It’s a weird and wonderful thing, going to open your emails and getting genuinely thrilled and excited at the thought of the work ahead. This is how we felt when Charlie Clift landed in our inbox this month. A London based photographer who loves to shoot portrait and lifestyle; Charlie dreamt up a project that not only hits the nail on the head in terms of British ex-pats abroad but quite literally opens up and explores Immigration in the most interesting of ways. Phew.
Brit’s Abroad is a series that captures the lives of the British invasion, circa 2013, in Southern Spain. Where the sun is shining and the Brit’s are swarming. We really do enjoy a photo journal here at The Creative Book and this is exactly what we need to whisk away those holiday blues!
Can you tell me a bit about the man behind the project? Who is Charlie? I’m a photographer living in London. I shoot portrait and lifestyle images for magazines, companies and agencies. I also love to photograph personal projects as I find it vital for pushing my creativity and finding my own voice. Outside of photography I live with my awesome girlfriend Olga, I enjoy kitesurfing, I play the saxophone occasionally, and I love making a mess whilst cooking.
There is something wonderful about the immediacy of photography and the way it can take you into amazing places and intriguing worlds.
How did you get started with your love of photography? I picked up a camera and it was really addictive. I tried all sorts of creative pursuits when growing up but none of them stuck. During a year out from university I got hold of a camera and fell in love with it. There is something wonderful about the immediacy of photography and the way it can take you into amazing places and intriguing worlds. I have always found people fascinating, in fact I studied psychology at university, so my photography naturally moved towards portraiture – it’s great to meet interesting people and call it work.
‘Brits Abroad’ is a fantastic interpretation of modern day living and sculpting new lives. Where did you get the inspiration to go ahead with this project? Most good ideas come from good conversations, and this one came from chatting with my girlfriend about immigration. I realised that so often the debate was referring to massive groups of people as if they were all the same: “The Poles”, “The Bulgarians”, “The British”. We should try not to forget about the individual people involved when talking about such huge topics. We are not just statistics but each and every person has a separate and unique life, I wanted to show this in a way that a British audience could easily relate to. Instead of photographing groups of “immigrants” who have arrived into the UK I turned my lens the other way and focused on those Brits who have moved abroad.
What were you hoping we would perceive from the finished results? If the viewer can connect on a personal level with those featured then that would be great: these are real people leading real lives. I hope also that people can see the diversity in the group and will remember this when thinking about issues such as immigration.
Instead of photographing groups of “immigrants” who have arrived into the UK I turned my lens the other way and focused on those Brits who have moved abroad.
Your work could be described as journalistic photography. What’s the story here? I approached the project hoping to add to the discussion on immigration. Good journalism generates conversation: if my pictures get people talking then I am happy. I spent many months researching the topic and have tried to select a group of people who show what I discovered during that time. The pictures are representative of what life is like for each expatriate and the locations were chosen after talking with each person about how they spend their time.
We particularly enjoy the use of British-esque backgrounds. Did you want the reader to relate to these touches? I didn’t want to hide the fact that many expatriates still like to include British things in their life. From playing lawn bowls to buying things at Iceland I found it interesting to note how none of my subjects had become completely “Spanish”. I also think that I needed to show British things in my pictures so that people can see that expatriates who leave the UK are in many ways similar to immigrants who come to live in the UK. For example the Polski Sklep shops that can be seen all over London are not really any different to the Iceland store in Fuengirola which I included in one photograph.
From playing lawn bowls to buying things at Iceland I found it interesting to note how none of my subjects had become completely “Spanish”.
What made you choose Spain as your location for the project? I wanted to go to a non-English speaking country as I think people find it harder to integrate when they move to a place that uses a different language. It is a similar situation for many of the people who come to live in the UK. Spain has the largest number of British expatriates in a non-English speaking country, and many of them live on the Mediterranean coast. This made it the perfect place for my project.
What did you find most challenging when putting together your project? Having a wide variety of subjects was key to the project, but getting hold of some groups of people is not easy when your main research tools are the Internet and personal connections. For nearly 6 months I asked just about everyone I met if they knew any Brits who lived in Southern Spain. This helped find quite a few of my subjects, in particular those who lead more private lives. The photography was probably the least challenging bit as I arrived in Spain having done almost all the arranging and planning beforehand – it was great to be able to just take photos.
And finally (fingers crossed!) will there be a second part to the project? I certainly hope so! Second, third and fourth! France and Germany are next on the list as they also have large expat communities. Further down the line (and on the map) India, Thailand, Canada. It all depends on finding funding and time. I am certainly up for more adventures if I can arrange them.