Sacha as a Child © Richard Ansett
GOLD AWARD - Prix de la Photographie , 2011
The ‘Big Society’ initiative is a flagship policy introduced by the United Kingdom Conservative Party in 2010. The stated aim is to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a “big society” that will take power away from politicians and give it to the people. The policy considers that most of the problems facing society from crime to issues like obesity are possible to tackle only if citizens play more of a part; to empower individuals into supporting their own lives, reducing the need for government.
The idea is not original, since the ‘New Labour’ government (1992 – 2007) a greater degree of freedom of thought was gifted to the British people. There was a de-construction of the historic boundaries that defined the old national stereotype but for all the benefits of this new found freedom, there are inevitable consequences and victims. There is a polluted bi-product that emerges from setting minds free. Ironically the same issues that the Big Society policy attempts to address, are exacerbated by that same empowerment. Issues such as crime and health are inevitable consequences of a relatively free and democratic society.
The West’s self-confidence in capitalist individualism as the shining example for others is reliant on an outward looking and patronising critique of other systems. Part of the maintenance of this act of hubris is an avoidance of self-analysis. It is a challenge to turn that objectified gaze back on ourselves but perhaps we don’t feel we are worthy? The suffering of other parts of the world seems unimaginable compared to the amazing lives we are being asked to believe we have in the West. Do we have the right to feel depressed or suicidal? I argue that pain is not a relative construct; that suffering of the individual is not lessened by the knowledge of the agony of another and further; problems of other worlds should not be a distraction from the fractures which are unique to our own society.
Premise: Our emotional states are inevitably on show and we are shaped and contribute to the shaping of the social political landscape. We mostly share a commonality of experience but it is how we deal with this, especially moments of crisis that shape our evolving adult personality. In most of us the signs are complex and partial; we learn ways to disguise our vulnerability. These hiding strategies contribute to our image identity but for some of us the responses are impossible to camouflage.
The subjects in The Big Society represent the discarded by-products of a progressive but hubristic society before the financial crash in 2008. The images are a record of that moment when we were left to fend for ourselves in the new era of moral relativism.
This work is an interpretation of this new emotional shape as a demonised allegory seen through an objectivist lens. Not intended as documentary or Arbus-esq freak show but as an extended metaphor and privileged insight into another equal human being’s most intimate vulnerability. These subjects exist as a part of ourselves, they are in this moment physical representations of our own emotional possibility.