The Elephant in the Room
The work uses photography to examine how Brexit is perceived and has affected small towns and communities in Lincolnshire. As a 20+ year resident of Lincolnshire in and around Boston and Sleaford I have observed significant demographic and cultural changes over those years. Lincolnshire for years actively encouraged migrants from Europe to come to work in the agricultural sector. They came for what were comparatively low skilled and low pay jobs that Britains would no longer do because even at that it was a substantial increase in their standard of living. Over time however, wages have not increased, and many are being taken advantage of by gangmasters and forced to live on a less than minimum wage. Continued migration to meet the needs of the agricultural industry combined with those Europeans long here who have growing families in Lincolnshire has put an increasing strain on public resources and employment opportunities. Brexit has only served to amplify divisions among people. Lincolnshire was strongly in favour of leave and while some EU nationals have left due to the strained relations and uncertainties, others have purchased houses, started businesses and made what they hoped to be permanent lives in Lincolnshire. But the animosity is palpable, and it has left many young people, British and EU national alike, caught in the middle without much a voice in their futures. It has torn families, neighbours and the community at large apart and there seems little optimism for the future. The issues are so divisive and emotions so raw that many people have stopped talking to each other and hide behind a socially acceptable mask for fear of inciting more unpleasantness.
I have used a mixture of portrait, landscape and documentary photographic approaches set into context the story of the struggles young people, British and EU nationals, are facing in dealing with their families, friends, teachers and the corrosive atmosphere that has descended upon Lincolnshire in the wake of the Brexit vote. The dependence of the agricultural industry and the years of EU migrants establishing themselves in the communities set against the attitudes of some who long for “the way things used to be” has put many young people in the middle, often subjected to the vile rhetoric and expected to adhere to the family stance even if they do not agree. They are often forced to live behind their own masks to keep peace in their immediate environments. This work attempts to let them tell their stories in their own way as I collaborated with them in the creation of their portraits and allow them to address “The Elephant in the Room; Brexit.”