How I see Britain: photographs that define the country

Former Guardian picture editor Eamonn McCabes TV series Britain in Focus has been charting the history of photography in the UK. Here, Irvine Welsh, Sadiq Khan, Jeanette Winterson, Nadav Kander and others pick the shots that sum up Britishness for them

A striking miner, Orgreave, 1984

Luke Wright, poet

This rich, beautiful photo by Don McPhee shows striking miner (Striking? Hes absolutely gorgeous!) George Geordie Brealey (right) and policeman Paul Castle (far left) at Orgreave on 18 June 1984. What followed, known as the Battle of Orgreave, was one of the most violent clashes in recent British civil history, as 6,000 police officers and 5,000 miners faced off at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire.

Brealey was said to have form for joking and clowning with police officers on the picket line. Wearing a childs bobbies helmet, he would pretend to inspect the lines. Here is one man, sarcastically incognito, facing an infinite militarised police force. Brealey is at once brave, good-humoured and anti-establishment a British hero.

I was two in 1984, so this event is beyond my living memory, but it seems increasingly relevant to the divisions of contemporary Britain. Orgreave marked a turning point in the 1984-85 miners strike, and for labour relations in the UK. Zero-hours contracts, the left-behind, the divisions of Brexit they point back to a moment like this.

The
The Boy With the Flag, 1970 Photograph: Vanley Burke

The Boy With the Flag, 1970

David Lammy, Labour MP

Vanley Burkes image conveys the promise of second-generation immigrants born in Britain after their parents had landed on our shores on the Windrush in 1948. My parents were part of the Windrush generation, so this photo has a particular poignancy for me. Long before Linford Christie or Jessica Ennis won gold medals for Britain and wrapped themselves in the British flag, these young men and women began to identify with the country that was their only home.

Of course, this was the beginning of a bittersweet period for ethnic minorities in Britain: Enoch Powell, hostile police sus laws, failing schools and the emerging strife of inner-city life for immigrant communities. But it also captures the birth of multicultural Britain and conveys a spirit of hope and opportunity. This generation of ethnic minorities would go on to make significant myriad contributions to Britain, from the rebirth of the NHS to the transformation of the Premier League. Nothing would be quite the same again.

Didcot power station, 27 July 2014

Didcot,
Didcot power station, Oxfordshire, UK, 27 July 2014. Photograph: ajsissues/Alamy Stock Photo

Joan Bakewell, broadcaster

I loved these cooling towers at Didcot in Oxfordshire[which were demolished in July 2014] they were things of real beauty. Whenever I passed on the train, I would put down my book to enjoy them. They had great sweeping curves and in all weathers turned a different face to the world. We preserve windmills and steam trains, so why not these?

There is something poignant about the death of buildings: industrial ones signal the move from one era of technology to another. Their destruction marks the passing of time, of one way of looking and being into another that we cant yet imagine. The moment when they fall to the ground marks a moment in history gone for ever. No wonder people gaze in amazement when that happens.

Soldiers
Soldiers from the Womens Royal Army Corps in their service vehicle, driving through Trafalgar Square during the VE Day celebrations in London. Photograph: RJ Salmon/Getty Images

VE celebrations, 8 May 1945

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

This photograph captures the joy of one of the most important moments of the 20th century the victory over fascism in 1945. It also symbolises the huge strides made for gender equality in the second world war. Women entered previously all-male occupations: without their war effort, we might not have triumphed over nazism.

The second world war was Britain at its best. It was the peoples war, where ordinary citizens showed courage and sacrifice beyond our modern imaginations. It proved that state intervention and a socialised economy can work.

Privilege and profiteering were deemed shameful. The common good came first. People of all classes, races and nations united to defend Britain against the Nazis. We welcomed refugees and allied with subjugated Europeans. The need for a fairer, more equal society was the social consensus.

The wartime Common Wealth party was the equivalent of the anti-Tory alliance we need today: it united socialists, liberals and independents. Well to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, it made radical policies popular and won wartime byelections.

Social justice had mass appeal in the second world war. The people demanded, and later achieved, public ownership of major industries and the creation of the NHS and social security. They won social justice in 1945. Why cant we win it now?

