Review: Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience

The Nation #NOFILTER

Flush are MASSIVE fans of the documentary that came out a few years ago called Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain directed by Paul Sng.

It covered the run up to the 2016 general election in the UK (pure despondence), as well as the Sleaford Mods tour (pure visceral creativity) that was happening at the same time. It was a great vehicle to hear some brilliant potent, sincere, vital music, whilst going to parts of the UK that would have inspired the very lyrics of the songs, ie ordinary people trying to get on with their lives, and watching these people vibrantly, jubilantly react to that music, so to the greater extent, the full supportive circle or eco system. These artists and fans, ie ordinary people persevered despite the actions of a Tory government with their destructive and deliberately viciously targeted austerity cuts, which has to be said were supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But as was very clear in the documentary, not everyone had the strength to persevere, and many were lost, unforgivably for a supposed functioning modern nation, not many people even noticed.

Jenny Carter, photographed in Cornwall where she lives with her 18 month-old daughter. Although Jenny has always been quite careful with money, she has recently made the decision to take her 18-month daughter out of nursery due to inability to balance the high costs of nursery with finding time to do volunteer work in order to maximise her job prospects. She plans to re-introduce her daughter to nursery once they qualify for free nursery place.

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience comes from that same team behind the doc, and has the same core values of truth, honesty, integrity and respect for our fellow man. Bringing real everyday, often very difficult experiences and stories of ordinary folk to the fore, rather than some Instagrammed filtered, celeb, fake news, poverty porn agenda crap, that invariably and deliberately slyly taints the views of people of their neighbours around them, up and down the country. The book is the complete opposite of a state news bulletin leading with a princess feeling tired, this is a raw time capsule of what it is to be alive in a country lead by one of the most vicious governments in the history of the UK.

The structure and format is genius in it’s simplicity, ordinary individuals briefly telling their stories, in their own words, with a simple photo by different photographers, often ordinary people themselves. There is rightfully zero flashiness to it, just extremely simple, honest, sometimes painful words, directly from the people of all walks of life and backgrounds that make up the UK in 2018. The photos are equally honest, emotionally bare, vulnerable and seeped in integrity, as any dressing up or staging would just be crass to say the least. There’s a Punk DIY/Ken Loach (it reminded me of Loach’s stunning 1967 Poor Cow) can do approach in its DNA that often stems from the brutal realistion that actually, not everyone does care (especially those in charge), but the individual won’t allow others to try to diminish their existence, there’s a core value of self respect, and respect for others.

There’s some heartbreaking tales in this, and anyone with any amount of empathy will be horrified by how people are being treated in this country. Some of the views expressed I personally 100% disagree with (this is actually mentioned by the editor Paul Sng who says everyone’s views should be voiced), but in reality, it’s important that we all hear them, so they can be addressed/countered.

It’s not all bleak though. Hope and Resilience is in the title, and there’s plenty of it. Despite what’s going on in their lives, they are all persevering. They are the true ambassadors for a nation that really doesn’t seem to care about anyone anymore, well at least that’s the presented view from the main stream media, who will only profit from disharmony and confrontation (look at how much news is about conflict, negativity, isolating and blaming various groups). As with the documentary, folk have finally realised that this government will never help them, they’re too busy selling off the NHS to private companies, and they don’t care (and never did) about ordinary people. Rather than being compliant to their own constructed eradication, they are coordinating and helping others, showing that genuine grit that weaves a nation together, not the propaganda fascist nationalism that is being incessantly broadcast by every medium possible.

Surely it’s not waving flags or paying for multi million pound weddings for rich people that are true signs of pride in a nation, it’s looking out for your neighbours, and supporting them in times of need, as it will benefit everyone in what is actually a very rich society. If only the national wealth of a nation was judged on the mental state and calm of its populace, and not wealth from selling armaments to murder countries.

That true grit aspect of working together for a better, respectful, deserved outlook is another wonderful ingredient to the book, they have an inspiring plan to use it as a foundation to an Invisible Britain platform that helps ordinary folk get their voices heard. Now that’s sincere belief in a country and it’s people.

With fantastic and deeply haunting introduction by actor Michael Sheen, who tells a tale about how we are being conditioned to not see the problems directly in front of us, and instead only see the lie/distraction of celebrity that fills our streams, the opiate of our own demise. It’s startlingly refreshing projects like this book that will massively contribute to maintaining the journey to fixing that imbalance, I can’t recommend it enough.

Flush is very grateful to director/editor Paul Sng, who took time out of his hectic schedule to answer some questions about the book and other aspects of his extremely admirable ambitions.

