a genuine shock: the extent to which economically deprived areas, particularly in the north of England, had voted Leave. The narrative that emerged to explain this was a doubling-down of the oversimplification that had beset the campaigning; new tribes emerged overnight: you weren’t just a remainer or a leaver, you were a remoaner or a brexitard; the liberal elite or the left-behind; multicultural middle class or white working class.
I revisited a number of northern English towns that I have lived and worked in, looking at them anew through the lens of the referendum result. Data is a potent simplifier. Percentages and charts can confer an undeserved authenticity upon a situation. Is a town really 33% intellectual, 67% bigot?
With these images I aim to provoke thought about the absurdity of such ‘weaponised generalisation’; how much easier it is to lean on divisive stereotypes than to understand the nuances of human behaviour and the range of opinions and values. I also want to bring to the surface the subjectivity of the documentary photographer.
Photography, like politics, simplifies.