‘Sixteen’ is a group project I am leading with fifteen other photographers all around the UK. The central idea for the project is to give a voice to the next generation to speak to us about their dreams, their ambitions, their hopes and fears for their futures. Within the group we aim to explore how your upbringing, your social background, your ethnicity, gender, location etc all influence what you feel you can achieve in life and how you might fulfil your potential.
The idea for the project was borne out of a series I made about the Scottish Referendum in 2014. It was the first time that sixteen year olds were given the vote in the UK and I photographed young people who would celebrate their sixteenth birthday on the day of the referendum: they were the youngest people ever to vote in Great Britain. I was encouraged by how engaged with the process many of the sixteen year olds were, but also aware of the weight of responsibility some of them felt. In many ways it was their future more than anyones that was at stake in the decision that could break up the 300 year old union.
It feels like we are at a major crossroads in terms of national and international relations, the rise of populist movements and grass roots activism, increased concerns over climate change, migration, terrorism and much needed debates about the national and global economies, social cohesion etc. At this time of great turmoil, ‘Sixteen’ is designed to focus the attention on the next generation, the ones who are going to deal with the outcomes of decisions we make today. Specifically regarding Brexit, these youngsters did not have a vote in the referendum, but will all be coming of age when the UK leaves the EU. It will be their generation more than any other that feels the first effects of the new Europe.
The first set of pictures that I shot to kickstart the project are the ones that were shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Awards and one of them ‘Arshia Ghorbani', a young Iranian asylum seeker in Liverpool was awarded the inaugural FC Barcelona Photo Award. The pictures were mostly shot in and around Liverpool and North Wales from a cross section of society including young people from the Irish Traveller community and refugees from Iran and Syria. In each case I ask them to write their own testimony - this is something I started with the Scottish work and it comes from a desire to work collaboratively with the young people and give them a voice to talk directly to the audience without the filter of a journalists questions. My own approach, to present their handwritten texts alongside the photographs, is being adapted by the group to explore other ways of giving the young people a direct voice too maybe using audio and video in some cases.
Both these accolades give an impetus to the wider project and I am keen to emphasise the group nature of what we are doing.The group (eight women and eight men - listed below with one more to join) are working collectively but still as individual photographers on a much wider series with sixteen year olds all around the UK. The aim is to exhibit and publish the work of the whole group as the project comes together over the next couple of years. We are at the early stages of building a network of partners and raising funding, but it is really exciting to be working with great friends, colleagues and photographers I admire on something which will certainly, in the end, become much more than a sum of it’s parts as each of us shoots in our own way and brings our own interests to exploring what it means to be sixteen in Britain today.
The group consists of:
Myself, Simon Roberts, Jillian Eddelstein, Lottie Davies, Kalpesh Lathigra, Sophie Gerrard, Kate Peters, Chris Nunn, Antonio Olmos, Stuart Freedman, Michelle Sank, Roy Mehta, Linda Brownlee, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Kate Kirkwood plus one other to be decided.