British
British politician Nigel Farage meets President Elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, NYC, on 12 November 2016.
Photograph: Wigmore/Finn/Splash News

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, 12 November 2016

Irvine Welsh, author

This picture of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage says so much about our new era of politics: an American millionaires tax-dodging son and an English investment banker celebrate the realisation of their dreams. The American gets to run the world. The Englishman gets nothing but the sad satisfaction of playing court jester to the American, in this new world order he has undeniably helped bring about. The dispirited and beaten former aristocrats of labour in the post-industrial American and UK wastelands, their unions smashed, their wages lowered, crushed by 30 years of neoliberalism, get two wealthy men posing outside a gold lift. And the powerful one has a team scheming 24/7 about how to reduce them to further penury and serfdom. The Thatcher-Reagan era was the ascendancy of the 1%. This picture represents the official coronation of the new toytown emperors and their hapless puppets, and the rubber-stamping of medieval, authoritarian politics in a hi-tech world.

Miner
Miner at his evening meal, 1937. Photograph: Bill Brandt

Northumbrian coalminer and his wife, 1937

Eamonn McCabe, photographer

In 1937, German-born Bill Brandt travelled to the north of England where he would be the first to combine styles from art and photojournalism. As a foreigner, he brought a dispassionate, outsiders perspective, claiming that he wasnt making a political point, but his pictures have become the defining images of the Great Depression.

Brandt also wanted to bring his highly stylised approach to photograph uncompromising portraits of the people who lived and worked in these industrial communities like this shot Brandts most celebrated photograph from his northern journey taken in 1937, of a Northumbrian miner eating his tea, watched over by his wife.

Although for me there is a sense that Brandt has carefully posed this picture, directing the characters and arranging the set, does this detract from the power of the image? Brandts northern work never made him money and was published only later. But what he had achieved with these pictures was an unprecedented coming together of styles to create a stark and vivid vision of Britain never seen before.

Brandt never stopped pushing the boundaries of his art and he is rightly considered one of the most important photographers to have worked in Britain. He would also go on to work on a groundbreaking new publication that photographed every aspect of British life. On 1 October 1938, the Picture Post was launched, a weekly magazine filled with photographs on every page, its mission statement to make a visual record of British people at home, at work and at play.

David Weir, Paralympic Games, 2012

London
London 2012 Paralympic Games. David Weir of GB celebrates winning the mens T54 800m final. . Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Melanie C, singer

This shot is incredible. David Weir with his trademark howl is on the track in his victory pose, arms spread wide and his competitors blurred in the background. We have celebrated Olympic athletes for a long time, but really the people who are achieving incredible things against the odds are our Paralympians, who for so long were overlooked.

When it came to people with disabilities, I used to feel uncertain about the etiquette, but the biggest thing that we gained from 2012s Paralympics was the way it changed attitudes in general. It was a really special time and it shifted peoples perspectives for ever. Weir retained titles. He won the marathon. He won four golds in 2012.

Britain has a reputation for being a bit negative, a bit pessimistic. But that summer we showed the world how to do it. Everyone pulled together and it was a positive time to be in London. This image, along with so many others, reminds me of a year in which I felt very lucky to live in the capital. It was a wonderful time, and, for me, this image conveys so much power, strength, determination everything that the Paralympics was. (As told to Harriet Gibsone)

Battle
Battle of Cable Street, Aldgate, London, 5 October 1936. An anti-fascist crowd, some of them carrying missiles, run from a barricade they have erected near Aldgate. The police are charging on the far side of the barricade, which has been reinforced with paving stones. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

Battle of Cable Street, 5 October 1936

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London

More than 80 years ago in October 1936 thousands of brave and courageous men, women and children gathered to oppose fascism in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street.

That day, Mosleys fascists were forced into a humiliating retreat something achieved only through the power of people and communities coming together. A coalition was formed of Jewish East Enders, Irish dockworkers, trade unionists, Labour party members and many more coming together in solidarity to reject fascism and everything associated with it.

