This is a draft version of my proposed Assignment 5 for peer review – any feedback is most welcome.
Northern England in Two
Inadequate Descriptive Systems
Politics, like photography, simplifies.
(Remainer or Leaver?) On 24th June 2016 the UK woke up to find itself newly sorted into binary, oppositional tribes.
(Liberal elite or left-behind?) A referendum that was itself fought on an extreme oversimplification of a complex situation was followed by a doubling-down of this regrettable tendency for the politics of division, as new “us vs them” labels emerged overnight.
(Young and naive or old and bigoted?) Data is a potent simplifier; percentages and charts can confer an undeserved veracity on a situation. Narratives emerged to explain the result, often falling into the generalisation trap and painting whole groups of people, even places, as not only homogenous but also diametrically opposed to others who had put their cross in the other box.
(Upwardly mobile or down and out?) I looked at the last five towns I’ve lived in, all in the North of England, through the lens of the EU Referendum result. I want to encourage some reflection 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; how simplification can be harmful.
(Striver or skiver? Globalist or nationalist? Rich or poor?) I also intend this to be a kind of postmodern meta-critique, to bring to the surface the subjectivity of the documentary photographer – I can depict these towns exactly as I want to; all of these images are real, even if none are wholly ‘true’.
Photography, like politics, simplifies.
[click first image for a full-screen slideshow]
EU Referendum results per town:
- Barnsley: 68.3% Leave / 31.7% Remain
- Burnley: 66.6% Leave / 33.4% Remain
- Dewsbury: 54.7% Leave / 45.3% Remain
- Middlesbrough: 65.5% Leave / 34.5% Remain
- Pickering: 55.3% Leave / 44.7% Remain
The title is an homage to Martha Rosler’s project The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974-75), from which this work takes some inspiration.