The images you are seeing are from an ongoing series called British Paranoia. I’ve been shooting it on and off over the last year, and I’ll guess I’ll continue until it doesn’t seem relevant any more. In the UK, we are heading for ‘Brexit’ from the European Union in March 2019. This is thanks to a referendum that was held in June 2016 in which around 37% of eligible voters chose ‘leave’, as opposed to the approximately 35% who wanted to remain. Since then, the whole process has slipped into poisonous farce. It turns out the promises of the ‘leave’ campaign were a load of pony and trap, to use Cockney rhyming slang. It seems Russia was fuelling the chaos, corrupt money funded the campaign, and rightwing media fanned the flames of social division and hatred. Meanwhile our career politicians turned out to be incompetent and we are headed for a Brexit disaster that will likely negatively affect people in Britain for generations. The irony in this is that current polls indicate that, given a second chance at a referendum, the majority of UK voters would vote ‘remain’, now that we know the fiasco that ‘leave’ entails… yet our main political parties refuse to listen to what voters want at such an important time.
Britain obviously doesn’t have a monopoly on the rise of chaotic populism in politics. You can throw a dart at a world map and have a good chance of hitting a country in which popular dissatisfaction following the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-9 has led to an undermining of the politics of stability. The emotional reasons for voters feeling this are understandable but, in the absence of a vision for a better future, ruthless self-interested opportunists vie for power. And so the paranoia rises.
When you’re living through such tumultuous times, how can you hope to represent it in mere photographs? I don’t think you can. This British Paranoia series is a collection of small non-sequitur images of life in Britain at this time – the bigger picture would be so complicated that it would take years to take it all in. All we can hope to do is subjectively pick out a few details, and hope that these help people to fill in the missing picture – as though it were a dot-to-dot puzzle. With no numbers to guide you.
British Paranoia has all been shot on half-frame cameras – Fujica Drive cameras from the mid-60s. I started using one as I was burning through medium format film too quickly – I’m one of those photographers who needs to hear the snap of the shutter before I can decide if I like the image. The feedback loop with digital cameras is too distracting, and I wanted a ‘sketchbook’ camera. The Fujica Drive was perfect for this – it’s non-reflex, non-rangefinder – so to just guess the exposure, focus distance and framing and snap away is very liberating. The clockwork camera motor advances the film so you don’t have to lower it from your face. I’m personally happy with the bloom from the uncoated 28mm lens and the occasional light leak from ancient seals. The fact that I use forgiving Ilford Delta 400 B&W film helps. It’s a perfect format for this series that, ultimately, is my sketchbook of modern Britain.