MY BREXIT 52 48 at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam

England, Stratford upon Avon, 3rd March 2019 © Photo Merlin Daleman

For us British expats in the Netherlands Brexit has been a source of worry, frustration, anger and shame. If you subscribe to conspiracy theories you may well believe that the Corona Virus episode was created by Boris Johnson in order to distract attention from Brexit. But now, with barely three months to go, it’s back on the agenda.

Anglo/Dutch photographer Merlin Daleman has just opened his exhibition My Brexit 52 48 at Rotterdam’s Kunsthal and he paints a picture of a bleak Britain, depicting a country far from London that never figures in the tourist brochures and whose damp mean streets are paved with garbage, not gold.

The numbers refer to the percentages of votes cast in the 2016 referendum and Mr. Daleman was so shocked by the result that he felt he had to pick up his camera and go out and find this small majority of people who had condemned the whole of the British nation to an unknown and frightening future – not to mention all the expats in Europe who are feeling very insecure indeed.

Merlin Daleman, specializes in reportage and documentary photography and is ideally placed to comment. His father is English and his mother is Dutch. He lives and works mainly in The Netherlands. His search for the vote-leavers took him the length and breadth of the British Isles and what he found paints a very depressing picture. He discovered that the places of Britain that had the highest leave vote were also the most socially deprived areas, and it shows.

The hundred-odd bright, colourful pictures show a lot of grey glum people – there are virtually no smiles or evidence of contentment, so I guess many of them thought that by voting leave things could only get better. Many of the photos rely on juxta positioning for their impact – the grim looking pleasure beach where nobody was having a good time, the depressing amusement arcades and the sad cafés.

Daleman has a very neat trick for taking a picture which he sometimes employs, positioning himself half in and half out of an open doorway, simultaneously capturing what is going on inside and outside. This is particularly effective with a photo taken in Stratford upon Avon which shows a group of besuited teenage toffs from the nearby posh school walking past a café in which a man of about the same age sits silently, arms folded, staring at his companion opposite. Sitting on the wet pavement, between the two factions is a huddled beggar with his pathetic paper cup.

The quality of the photos – all bright and shiny with perfect focus and exposure are in stark contrast to the dull, colourless, unfulfilled lives of the subjects. Many are fat, all are dirty and scruffy and none of them seem happy. Will their lot improve after Brexit? In the short term, that is certainly doubtful.

This exhibition goes a long way to explaining why Britain finds itself without a paddle up a very unpleasant creek and demonstrates very succinctly that one must be very careful for what one wishes. Highly recommended – de riguer almost.   Michael Hasted    20th September 2020

Merlin Daleman’s My Brexit 52 48 continues at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam until 14th February 2021

Listen to the ArtsTalk Radio interview with Merlin Daleman