Tutor Suggested Reading – Si Barber ‘Big Society’

Is barber in his collection ‘Big Society’ looks to document ‘Britishness’ during the post 2007/2008 financial crash.

Speaking with Vice magazine he discusses the goals of the project and the concept as a whole. He looks to capture the ironic nationalism often driven via propaganda style tabloid news articles and marketing commonly found to appeal directly to those most affected by the influence of austerity measures placed upon the country post 2007-2008.

His mix of Union Jack and white cross England flags, showing the mis-placement and misrepresentation of which as a indicator of the irony and juxtaposition that the scene brings compared to the beliefs of those supporting the agenda of Britain first and National pride.

The fact that those most supportive of the measures taken and the government that implemented it are those most heavily affected by the measures.

Si, when asked ‘Would you say bad economy contributes to absurd behaviour?’ responds by agreeing but also stating ‘I want to photograph the roadside memorial, not the accident.’ A point I find is conveyed through several of the images in this collection. This desire to capture the aftermath of the effects rather than the causes or the specifics of what the austerity measures are leaves us with a collection of snippets and surface level observations.

Several of Barbers images are striking, most notably the following;


I selected this image (fig.1) as I find it is a good example of what the artist could have achieved across the collection. a well presented effective image with a caption that contextualises the information presented and helps build on the narrative of the collection.

I find this image (fig.2) another good image for the collection. The image itself speaks to the artist intent and presents us a jovial take on the points raised about Nationalism and a typical British scene, diving deeper one could find the ‘Eat British Food’ an ironic statement in an image which barely shows crops growing or a message to the highly specified nature of farming today. with the support of the simple caption presenting unbiased facts about what we see this gives the ability to build upon the given narrative.

However, I do find the rest of collection a mix of either exploitative, biased or unsubstantiated attempts at narrative.


I selected ‘migrant worker’ (fig.3) as an example of images that I feel fall in with the bias I mention as I find that the image it self is fine and when you associate it with migrant workers, as part of a larger narrative it would have been enough but the artist chose to include ‘watched over by a gangmaster’ in the caption to the image. As I mention the image itself is fine but I find nothing within the frame to support the caption other than an example of how captions can be used to sway a viewers thoughts or conclusions about what they see. It makes me think of a tabloid caption, provocative for the sake of engaging yet without any substance to support the claim.


I also selected this image (fig.4) as an example of the exploitative nature of some of Barbers work. This is the first of four almost identical images showing sex workers from Bradford. Not only are the images so up front and clear in their intent, they are the only sense of reputation in the collection, the only images to be shot in this harshly light way and framed tightly, fully revealing the subjects physicality and apparent scars and injuries from drugs and potentially issues that have dealt with whilst working. Their inclusion forms a noticeable break to the collection in comparison to the other images yet also garners the least amount of context from the presented captions. The subjects dehumanised to their first name and job title and presented in such a harsh manner it becomes as if the photographer has no respect for the subjects as individual people, the very nature of their work and the use of the location and name attached to the image putting them at great risk to the potential causes of their current situation such as fleeing abuse.

Altogether I feel that Si Barber more stumbled across his narrative than set out with a clear agenda or goal in mind. The mixing of simple factual captions and either under simplified or biased captions makes for a collection that doesn’t seem to agree with its own findings. We see the hardships people suffered in an aftermath style, the irony of those who are proud Britains being let down by their beliefs yet I feel that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the subject matter.

Speaking about (fig.5) Barber says ‘…whereas with the memorial you get a look at the pathetic nature of life. I don’t mean that life is pathetic but putting together this memorial with a couple bits of wood, can give you an idea of the fragility of life more than anything else.’ In this sentence I get the distinct feeling Barber revealed his true thoughts and tried to change that direction with a statement about fragility. I get the feeling he looks down on his subject, he hopes to elicit provocation by attempting to photograph a subject which could be controversial but lacks the empathy to truly communicate the stories of those involved.

At first I really wanted to enjoy and like this series as it had been suggested to me by my tutor but after starting writing I tend to start discovering my true thoughts. Overall, I think the collection would have benefitted from being split into different series with more coherence between the narratives and styles. Theres single images here were we need more to understand what we see and also micro sets where we discover little new which would have benefitted from being part of a larger narrative. I think in my previous paragraphs I made it clear that the more I reviewed the collection the less I respected the photographer and the more I felt I was seeing the work of a tabloid photographer attempting to step out from the shadows.

Image Source

Fig.1-5 At: https://www-sibarber-co-uk.photoshelter.com/gallery/The-Big-Society/G0000445DKkxhCV0/ (Accessed 04/06/2020).


Kotsoni, E. (2013a) Si Barber Photographs the Reality of Britain’s ‘Big Society’. At: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exmdkn/si-barber-big-society-interview (Accessed 04/06/2020).Kotsoni, E. (2013b) Si Barber Photographs the Reality of Britain’s ‘Big Society’. At: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exmdkn/si-barber-big-society-interview (Accessed 07/06/2020).The Big Society | Si Barber – 07739 472 922 (s.d.) At: https://www-sibarber-co-uk.photoshelter.com/gallery-slideshow/G0000445DKkxhCV0/?start= (Accessed 07/06/2020).The Big Society – Images | Si Barber – 07739 472 922 (s.d.) At: https://www-sibarber-co-uk.photoshelter.com/gallery/The-Big-Society/G0000445DKkxhCV0/ (Accessed 04/06/2020).

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