What does Brexit mean for London’s creative industries?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The above film offers a glimpse behind the scenes of Separation, a series of portraits by Laura Pannack that explores the impact of Brexit on London-based creative couples.

Ellie, one half of a couple photographed by Pannack, moved to the UK from Bulgaria 10 years ago. Although based in south-east London, her career as an animation designer requires her to travel all over the world. Brexit, she predicts, will have a significant impact on British creatives working overseas. “Many jobs in the creative entertainment industry are contract-based, and not necessarily in the same country,” she says. “A post-Brexit UK will make life harder for both European and British creatives who want to work on big productions.”

Every day, for the last four days, British Journal of Photography has published portraits from Laura Pannack’s latest body of work Separation. The series of photographs, commissioned by BJP, explores the impact of Brexit on bi-national couples working in London’s creative industries. A film programmer, arts tutor, sound artist, graphic designer and professional drummer were among those photographed for the series.

The commission was created with Affinity Photo, the only fully functioning photo editing software available for iPad. Named Apple’s iPad App of the Year 2017, Affinity Photo for iPad was used by Pannack throughout the shoot to instantly review and develop her creative approach to the project. “Because the editing was incredibly quick,” says Pannack, “we could try different things out.” Pannack’s bold approach to the set design – namely, the manipulation of latex to create a translucent divide which also allowed the couple’s limbs to intertwine – made Affinity Photo for iPad integral to achieving the final portraits. 

Celia and Chris. © Laura Pannack.

Statistics published in late-2017 show that the creative industries contribute £91.8bn to the UK economy. To put that in perspective, these same figures show that the sector grew at twice the rate of the UK economy as a whole between 2015 and 2016. The prosperity of the UK’s creative industries, particularly that of London, has long been an attraction for creatives moving to the UK from overseas. Brexit threatens to change this. In December 2017, the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that net immigration to the UK from the EU stands at its lowest level in three years. Experts have said that Brexit has played a significant role in this sharp decline.

Celia, a Spanish fashion student who features in Separation with her British boyfriend Chris, is concerned that Brexit will threaten London’s multinational identity. “One of the aspects that makes Central Saint Martins [the university at which she reads Fashion] so special is its international atmosphere,” she says. “It breeds creativity and this is the same reason why London’s creative industries are so exciting. Brexit will no doubt change this and one of the most important positives of the city will be lost.”

Celia’s concerns are shared. On applying to be subjects for the Separation portraiture series, BJP asked 100 couples their views on Brexit. Eighty percent believe that Britain leaving the EU will put London’s reputation as a cultural hub in jeopardy and 89 percent think that Brexit will have a negative effect on London’s creative industries. Of all the couples that responded to the open call, 70 percent have considered permanently leaving the UK as a direct result of Brexit.

Caroline and Kadeem. © Laura Pannack.

Almost two years since Britain’s EU referendum, the exact ramifications of Brexit still remain unclear. Since the concept for Separation was decided, the Brexit Phase 1 Agreement has provided some clarity. While EU citizens who have been living in the UK for five years (before 29 March 2019) will be eligible to apply to remain in the UK indefinitely, this settled status is not automatically conferred. All EU nationals will have to apply to acquire settled staus.

Among the non-British Europeans that feature in Separation, many have said that they feel less welcome in the UK since the result of the EU referendum was announced. Although some EU citizens will be permitted to stay in the UK after the country leaves the EU, many simply do not want to. I have felt different in the UK since the referendum result was announced, and markedly less welcome,” says Giulia who features in Separation with her husband Stuart. “Ideally we want to be out of the country by the time Brexit has had full effect.”

Credits. Photographer: Laura Pannack. Assistant: Jacob Schühle Lewis. Junior assistant: James Greenhalgh (winner of the Separation competition to shadow Pannack on-shoot). Editorial: Anya Lawrence. Set: Karina Valentim. Studio: Street Studios. Equipment hire: Direct Digital. Equipment: Affinity Photo for iPad.

Separation is a British Journal of Photography commission created with Affinity Photo for iPad, Apple’s App of the Year 2017. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.