While that dreaded word, Brexit, is set to fill all corners of our lives in the upcoming weeks (not to mention the last few years), many questions around British identity have been raised. For the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, Brexit presents an awkward situation for the Brits that share a border with Spain. Resoundingly British, Gibraltarian’s have had two referendums in 1967 and 2001 resulting both times, with over 90 per cent of voters in favour of remaining British. While some people mistakenly identify Gibraltarian’s with the stereotypical “Brits abroad” agenda, the photographer Luke Archer says differently.
The London-based photographer has frequently visited Gibraltar over the last ten years since some of his family moved there. He notes the territory’s distinctly unique culture that is neither British nor Spanish, but, like many other areas, has developed its own culture combining the nationalities that reside there. Luke tells It’s Nice That: “What people often don’t realise is that Gibraltarian identity is unique. The people have their own culture and history, just like the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. Many Gibraltarian families’ ancestry is half British and half Spanish, so of course, that is going to shape their identity, including their language.”
For the last few years, Luke has been travelling back and forth between Gibraltar to capture the British-identifying people and their culture. The photos possess a sense of the surreal as quintessentially British objects like the red postbox and the Union Jack are given a Mediterranean backdrop. For his ongoing project The Rock, Luke stays with family while he photographs a different kind of British landscape. “I usually stay for a week or two,” Luke tells It’s Nice That. “I’m very lucky in that I can stay with my family and I do benefit from the local knowledge. On a previous trip, my step-mum heard that a lot of local families had reserved their spot on the beach for National Day the night before, so I was able to get up at dawn and photograph all the parasols in the sand. It’s a shot that I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else.”
For Luke, who is essentially an outsider to Gibraltarian culture, it was important to “go beyond being a flâneur” in the project. With the support of the Gibraltar Ministry of Culture, Luke has been introduced to many locals to collaborate on an accurate depiction of the British territory. “Getting access to people and places enables you to tell a deeper story,” he further explains.
Always a highly complex topic of discussion, when asked what Luke has learnt about British identity from the project so far, he says: “It might not be my place to say as I’m probably the least diverse, most average guy. Average height, middle-class, Southern – so average that most people have a friend who looks like me! But for me, The Rock has reaffirmed that we are a melting pot. Gibraltar’s various religions and side-by-side cultures reflect a similar kind of Britishness that I know having grown up in London. Undoubtedly we still have a long way to go and our ancestors did some awful things, but I hope in some small way, we are trying to make up for it by being open and accepting of others – even though as a country we did vote for Brexit!”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.