Invisible Britain: Portraits is a forthcoming photographic ethnography book featuring stories of hope and resistance from the unheard voices of those affected by government policy from all across the country.
Each unique story will be told in the person’s own voice and accompanied by a portrait from an accomplished documentary photographer. The purpose of the book is to highlight how various social issues have impacted on people’s lives, and to show what individuals have done to resist and campaign against things like austerity, Brexit, deindustrialisation, cuts to public services and the rise in nationalism.
From a veteran of the Battle of Orgreave, to a Muslim woman campaigning against Islamophobia, through to a Cumbrian fell farmer and a Syrian refugee – these are the voices of Invisible Britain: stories that are rarely told directly and without a filter in the media.
Many of the people who have shared their stories with us feel ignored or misrepresented in the media and out of sync with the government and politicians. Invisible Britain is designed to amplify those voices. It’s also a reaction to the poverty porn narrative that has come to dominate how many now view those on lower incomes or who claim benefits.
Negative and stereotyping narratives which misrepresent residents of council estates, benefit claimants, migrants, refugees and other minority groups, often encourage the public to adopt detrimental opinions about those people. The damage done by programmes like Benefits Street and Skint is immeasurable; they’ve stigmatised not only people who claim benefits, but also people who live in social housing, which makes it far easier for politicians and property developers to demolish council estates, due to the perception that no one really wants to live in that type of housing.
The idea for the book first arose from a feature documentary that I co-directed in 2015. Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain followed the Nottingham band Sleaford Mods on a tour of the UK in the run up to the 2015 General Election, visiting some of the neglected, broken down and boarded up parts of the country that many would prefer to ignore. In each location we met with members of the local community and asked them how austerity, de-industrialisation and unemployment had impacted on the area and what they were doing, if anything, to resist it.
It would do them a disservice to describe the people we met as ‘ordinary’, given the extraordinary efforts they had taken to protect and preserve their communities. From Stockton-on-Tees to Southampton, via Barnsley, Lincoln and many other neglected pockets of England, what we were seeing wasn’t ‘Broken Britain’, but rather the frontline of nationwide resistance to the breakdown of the places they live.
Invisible Britain: Portraits will be a means for people from all across the UK whose lives have been impacted by government failures and neglect to finally have their say.
Marginalised communities are rarely heard from in the media, and it took the Brexit vote for politicians to take notice of the anger and frustration in areas that voted predominantly to leave the EU. In some respects, the EU referendum was also a referendum on the poor state of public services, the lack of affordable housing, and a protest vote against the government. The accusation that the people who voted to leave the EU were thick and ignorant misses the point; politicians were lax in their duty for not paying attention to the concerns of people in areas that have suffered for decades from deindustrialisation and cuts to public services.
Many of the people who feature in Invisible Britain are grassroots campaigners who work outside of Westminster or local politics. They do their politics on the streets and have been very effective in their work to resist austerity and campaign against injustice.
The book will be the first step towards creating a platform called Invisible Britain, which will work with individuals and communities across the UK to amplify unheard voices and enable people to tell their stories directly in a diverse range of creative projects. We want to help enable people from areas and communities that have been neglected and ignored to tell their own stories and find a way into the creative industries. This will include setting up workshops around various art forms, a mentorship scheme, practical support and advice regarding creative opportunities and paid work placements on film and television productions.
Invisible Britain: Portraits has been endorsed by both Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.
Jeremy Corbyn said of the forthcoming book:
One of the most shameful legacies of this Government will be the way in which it gave rise to a nasty culture of stigmatising working class communities and looking down on those just struggling to survive, who could be any one of us in different circumstances. These stereotypes don’t just demonise some of Britain’s most deprived communities, they are actively used to justify and excuse the damaging policies that are making people’s lives worse. This book powerfully gives voice to the experiences and perspectives of people who we are used to seeing marginalised and silenced.
Whilst Caroline Lucas said:
This collection of photographs will capture both the struggle and survival of the people across the country who have been hit hardest by austerity. In an era when the media frequently fails to show the impacts of government policy this kind of book is particularly important. I look forward to seeing the photographs.
We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for the book’s initial development costs and to cover the photographer’s fees. There’s no minimum donation and funders may choose to select from a range of rewards in return for a contribution, including copies of the book and limited edition postcards.
Arts funding has been reduced significantly since 2010, which makes crowdfunding the most realistic way of realising projects like this.
> Paul Sng is the Editor of Invisible Britain: Portraits.
> Evolve Politics is proud to be an official patron of the book.
> To become a patron, or to donate to the crowdfunding campaign, follow this link to the Invisible Britain GoFundMe page.