The title of the book (Invisible Britain) is a powerfully haunting concept in itself, as beautifully expressed in the foreword by actor/activist Michael Sheen. When, where and how did the idea nurture to expand the core values of the Invisible Britain documentary into other avenues?

The idea to expand on the Invisible Britain documentary had been kicking around for a couple of years. I wanted to do something unconnected first, though, so I made Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle in 2016/17, and then went into production on the Poly Styrene doc immediately after that. I wanted to do something with Invisible Britain that would amplify unheard voices, the people we don’t get to hear from very often in the arts and media. I was drawn to doing this in book from rather than a film for several reasons. You get a very different interview when you speak to someone without pointing a camera at them; something more natural and less of a ‘performance’. Also, I liked the idea of people telling their stories directly, with minimal editing, and having the means to check that they were represented faithfully, which is easier to do with text than it is with film. And the challenge for the photographers, to capture an element of the person or their story in a single image, was appealing too.

The book was crowd funded, showing and proving that there is a profound need and support for this genuine reportage in a somewhat bias media landscape of ‘Fake News’. Without the constraints of advertising, the content can explore much more intense and real subject mattersWhat are the pros and cons to this funding mechanism?

The pros of crowd funding are that it enables you to raise the money to make something without having to go cup in hand to someone else, or go through a long and laborious process of funding applications. The downside of it is how much time it all takes: running an effective campaign is a full-time job.

You have some hugely respected individuals contributing, (extremely) heavy and well loved hitters in regards cultural icons in the history of the UK, and observation of its evolution, in the guise of the aforementioned Michael Sheen, but also Ken Loach and Alan Moore. How did they get involved?

We sent them an email and a copy of the book, and they all obliged with wonderful quotes in support of the book. I grew up watching Ken Loach’s films and reading Alan Moore’s comics, so to receive some positive words about the book from them means a lot to me. I’m also very grateful to Michael for writing such a powerful foreword, which is a moving tribute to the people who share their stories in the book.

The simplicity of the approach to the layout, story and image has to be commended. In a world where every flat surface is screaming for our attention and cultivating profound distraction, there’s a sincere calm radiating from the pages. It gently leads you into some tough and very affecting tales. But equally so, as in the title hope and resilience is never far away. It must have been a difficult process to strike a balance to all the elements?

The layout of book was designed by blu inc. We worked closely with their creative director, Chris Wilson, on the look and feel of the book. Laura Dicken, our curator came up with the order. It was a long process, not difficult as such, and certainly more straightforward than editing a film.

The book is out 1 November, with a supporting tour of screenings of Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, plus Q&A’s. It’s early days, but what has the response been so far?

Overwhelmingly positive, so far. I knew it was a strong piece of work as we were putting it together, so it’s nice to see people recognising the strength of the stories and the quality of the photographers’ images

It’s mentioned in the introduction that this is just the beginning, with the birth of an Invisible Britain platform. It’s a fascinating concept, what are the ambitions of this.

I’d like to set up Invisible Britain as a platform that would work with underrepresented individuals and communities to amplify their voices and help enable them to tell their stories in various art forms, mainly film and photography to begin with. We’d also run creative workshops, a mentorship scheme and provide training, as well as offering paid work placements on any productions I’m working on or developing.

There’s an common thread to your work/projects so far, recognising those that are cast aside, being exploited, eradicated. Where does this chosen path come from?

I’m interested in people who challenge the status quo, and those who have been neglected, marginalised or misrepresented in the arts and media. I suppose it comes from a desire to do produce work that’s both compelling and also has a social purpose.

Being exposed to the reality of what is happening behind all the modern distractions must take its toll. Having said that, you must be optimistic for the future as to produce projects like the book, which are huge collaborative and time consuming efforts, inherently signal a belief in not just the possibility of a better future, but there’s no reason it can’t happen.

I’m optimistic in some respects, though unfortunately, I think things will get a lot worse before they get better, which is daunting. I do feel a responsibility to my work once it’s finished, and that involves going out there and talking about it, or more importantly, the issues it addresses. I’m reading Rachel Cusk’s Outline at the moment, and there’s a great line where she writes, ‘Your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of’. I can relate to that. The book took around a year to put together. I like to work quickly, rather than spend years doing something. I had a great team of people to work with, so credit to each of them for their efforts.

What has been the most inspiring aspect of this project, and besides the platform, what would you hope it achieves?

The most inspiring thing was getting to hear stories from people who had experienced difficulties and come through the other end, and in some cases, helped others too. I hope the stories find the wide audience that they deserve.

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience is released on the 1 November, with a national tour of screenings and Q&A to support it’s launch. Check for more information and how you can support/contribute to this vital cause.

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.