Co-curated by Laura Dickens and Chloe Juno, the director of Dispossession and Sleaford Mod documentary, Invisible Britain, Paul Sng, has launched a crowdfunding campaign for a book of forty documentary images, along with forty stories, Invisible Britain: Portraits. Focussing on those that don’t get their stories heard, who are much affected by social issues this is an interesting project from the independent film director.
Paul spoke with The Fountain about the process, the titling behind the publication and his long-term future plans to enable stories from working class backgrounds to emerge and be told.
TG: You are crowdfunding a book titled Invisible Britain, which is the name of a documentary you directed around the Sleaford Mods, what does the title suggest about the publication?
The book was inspired by the film. The film followed the band Sleaford Mods on a tour of the UK in the run up to the UK 2015 General Election and the places we were going to were in some cases parts of the country that I think had been neglected, marginalised, a lot of people that felt disenfranchised by politicians, by mainstream politics. The idea for the book is really drawn from the idea of not just places like that, but also people that feel that they don’t really have a voice or feel that they have been misrepresented. It is not intended to be a reflection on Brexit but you cannot do anything around politics or geography when it comes to social issues without considering the impact of Brexit. So really I guess what the reference to Invisible Britain refers to is just areas of the country that for many years have been neglected or marginalised because I do think the Brexit vote, as well as being a vote on EU membership, was also a protest vote. There was a lot of people that voted to leave the EU that maybe saw it is an opportunity to register their dissatisfaction with their cuts to public services, with austerity, and in some cases, decades of deindustrialisation. To me, Invisible Britain really refers to pockets of the country, individuals in communities that really feel that they are not seen and not heard.
TF: How did you choose your pool of stories for this book, it must have been a sore process to decide?
It’s a long process to do it. I am working on the book with two curators and project managers, Laura Dicken and Chloe Juno. I did the publishing deal with Policy Press, and Laura and Chloe got involved. I came up with a list of issues that I wanted to look at and they ranged everything from Brexit to deindustrialisation, austerity, housing and homelessness, criminality, rehabilitation, the NHS and then certain figures in society that we thought we don’t hear from that much and whether that ex-miners, steel workers, care workers, we had this big long list. Chloe and Laura then contacted the photographers we knew whose work they were aware of and we deliberately went for documentary photographers in the most part. A lot of the photographers had already done work around these sorts of issues so they had people in mind who they would then contact to see if they were interested in participating.
The main things to be careful with this book is that it needs to be representative of diversity, it’s important that we represent people from minority groups and thank god for spreadsheets really. The only way to keep track of all of this is through spreadsheets and track the issues. Housing has come up quite a lot, there is probably going to be three of four stories about various aspects of housing whether that is to do with poor housing conditions or the stigmatisation of people who live on an estate, somebody from Grenfell Tower, what happened there. It’s quite difficult to cover everything. I am sure that in the final book we will miss something and kick ourselves, but mainly it was about what are the issues that affect people in these areas. When we were going around the country with my first film, Invisible Britain, we met a lot of people that were campaigning at a grassroots level, resist austerity, campaign against deindustrialisation or social issues. I had a sense of what people were concerned with and I read a lot of things in the news, in certain publications, about the effects of austerity. It was a big list, and a massive remit and I hope we can do the subject some form of justice. But in some ways it would be impossible to cover the whole range of social issues in one book. The idea of this book is to take forty snap-shots, to capture forty images and forty stories. The people will tell these stories in their own words, it’s usually just them talking about a specific issue and the impact on them as an individual, their community and their area.
TF: What made you opt for the crowdfunded approach to funding this publication?
Time really. When I first started doing this I was still doing the Q&As for my second film, Dispossession. It might have been more sensible to apply for arts funding and go down that route, but I just didn’t have the time and I had never applied for arts funding. It’s something I need to get around to doing. It was mainly a case of not having the time to do that and crowdfunding is an interesting way of being able to fund projects. It’s difficult with things like books, I think with films and music, these are things people are more obvious to crowd fund. With books, not so much, particularly ethnography books are not so much crowd-funded but it’s done okay so far, we are over half way there and there is no time limit either as we are doing it via gofundme as I wanted something where there wasn’t this deadline. With a lot of crowdfunded things there is a month or two month deadline but I wanted something that would be an ongoing way to raise the money. The publisher pays for the book costs so they cover stuff like the printing but because they are not-for-profit, there wasn’t any money for an advance, and I wanted to pay photographers, their fees, their expenses, and I wanted to pay Chloe and Laura money as well. And I have put some of my own money into the project as well as it is something that I want to do and I doubt very much whether it will make any money but that was never the point of doing it. The point of doing it was to work on something interesting and something I believe in really.
TF: You also recently took a documentary about social housing around Britain, timely around the time of Greenfell and now with this book, you are obviously keen to address a politicized audience, or at least heighten awareness. What can we expect next from you Paul?
I am doing a music documentary about a woman called Poly Styrene and her band X-Ray Spex and the edit for that, we have shot most of it. That will be my next film project that will come out, probably after the book. There is a documentary that I have a meeting about next week but there are a few other things I have got in development. One of my long term projects is to set up Invisible Britain as a platform to enable people to tell their stories from the places I have been to. It’s very difficult to get into the arts and media, particularly if you are from a working class background, and Invisible Britain is a platform that would try to find those unheard voices. They would run workshops, mentorship schemes, that sort of thing, ultimately become a platform that would make content, whether that was films, whether that was books, photography projects. Being a platform, being somebody that is producing work it would also serve as an opportunity for people to work on productions and release their work for them. I think it is something would allow people from different backgrounds to get into the arts and media. There are a lot of people out there that have brilliant ideas but don’t have the means financially or don’t have the platform to realise their stories.
Photo courtesy of Rob Clayton
For more on the crowdfunding options for Invisible Britain click here.