This was a historic turning point, a victory that had lasting repercussions because it showed that fascism could be resisted through communities uniting something that should continue to inspire us.

Last October, the 80th anniversary of Cable Street, I was proud to join another coalition of politicians, the Jewish community, trade unions, anti-racist organisations, Bangladeshi associations and many others, not only to honour and remember the brave people who fought against fascism in 1936, but to show our commitment and resolve to continue that fight. To say: when we see things that are divisive, go against our British values and are just fundamentally wrong, we must call them out; well never let fascism, racism or prejudice prevail. These are values that ring true in London, more than anywhere in the world.

Womens March, London, 21 January 2017

Womens
Womens March, London, 21 January 2017. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Kate Nash, singer

Whats so cool about this picture is that you have an iconic British statue alongside a message on gender equality. There were a loads of signs at the womens march in London its become really popular to get creative with them.

There has been a tendency within history in general for women to be small, to cross their legs and brush their hair. Even in the music industry, men have tried to quieten me down and package me differently. Now women want to express themselves and be a part of things. Its about coming together to stand up for causes we believe in, and being intersectional in our feminism. This placard has such a powerful message its unapologetic, its fierce. Its not going to be tamed by anybody. Nobodys going to tell a lion to shut up theyd be eaten!

It looks as if someone has left this placard there at the end of the march. It is a piece of art it keeps on telling a story even when youve got on the Tube and gone home. (As told to Leah Harper)

Richard
A Line Made by Walking, 1967 Photograph: Richard Long. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

A Line Made By Walking, 1967

Nadav Kander, photographer

I could really imagine having this photograph in my home and it meaning different things to me at different moments in my life. Its a picture thats so mature. Before you understand what it depicts, its such a nourishing, simple image. Then, when you read that this was a line that Richard Long created himself, by walking up and down, up and down theres something so metaphorical and subtle about it.

I love photography in which the artist can be seen in the image. Long has recorded his own pressure on the planet and the way he inhabits his surroundings with this photograph. That act of making art is beautiful to me; it always makes me incredibly happy.

I first saw this image when I was a photographers assistant in the West End of London. I used to visit Adrian Ensor, the printer in Fitzrovia who used to print Richards work. For me, this image is like a Matisse drawing of a face, where the charcoal hasnt been lifted from the paper and yet you feel as if you might know the girl depicted. Its that kind of delicacy and prowess that I love.

Sometimes, when an artist intervenes in their art, I find it incredibly heavy-handed its so obvious, like an interior design magazine. But with Longs work is featherlight and nuanced. The person behind the image always interests me as much as the picture itself and I like to see their fingerprint in their work. (As told to Leah Harper)

David Cameron, June 2015

David
David Cameron at the European heads of state and governments summit at the EU Council headquarters in Brussels. The Financial Times used this photograph immediately after Brexit. Photograph: Wiktor Dabkowski/eyevine

Jeanette Winterson, author

This photograph though taken in 2015 was on the front cover of the Financial Times immediately after Brexit. Theres David Cameron, the legalised gambler, betting Britain on the roulette wheel, confident the ball would spin quietly back to black. Instead, the economic austerity measures that drove the UK deeper and deeper into the red made certain that the gamble itself would end on red. Red alert. Red faces. The reptilian brain of the Tory party delighted they had been allowed to bet the country on a deluded dream of an island empire. And those cheap frauds, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, thrilling to an outcome that would work in the service of their personal ambition.

That sickening night, as the roulette wheel slowed, the count was in, and the UK was out of Europe. Cameron and George Osborne never believed it could happen. Arrogant posh boys out of touch with the miseries their policies had wrought. No plan for what would happen next. Cameron resigned. I suppose he thought that was noble. He should have been forced to clean up his own mess. Not walk away to make millions.

But he hadnt lost his money, or his home, or his future. He saved that for the little people. The people his government had been gambling with all along. Suddenly there was a chance for the little people to spin the wheel. No one told them that once again they could only lose.

The final episode of Britain in Focus: A Photographic History is on BBC4 on Monday 20 March at 9pm. <a

Read more: www.theguardian.com