I’m a Brit who feels European, a photographer who specialises in portraiture, driven to tell personal stories in an intimate and unique way.
I love shooting personal photography projects, and I make sure to put aside time for them between my commercial and editorial assignments. A couple of years ago, moved by frustration about the one-sided immigration debate in the UK, I decided to explore the lives of a group of British people living in Spain, to bring an alternative view into the debate.
There are nearly 700,000 Brits living in Spain. I discovered that the stereotype of the British expat in Spain did not capture the variety within the population there at all. Not everyone eats fish and chips all the time and only a few people I met could not speak a word of Spanish. I discovered a real mixture of individuals, each with a unique story.
I believe that thinking of immigrants in terms of statistics or stereotypes isn’t the way forward. Generally taking a whole group of people and just summarising them with a common and simple idea is one of the biggest problems when it comes to integration, precisely because this does not allow us to look at immigrants as individuals, each with their own story to tell.
Simon, for example, says that he moved to a warmer climate for health reasons. In Fuengirola he started a bar that has become a rallying point for the British living in the area. Talking to him I got a real sense that he’s found his place in the world, and he enjoys being part of the expat community there and runs darts tournaments that gather a crowd.
Others, such as Stacey (above) are not just joining a community but making life better for everyone who lives there. After running a sailing business for a while she became so affected by seeing all the stray dogs that live in the area that she had to do something for them. So she set up her own animal charity rescuing and caring for as many strays as possible. She now works 7 days a week for the dogs, dedicating her life to helping them.
It’s a common misconception to think that it would be easier for British people to integrate into another country than for immigrants coming into the UK. For starters, we tend to be a disaster with foreign languages. Some of the people I met spoke good Spanish, but many would still struggle to hold a conversation even after living there for years. However, even if you speak the language perfectly, it is a big challenge to adapt to a different culture.
The happiest I was during this project was when I came across people satisfied and able to enjoy their life in another country, being part of the local community. In all of them I still saw elements of ‘Britishness’. They often created a wonderful mix by integrating their cultural background with some elements of the country where they have decided to start a new life.
As this series of portraits goes on show in the UK later this week I would like the British public here to realise that all immigrants are a mixture of two or more cultures, and this brings with it many great things. Having people with a different perspective on life can really add to a society.
I wanted to tackle the issue of immigration from a different point of view, turn it upside down, by focusing on those of us who choose to make their lives elsewhere in the European Union and show that you don’t have to give up your identity to integrate. We are all EU citizens, we are all people and we are all supremely different.
Brits Abroad is at the 12 Star Gallery (32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU) from 14 to 28 October 2015.
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