Alex Ingram interviews Luke Archer

To accompany the new edition of PGZ, we approached industry experts to select from submissions received a photography graduate they would like to interview for Photograd. Here we have Alex Ingram interviewing Arts University Bournemouth graduate Luke Archer.


Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into photography? I’m originally from North West London, end of the Jubilee Line, Zone 5, deep suburbs! After a few years in Bristol I’ve crossed the river and now call South London home. Photography has always been a part of my life in some form or another, my granddad worked for Kodak all his life and predictably gave me my first film and digital cameras, both Kodak obviously! My other grandad died before I was born but he was a working photographer -  I like to think it’s in the blood!

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

I didn’t become that engaged with photography until studying A level art, at that stage I was using photography as a starting point, painting over photos, collaging, all sorts. At that time, I went to see a big Diane Arbus retrospective at the V&A, it was a pivotal moment because I realised that photography can be so powerful on its own you don’t need to mess around with it. From that point on its been a love hate relationship where I have studied photography, given up on it and then gone back to it. I finished an MA last year and I’m currently trying to pursue assisting while running Loupe magazine.

What is your relationship with Gibraltar? I have family who have lived there for about 10 years so it’s a country I have always been aware of but in reality I had not spent that much time exploring it. I would visit my family in summer holidays and despite flying in and out of Gibraltar most of the time was spent across the border in Spain. The project has enabled me to establish a much better understanding of Gibraltar.

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Talk us through your new project. What is it about Gibraltar that interested you and made you want to produce your work there? I had always thought Gibraltar would make a good subject for a project. I think any location that a wider audience knows little about is going to peak a photographer’s interest. I wasn’t aware of any other photographer’s projects based on Gibraltar so it gave me the chance to get stuck in and not be swayed by any existing imagery.  I knew with Brexit looming that Gibraltar would be a place of interest but also that the media coverage might be one dimensional. I felt it would be a good time to shoot a project that went beyond some of the more alarmist headlines.

Gibraltar has a very high number of Spanish workers who migrate into the country every day for work. How do you think Gibraltar will be effected when the UK eventually leaves the EU? Yes as far as I know it’s around 10,000 Spanish workers who cross the border, not to mention Gibraltarians living in Spain and other nationalities who have decided to live on the Spanish side, normally due to cost. It’s very hard to tell because of the general uncertainty that surrounds all of Brexit. There are some scary worst case scenarios. In regards to the workers it could impact on their jobs but this seems unlikely, it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the border open and flowing as normal, anything that hampers this will likely see protests on both sides. One worry for people living in Gibraltar is lack of food. After Brexit  food that would normally cross the border is will now be going out of the EU and it will be subject to a different level of inspection. Apparently, the Spanish border town does not have the facilities to do this and the food would have to go to another nearby port town and perhaps be shipped across to Gib. The very worst case scenario is Gibraltar could run out of food. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen and I think most people expect a rocky first month or so but that some form of normality will return. 

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

You described Gibraltar as being "more British than the Brits". Can you elaborate on this? What similarities or differences do you see between life in Gibraltar and life in the UK? It’s not a phrase that I have come up with, it’s something that is often said about Gibraltar and I’m not sure I agree with it now. I think because it’s a major tourist destination, sometimes the Britishness is played up for that crowd, thousands of people get off a cruise ship and want to see the red telephone boxes, eat some fish and chips etc.  Whereas day to day life is more Gibraltarian and by that, I mean infused with its own unique culture and identity, which has more of a Spanish influence than most people realise. For example, a lot of casual conversations on the street will be in the local dialect of Yanito which is predominantly Spanish with phrases and words from other languages thrown in. 

There are of course similarities, in the digital age with TV and internet its easier for UK music and fashion to reach Gibraltar, whereas perhaps in the past there might have been a time delay or a disparity. 

Just like the UK It’s also a country of dog lovers and despite the lack of space there are lot of dogs! 

Did you go to Gibraltar with a preconceived idea of what life will be like there? Did that perception change? It’s hard for me to look back because I’ve spent so much time there over the last couple of years. I suppose at first I was guilty of thinking it would be very British and thus easy to get my head around. I underestimated the Spanish influence: it’s worth noting that often Gibraltarian families have one side Spanish and one side British so of course that is going to come together to make something new. That cultural fusion can make understanding the country and its culture very tricky.

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Now I see Gibraltar as a distinct country, it’s just like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland they are all British but each with their own identity and culture.

Were there any stand out moments during your visit? I got back from a visit earlier this year, and during the trip I spent a day with the police force and went out in really rough weather on one of their fast patrol boats. It was crazy the boat was literally leaping out of the water and then slamming back down. I can’t imagine having to chase and stop another boat using one those, I could barely stay in my seat! I don’t think the images will be any good but it was an experience!

What is your favourite image from the series? That’s a tricky one – I’m not always that confident in my individual images I feel the strength comes from how the images come together as a series.  however, I really like the image of the Iman at the Moroccan mosque.

I always find mosques very calm places and it was a low stress sitting, I had plenty of time and he was a great sitter. I’m pleased that I was able show him in context. Portraits are always the hardest but most rewarding aspect for me!

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Do you plan on returning to Gibraltar after the UK leaves to continue working on the project? Yes definitely, I have portrait sittings I still need to complete and a few locations I’m in the process of securing access to. I’m very lucky that I can stay with family so going out is not too much of a challenge financially. A lot does depend on Brexit, now it’s great excuse to get the project out there and bring attention to Gibraltar. If Brexit is disastrous then I might be out there photographing the impact. However, I hope that whatever happens  is minor, as a country its survived sieges so I’m sure it will cope with whatever Brexit throws at it!  In the long run, I hope the project will be framed more around Gibraltar’s unique landscape and identity and Brexit will be more of a footnote.

What's next for you? Are you currently working on any other projects? I have a long list of projects I would love to shoot but it’s going to take several lifetimes to get through them all! I have previously been bad at finishing projects so I would be nice to see this one in print before moving on. I do have one project idea that is more focused around technology I just need to research it to make sure no one else has shot it already!