“Lexit* is not a bad idea”: Portraits of EU families in London in the shadow of Brexit

Cecile (France) and Tony (UK) ponder their options if and when Brexit happens. *L(ondon)exit from the UK.

To mark this year’s International Day of Families, we are releasing the first of a series of audio and photo portraits of EU families living in London. The portraits, we will release one or two a week until the end of June, stem from a participatory photo research project that aims to capture a glimpse of the lives of  EU families in Britain’s cosmopolitan and diverse capital city in the days, weeks and/or months (hard to know really) leading to Brexit.

London is one of the capitals of the EU, with over one million non-native EU citizens, covering all EU member states, living and working here, including a large number of families and children. And it is also, at least demographically, a ‘growing’ EU capital, if we consider that children of EU heritage continues to be born despite Brexit. According to recent ONS data, children born to a EU27 mother were 18% of all births in London in 2017.

This photo project is part of the EU families and their children in Brexiting Britain: renegotiating inclusion, citizenship and belonging’s study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative. The overall research investigates how families with EU27 parents are managing the change and uncertainty brought by the referendum, and the kind of family strategies put in place to mitigate the actual and expected impact of the vote on their own circumstances.

Many interviewees shared with us their frustration for being invisible, caricaturised or misrepresented in the pre and post- EU Referendum debate. This participatory photo project aims, on a small scale, to address this perception offering a space for participants to articulate their voice and agency.

But we are also aware of the limitations of the representation we are ourselves offering. Our working definition of an EU family involves one or more non-UK born EU citizens living in the UK with parental responsibility one or more children living in the UK.  Despite efforts to recruit families that would encapsulate the diversity of EU families in London – diversity in terms of countries of origin, ethnic background, social class, sexual orientation and age – there are several reasons (social, cultural, methodological and logistical), why this has proved difficult to achieve to date, at least to the extent we had aspired too. We feel, however, that this doesn’t detract from the individual family stories captured in each slideshow, and we hope by releasing the first installment of the series, more people will come forward to tell their story.

Each photo session involves an initial chat with our researcher in which all members of the family join in to tell their Brexit story, followed by the actual portrait session led by one of our professional photographers. The photos draw inspiration from the conversation and are loosely constructed around three different types of group portraits: a formal one, inspired by classic Victorian photographs; a portrait representing each family member with a meaningful object of their own choice; and a third, more informal, one capturing a scene of family life in their living room.

Overall, the juxtaposition of images and voices evoke some of the intricacies and dilemmas of what is to belong as an EU family living in London in this post-Brexit referendum transition period.

The team for this participatory photo research project includes Crispin Hughes and Francesca Moore (photographers), Marie Godin (on-site researcher) and Nando Sigona (off-site researcher).  

To know more about the photographers:

Crispin Hughes has worked in many countries across Asia and Africa as a freelance photographer taking pictures to support the work of mainly UK based NGOs. He undertakes commissions for numerous aid agencies and in particular has had a long and fruitful relationship with Oxfam. He became a member of the picture agency Panos in 1990 and his work appears regularly in the national and international press. Active consent is characteristic of his documentary photography of social issues, working with the people involved to make un-contrived but collaborative pictures.  He is a mentor for the ‘New Londoners’ project and book with Photovoice. This project pairs photographers with recently arrived young refugees to produce a fresh look at London. He is currently continuing his involvement with social documentary through several participatory photography projects in schools around the country and the ‘Through Positive Eyes’ project in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.

Francesca Moore is a documentary and portrait photographer whose work stems from interests in people and the environment. As well as working on long-term projects, Francesca works for a range of organisations and private clients, documents news and editorial events, and enjoys teaching photography. Francesca’s Arts Council England funded project ‘Bhopal: Facing 30’ portrays the site of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster today, and the people who continue to be affected thirty years on. It has been exhibited internationally and shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, shortlisted and exhibited for Environmental Photographer of the Year 2014, and received Special Commendations for the Nick Reeves award for Arts and the Environment. Her project ‘Fermă’, explores the effects of the current EU climate on Romanian farmers, and includes a series of formal portraits inspired by the 18th century painted portraits and 19th century photographic portraits of the region. As a press accredited member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), where she held the role of London Photographer’s Branch Equality Officer, Francesca combines her environmental work with a passion for the performing arts and has been photographing live stage shows, festivals and events for over ten years. Francesca also delivers workshops to 15-17 years olds as part of the National Citizen Service (NCS), a social enterprise scheme that engages young people with people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life within their local communities. She is a workshop facilitator and founding member of FotoSchool, a branch of FotoDocument’s unique not-for-profit arts education and social enterprise organisation that brings visibility to positive social and environmental initiatives around the world through visual story-telling, and teaches photography and software courses to adults of all ages at arts centres, international schools and colleges across London and Brighton.

The project has received ethics approval by the University of Birmingham Research Ethics Committee.

If you want to be involved  and for further information, please contact: Professor Nando Sigona (Lead) n.sigona@bham.ac.uk and Dr Marie Godin m.godin@bham.ac.uk

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