Photography and Brexit

Tue 21 Feb 2023

In this month’s blog post on Photobooks, we look at the different ways in which photobooks have addressed the issue of Brexit.  

Read more about Photobooks in previous blogs:


The Island by Robert Darch

The Island by Robert Darch is a beautiful book of black and white images that have a melancholy about them. People stare out of the shadows, their expressions sombre, sometimes haunted. The landscapes are gloomy, shrouded in mist, showing places that have been altered, that though beautiful are some how stunted.  

Black and white photo by Robert Darch of man standing on jagged cliff rocks looking out into the ocean

Image: Robert Darch 

It’s a world that is a visual interpretation of Brexit, of the detachment of Britain from the rest of Europe. The images of people and place mirror that detachment, hint at the coming insularity and isolation. There are pictures of dereliction, emptiness, and cliff edges to add to the underlying apocalyptic feel of the book, just one of the many approaches that have tried to put Brexit into pictures over the last few years.   

Black and white photo by Robert Darch of a woman with a pensive expression

Image 2: Robert Darch 

The Rest is History by Alejandro Acin

Also published in 2022 is The Rest is History by Alejandro Acin. Here there is also a sense of theatre about proceedings, a sense that is amplified by the design of the book. All the pictures in the book were made on January 31st 2020, also known as Brexit Day. Half the pictures were made in the British Museum. These images were made in the earlier part of the day, there are time stamps to prove it, and they show the columns, the stairways, and the exhibits on display in the Museum. They are printed dark, heavily manipulated, in a high contrast, grainy black and white.  

High contrast black and white photo by Alejandro Acin showing a crowd of people reacting to the Brexit news

Image: Alejandro Acin

The museum and its collection of exhibitions donated, seized, stolen, or kept in safe custody by those with better curating skills (depending on your perspective – Acin’s is towards the stolen end of the spectrum) are paired with images of those celebrating Brexit Day. In harshly cropped images that focus on faces, flags, and a visceral emotion we see the time approaching midnight. The museum and these faces are the same side of the same coin. The book ends with a picture of news broadcasters’ lights shining down outside 10 Downing Street. The spectacle is complete.

High contrast black and white photo by Alejandro Acin showing dark silhouette or someone holding an England flag

Image: Alejandro Acin 

Simon Roberts Brexit Lexicon and Brexshit Times also used a conceptual approach by exploring Brexit through a word-based record of the febrile nature of the post-referendum period between 2016 and 2020 when parliamentary broadcasts became some of the most compelling television of recent times.  

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The Brexit Archive by Mark Duffy

There to record the debates, the votes, the factionalism that would result in the demise of Theresa May and the rise of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, was parliamentary photographer, Mark Duffy.

Photo by Mark Duffy showing the front page of The Daily Telegraph on December 2018

Image: Mark Duffy 

And though he didn’t make a photobook, his work as a parliamentary photographer saw his pictures hit the front pages of newspapers around the world, while his Brexit-driven exhibition resulted in him being fired from his job for ‘bringing the houses of parliament into disrepute’. Duffy mixed his parliamentary images, with images of statues, and made an exhibition in his home entitled the Brexit House. His work is probably the most interesting and all enveloping around Brexit. You can read more about that here. 

Photo by Mark Duffy of a selection of Brexit memorabilia including photos of Teresa May

 Image: Mark Duffy 

Duffy’s work was made during the Brexit Process, as was this writer’s Brexit Pictures. This was a bitterly sarcastic work made in conjunction with an Instagram campaign in which people voted for pictures for inclusion (the votes were ignored).  

Brexit pictures by Colin Pantall

7 Colin Pantall

Image: Colin Pantall 

Images of symbols of banal nationalism are linked to anticipated food shortages, travel difficulties, farming difficulties, increased heating bills and diminished international standing. Printed as a newspaper, it is a personal, and somewhat bitter, reading of the events unfolding as the images were made. 

8 Colin Pantall

Image: Colin Pantall 

Robin Maddock

Robin Maddock’s England!? les anglais ont débarqué! also involves a personal response to events. “It was my farewell to England. I knew that I wanted to get out after Brexit and the 2019 election. I remember where I was when it happened. I was living in Lisbon at the time and the results came in. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to celebrate with the most French meal possible. I didn’t know the country as well as I thought I did – otherwise I would have seen the result coming.”  

9 Robin Maddock

Image: Robin Maddock 

Incorporating images that were made over the previous years, this book is his attempt to know the country better. There are pictures of rural Britain, pictures of Englishness such as racegoers in bowler hats holding binoculars and pictures of younger club-going Britons.

The images are painted on and written across in a way that varies so that no two copies of the edition are alike. And each copy comes with a different hand-written sub-heading. Whatever Britain is, the message from this all-male group of anti-Brexit photographers seems to be, it’s not the same for any two people.  

10 Robin Maddock

Image: Robin Maddock 

Colin-Pantall-photographyColin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer and teaches on the MA Photography programme at Falmouth University.

Learn more about Colin


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