Political meets the personal as Sheffield photographer captures the predicament of city couples hit by Brexit

Max Fajman and Irenie Zelickman
Max Fajman and Irenie Zelickman
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The UK's vote to leave the EU was a momentous political decision - but a new photography exhibition is bringing Brexit's equally significant personal impact sharply into focus.

Many Europeans have found partners who are UK citizens, and couples settled in Sheffield face a dilemma as the details of Britain's EU withdrawal, that will define their future status, are ironed out.

Etienne Dunant and Paul James Cardwell

Etienne Dunant and Paul James Cardwell

City photographer Jeremy Abrahams has created a project called Remain/Leave, capturing images of and interviewing 20 such couples in a bid, he says, to explore their 'complex emotions'.

The pictures will be on show at Sheffield railway station throughout November.

He says: "What does the decision to leave the EU mean for their sense of identity, their family life, their choice of country to live in and their children’s future?"

Jeremy's assignment was borne out of his previous exhibition, Arrivals: Making Sheffield Home, which took place at Weston Park Museum and highlighted the stories of people who have moved here from overseas. He built up a network of contacts, and was approached following the June 2016 referendum by those unhappy with the result. Sheffield mirrored the national picture, voting in favour of Brexit by 51 per cent.

Emilio Bayarri-Torres and Natalie Bayarri

Emilio Bayarri-Torres and Natalie Bayarri

"If you're a European and you have met someone who is a British citizen inevitably the situation is not going to be to your liking," Jeremy says.

The majority of the interviewees make their feelings plain - UK-born Sian Thomas and her Belgian partner Michael Wutyens are 'scared' about society become more unstable while Frenchman Etienne Dunant, the partner of Paul James Cardwell, says he feels 'almost denied' his Britishness.

"I tried to keep my perspective out of it and allow the people to speak for themselves," says Jeremy, who took up professional photography after being made redundant from his job as an education consultant with Barnsley Council in 2013. "But I guess in choosing this particular subject, and framing it so personally, clearly it was going to encourage people who were unhappy about Brexit to come forward."

He says two of the couples left an especially marked impression.

Sian Thomas and Michael Wuytens

Sian Thomas and Michael Wuytens

Anna, a young Polish woman working as a researcher at Sheffield University, was 'very upset' at the implications of the vote for her relationship with boyfriend Kevin, born and brought up in Sheffield, he says.

"She said the day after the referendum her British neighbours came round with a bunch of flowers for her, with tears in their eyes, saying how upset they were about the decision that had been taken, and that they didn't feel that way."

Meanwhile, for Swedish citizen Max Fajman, in a relationship with UK resident Irenie Zelickman, the poll had uncomfortable echoes of the 1940s. His parents spent six years in concentration camps and were taken to Sweden by the Red Cross in 1945, three years before his birth.

"Being part of the EU has made him feel secure, and feel that those sorts of events were not going to happen again," says Jeremy, adding: "The EU has led to the absence of war in Western Europe throughout its existence."

Tamara Francis and Errol Francis

Tamara Francis and Errol Francis

On Monday, October 23, Jeremy will be speaking about Remain/Leave, showing pictures and taking part in a Q&A with two of the featured couples at an Off The Shelf event in the Millennium Gallery at 7pm.

The exhibition - part of Sheffield University's Migration Research Group’s contribution to the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2017 - will then take place from November 5 to 29 in the station, opposite M&S. On November 6 the university is hosting a discussion called 'Brexit & EU Nationals - Your Questions Answered' in the Adelphi Room at the Crucible Theatre from 6pm, considering what leaving the EU might mean for legal, family and worker rights. Jeremy will be at the station talking about his photos beforehand from 5pm to 5.30pm.