Livija Uskalis is Latvian.
On meeting her, the first thing that struck me was the broad Yorkshire accent. I knew - because we’d discussed lots via email - that she would have an accent; born in Bradford to Latvian refugee parents who fled the Soviet invasion, she grew up doing both completely normal British things and, at home, speaking Latvian and immersed in the culture of her parents’ homeland.
I felt she would be an ideal candidate to illustrate the value of free movement and the values of tolerance and welcome that we should extend to refugees and migrant workers alike.
Although many of the Latvian diaspora returned ‘home’ after the fall of communism, a second wave of emigrants once again set out across the continent in search of work after the financial crisis of 2008, mostly to Ireland, Germany and the UK. It’s easy to do, and for some - especially from the south east of the country, bordering Russia - low wages and poor job prospects mean many feel there are few reasons to stay. Livija and her family are unusual, then, in that all of them have returned to, and have stayed in, Latvia.
Community and free movement. From refugees to community builders to returners, a million or more Latvians are on the move.
Livija Uskalis is Latvian.
Alec, Lindsay, Lewis, Giles and Ian Brodie. Utrecht, Netherlands.
Giles and Ian are brothers. They left the UK in the early 1980s - their father worked abroad a lot - and settled in the Netherlands in 1988, and have been here ever since. They still have UK passports, but their (British, ex-naval officer) father is now strongly advising them to obtain Dutch ones - just in case.
Ian’s sons are mixed nationality - two are half Italian, one is half South African - and they also travel on British passports, and have also been advised to obtain Dutch ones.
Freedom of movement won’t stop for EU citizens if/when the UK leaves the EU, but it will stop for British citizens.
I chose Giles’ garden for the shoot because it was about as Dutch-looking a space as I could find - I’d remembered it from previous visits. Giles was dubious, but that may be a measure of how accustomed to Dutch vernacular architecture he is after 30 years in the country. Also, I wanted to not do it in front of a windmill.
Selena and Frank, photographed at Deutsches Eck, Koblenz.
I’ve known Selena for long enough that I don’t know how I know her - she grew up in my part of Oxford, and we always seemed to have a lot of mutual friends.
Frank is Selena’s husband. She would probably say the same about him - that they’ve known each other for so long that they don’t quite know how (in fact when I asked them, they had to discuss how they actually met). Frank is a native of Ransbach - Baumbach, just outside Koblenz, and grew up just round the corner from the home he and Selena now share.
They seem incredibly at ease and comfortable with one another and, yet, gently and lovingly, continue their respective countries’ traditions of taking the Mickey out of one another.
It struck me that this aspect of their relationship - a mature and jovial rivalry that nevertheless acknowledged their interdependance - was a pretty good metaphor for the EU as a whole. Definitely different individuals, but stronger together.
For the portrait I decided to shoot at the Deutsches Eck - the confluence of the rivers Mosel and Rhine, and from which Koblenz took its name in Roman times. Confluence. The joining of two roads. It seemed appropriate, obvious, perhaps, to celebrate freedom and unity with the joining of two great rivers.
“Let’s meet in Schengen. By the piece of the old Berlin wall. Under the bridge, by the river. You can’t miss it.” Well, where better than Schengen, the place that gives its name to the whole borderless travel area of Europe?
It’s tiny - there’s nothing here except the visitor’s centre and the Place Des Etoiles commemorating the signing of the Schengen agreement.
Linda, from Slovakia, and her husband Jonathan (from France) and their two children were joined by Ruth, a Scot with Luxembourg nationality. They’re in Luxembourg. In the background to the left is Germany, and to the right is France. I don’t suppose the placing of these pieces of the wall - with a gap between them, facing the triple border - is any sort of accident.
Meet Wim, from Antwerp.
Wim is a life-long Anglophile, ever since his first visit to the UK when he watched Nottingham Forest - the champions of Europe - play.
Many of his friends and family really don’t get it, but he loves us*. Well, mainly Bowie and Nottingham Forest, and National Trust houses. Oh, and our comedy, and our food, and our cities… He and his friends visit the UK for their summer holiday every year. His enthusiasm for my country is infectious and his knowledge bordering on the encyclopaedic.
Needless to say, he doesn’t think that Brexit is a very good idea.
*With the exception of some of our politicians, for whom he reserves some choice anglo Saxon insults.
Thomas Noone - dancer and choreographer.
Thomas lives in Barcelona, and his wife is Catalan. His work has taken him all over the world and, although he was born and raised in England, he no longer feels very English.
For Thomas, Brexit brings sadness that his home has become a place that is counter to the values he grew up with, although he admits that he will likely only suffer the burden of extra, time-consuming paperwork as a result. Others, he feels, will not escape so lightly.
Ann is Director of Visual Carlow, the city’s art gallery and theatre complex.
Her job often includes bringing in artists and collections from all across Europe. Without free movement the gallery would struggle to attract meaningful work - at the very least it would be a lot harder for the staff to do their jobs.
Fortunately for her, Brexit will probably impact the gallery very little. Ireland will still be in the EU and most of the other countries she regularly deals with will be no harder to work in or alongside after the UK leaves. That’s just the way it is.
On my way from Ian and Gosia’s house to Greta and Zulfi’s place, I passed a strangely-dressed couple thumbing a lift. As luck would have it I recognised them instantly as German Journeymen - craftsmen (and women) completing a compulsory period of free wandering between the end of their apprenticeship and the beginning of their careers as masters of their respective crafts - in this case cabinet makers.
I insisted on a photo as their payment for the short lift to the secret, on-foot, free way in to the Cliffs of Moher. They obliged with good humour and enthusiasm, and relatively few pointed jokes about the UK being in need of a new cabinet…
Greta and Zulfi met and fell in love in London. He’s a Geordie of mixed Irish and Pakistani heritage, and she’s Lithuanian. So far, so normal.
They make cycling bags, and end up exporting all over the place - including Europe.
Two years ago, just after the EU referendum, they decided to move to Ireland - for a change of air, a change of scene, a change of pace - and yes, because of uncertainty over Brexit.
They may not stay in Ireland. It’s not perfect for them. They may move to Lithuania, and, just possibly, if they can make it work, move back to the UK. Maybe.
This isn’t a political thing, it’s a personal thing - let’s get that out of the way.
On 29th March 2019, the UK will, as it currently stands, cease to be a member of the European Union. This will almost certainly entail the loss of free movement of British citizens into and around Europe, and vice versa.
It goes without saying that this will be massively disruptive and awkward for a lot of people.
So, while it was still fairly easy to do, I decided to find out what those who might be affected think of this outcome - I decided to make portraits of EU citizens, British or otherwise, in all 28 EU countries. Before March 29th 2019.
That didn’t give me long - I had the idea in late September.
My first stop was the closest and least painful to do: Ireland. No language problems, no passport, no funny plugs or other-side driving.