Si Barber Photographs Britain’s ‘Big Society’

Is the UK’s austerity program really such a terrible thing? Sure, in times of crisis people do tend to smash each other in the head more often, underestimate the value of their own lives, and end up cast adrift in a hellish world of drugs, mental illness, and homelessness. Then again—and sorry to pull rank here, but I’m from fucking Greece, so I know—austerity also helps strip the pointless bullshit from people’s lives. No more taxis. No more expensive hangover pizzas. No more white peacocks for your garden. No more diamond slippers… these things don’t seem quite so important when you’re preoccupied with figuring out where tonight’s dinner is going to come from.

Si Barber is a Norfolk-based photographer who, for the past six or so years, has been sensitive enough to the hilarity of life in credit crunched Britain to photograph it honestly. I don’t know if that means anything coming from a foreigner, but browsing through his The Big Society project I’m met with images of the Britain I dreamed of as a kid and came to love as an adult—the wonderfully fucked-up loner of Europe.

I spoke to Si about his work.

VICE: Hi, Si. So you’ve been working on your Big Society project for a while now, right?
I am always working on The Big Society. When I started it in 2007, I could just spend a couple of hundred dollars on diesel, accommodation, and food, and run off to Scotland for the weekend—it would all just be absorbed within my business, which is commission-based photography. Now that times have gotten a bit harder, I try to get as much out of a shoot as possible. I’ll go off and do two or three things at the same time.

Do you ever get involved in a project you absolutely hate?
I don’t hate any of them, but I do find the imagination of some of the people who commission work fairly limited. I also work quite a lot for broadsheet newspapers, and they have a limited view on what constitutes a good picture. They might ask for a bit of side-lighting, for example, which is a little bit old hat.

What I like about your pictures is their simplicity. It seems like you just point your camera at something interesting and take a picture that makes sense.
Is there a particular image that stands out to you?

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