Dougie Wallace’s latest series captures gentrification and graffiti in London’s east end
Shot over the course of six years, the photographer has compiled a new book and exhibition that sees the hipsters and locals unite in all their polarising glory.
- Ayla Angelos
- 16 March 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
We’ve seen many top-notch documentary photography projects arise over the years, but no one has an eye for it quite like Dougie Wallace. A humorous compilation of the characters found in the quintessentially British east end of London, his most recent series is titled East Ended. It can be viewed as a kind of follow up to his shots in Shoreditch that we covered way back in 2014 – and also as a pleasant distraction from the turbulence going on in the present climate.
Dougie is a recurring name here at It’s Nice That, and it’s easy to see why. A photographer of 20 years, he looks to approach each project with finesse. Throughout series such as Goan to the Dogs, one that asks who exactly is the happiest dog going, and Well Heeled, an additional dog-centred series, Dougie’s style has remained consistent. But East Ended sees a change in his use of camera angles.
Previously, he wanted to get close to his subjects, “focusing the camera on a detail and coming in close range... That’s how you get shots such as a dog’s tongue drinking water, or focus on feet or other body parts and still manage to get a good picture that creates an emotional response,” he adds. In East Ended, part of a new exhibition and photobook, he utilises wide angles, such as landscape shots and frames filled with action. “It’s not so much evolving style, though, it’s more to do with choosing what approach would best-suit any project,” he says.
Documenting the transforming streets of the London borough, Dougie has turned a lens onto the topics of gentrification, local community and public space. Now in its completion, East Ended took six years to compile – “like any project, it takes years to come to fruition,” he says.
When first embarking on the project, he began exploring this subject matter while working on other projects, “and then the amount of shooting specifically dedicated to East Ended intensified over the last few years.” As for the imagery itself, he explains that his intentions were to go beyond what’s expected from the medium of street photography, “and use the images that [he] shot to provide a social commentary on the phenomenon of gentrification – for which Shoreditch provides as the most spectacular source. I’ve been in Shoreditch over the past two decades, so I’ve seen it all first hand.”
Gentrification is at the core of this project. You’ve got utter polarity running throughout, whereby an old lady scurries past a mountain of littered trash as the hipsters pose for a photo. Elsewhere, street art and graffiti murals play the protagonists as Shoreditch’s trendy clientele strolls past. There’s a wide mix of people in these scenes, snapped on the street in their everyday moments and wears. It’s important, however, to not refer to this series as a street photography project. “Although people often tend to refer to my work as street photography – there are elements of ‘street’ in my work, for sure – I prefer to describe it as social documentary photography, drawing influences from my Glasgow upbringing that gives a hard edge.” Additionally, Dougie’s experiences of living in Shoreditch for such a long time has had a great effect on the pictures that he produces, “especially during its hedonistic party days, where I developed my penchant for capturing the messy side of human behaviour.”
Continuing the comparison between past projects, East Ended was shot across a concentrated circumference of Brick Lane, Redchurch Street and Sclater Street – a contrast to Well Heeled that saw him move across different cities. As for the process of putting together East Ended, Dougie explains how he approached it with discipline. “You have to get out there, come rain or shine, and gather your shots until you have a sufficient body of work to make a selection for a book,” he comments. “For every image in a book, I can’t even count how many do not make it into that selection.”
A strict and ferocious editing technique is, of course, paramount to this style of photography – and for the medium as a whole – as Dougie prefers to get himself out there on the street with a camera in tow, and “just shoot”. He adds: “You just do it; it’s already all in my head, I’m just waiting for it to unfold.”
In memory of Gary Fairfull.