Nostalgia for an Undefined Something

Panorama Photographs of Brexit Fans Near the British Parliament

7 min read by Danilo Leonardi.
Published on . Updated on .

From late 2018 to early 2020, I spent many a spare moment photographing in the area surrounding the British Parliament, Parliament Square and Westminster tube station. I would train my camera at the various groups of people protesting, marching or merely standing in front of Parliament for and against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

During 2019 there were several cliff-edge moments in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. At those times, crowds would gather in the area. Most days, however, people from both sides of this political divide would simply stand with their signs and banners in front of Parliament and near the Winston Churchill statue on Parliament Square.

I photographed some Brexit fans, with the occasional anti-Brexit protestor in their midst, in the afternoon of one of those ordinary days, at the end of March 2019.

Echoing the rhetoric of some of the politicians, these fans of Brexit define their identity by reference to the past. Their Union Jack-themed costumes, their bodies wrapped in either the Union Jack or the English flag or dressed in what looks like a comic book medieval knight attire, it all suggests that they identify with a past that is, for the most part, imaginary and of legend.

I wanted to show that their wish is to turn back the clock — a fear of the future could be read in many of their faces. Some may have also been idealizing memories of their own long-gone youth. I relied on the graininess of black and white film to go with this overall sense of nostalgia and to give an old-fashioned look to the images. I also wanted to utilize the instant abstraction provided by black and white to avoid the picturesque aspects of the location, in particular, when it was all heightened by the costumes and symbols of nostalgia on display.

I believe that the shape of the photographic “canvas” matters. My usual choice is what I deem a single-eye, viewfinder-driven edit on the world, as provided by a 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio. There are times, as in the photographs here, when I feel wide is more suitable. It is more akin to a two-eye take. It gives “more room” for bringing candid photography onto a stage that is wider than the one normally furnished by other formats.

My intention was to use the format to highlight the location by working towards a somewhat layered approach. I wanted to place the people, their banners and paperboard signs inside a frame where the context is given importance. Westminster enjoys world fame created by decades of tourism (and associated postcards and snapshots), and of course, apart from the fact that it happens to be the seat of a very old Parliamentary democracy. It attracts tourists by the busload. The images show some of this; tourists and pedestrians making their way through the protestors, all set against a world-famous landmark.

The photographs were taken with a Horizont panoramic camera on Agfa APX 400, which I developed in SPUR Acurol-N in a 1:50 solution for 12 minutes at 20 degrees Celsius. My particular Horizont camera was manufactured in 1972. It is perhaps adding to the overall sense of times past. Besides highlighting the truism, that change is the only constant in human existence.

1972 means that my particular unit was made in a country that no longer exists, the USSR. Versions of this camera are in current production in Russia, however. It creates images that spread over 12 sprockets as if an additional half-frame had been added to a full-frame picture. It sports a 28 mm f/2.8 lens that rotates on its axis to achieve a 120-degree angle of view as it sweeps during exposure over a 24 x 58 mm area of 35 mm film. When photographing strongly backlit scenes, vertical flares may appear.

I consider myself a late arrival to digital. At the end of 2012, I acquired my first pro-level data body, and this marked the beginning of a period of about five years in which I only used digital equipment. I revisited film photography in 2017—a new project required that I source a film body. I ended up re-acquiring a model that had been one of my favourites before I began shooting digitally. A few more film cameras followed that purchase.

I should mention, however, that I do not consider myself a nostalgic person. I am very happy that digital equipment does, in fact, exist. My goal at the moment is to embrace both types of gear in my photography.