In Gibraltar, the horizon is dominated by a stony mountain that rises close to the shore, as if it had sprouted from the sea. It has been nicknamed “the Rock”. The Rock has long been a matter of dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain. Its location at the narrow access point into the Mediterranean Sea made it key for the British Empire’s naval operations. Spain handed Gibraltar over to the British according to the terms of the treaty of Utrecht signed in 1713. To this day, it is still a British overseas territory. Most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish. The territory’s own dialect, Llanito, is a mix of Andalusian Spanish and English. Yet almost half of the people who work in Gibraltar live in Spain and commute daily to the peninsula. This makes freedom of movement between the two an essential part of the Gibraltarian economy.
Within the European Union, the Rock sat on shifting ground. Gibraltarian historian and deputy chief minister, Joseph Garcia, wrote in 2021 that during its EU membership, the territory has felt at times “isolated, let-down and downright betrayed.” It joined the EU alongside the United Kingdom, but did not get the right to vote in European elections until a 1999 legal case forced the UK to grant it representation.
Paradoxically, Gibraltarians did get to vote in the Brexit referendum in 2016. It was the only British overseas territory consulted at the polls. Despite voting 96% in favour of remaining in the European bloc, Gibraltar was forced to leave when Brexit came into force.
Years after the vote, but prior to its enforcement, British photographer Luke Archer visited Gibraltar and captured the many facets of life in the territory, combining landscapes and street photography. Shot on film, tourists and locals alike fill his photographs with vibrant colours. At that time, EU flags still popped up in celebration of the National Day—alongside the British Union Jack and the Gibraltarian flag, a red castle on a white and red background.
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