Fils just wants to be older. He’s into football and music, and he hopes things can get better when it comes to the future. He’s just one of many boys attending a council-run creative youth centre in west London. The facility encourages young men to create music and art, giving them a space to creatively express themselves in an area where gentrification is rife. New and expensive blocks of flats shoot up around them, pushing out local communities who can no longer afford to live there.
Joshua is also a regular at the youth centre. He’s interested in criminology, law and badminton and hopes to study the former at Lancaster University. Romario, on the other hand, wants to own his own hotel someday. He says of the constant regeneration projects around him: “It’s shit. There are so many cameras now. We feel watched all the time.”
Will wants to become a music influencer. He doesn’t live in the local area, but like many of the attendees, travels to come to the youth centre.
Omar thinks that a lot of drug money will be made from the rapid gentrification around him. “All these rich people in south Acton take coke,” he says of his changing surroundings. He hopes to become a mechanic in the future as bikes are very much “his thing” whereas Patrick is more into sport, N’Golo Kante in particular. He’s still trying to figure out what his aspirations for the future are, and says of the regeneration around him, “I’m not feeling it. I like the new houses but they’re not for us. I feel like I’m being judged every time I step out of the house. There’s no community anymore.”
Fils, Joshua, Romario, Omar and Patrick all feature in Em Cole’s photography series West London Boys. She met them through her ex-partner, who helped shoot music videos for some of the budding artists, and with funding from the British Arts Council, Em also came on board to collaborate creatively with the group. The moving portrait shoot came about as a way for the centre to raise awareness on how council funding cuts are affecting locals. Recently, the youth centre had to downsize as its original space was knocked down, bought up by developers to turn into fancy flats.
Em tells It’s Nice That: “Nobody from the new developments goes anywhere near the youth centre. A lot of these places have been shut down completely and no one is talking about it. If we can use something seemingly simple like photography to get these young people seen, then great.” Coming from a multicultural working class area of Swindon, and managing to get to London to attend art school later down the line, Em is “very aware of the impact that connection and exposure has on the future of a young person.”
She loved photographing each and every one of the group. She liked how none of them wanted to take their jackets off for the photos, even though they were inside. In turn, she wanted to capture this self-assurance that exuded off the young men. Taking the pictures as quickly as possible, before there was time to overthink something or become self-conscious, Em collaborated with the group to create a portrait which best represented each subject. “We messed around a lot, playing with stupid poses, colours and finding backdrops which matched their vibe,” adds Em.
In the end, Em photographed 12 young people in only two hours. “It was really fun for us all,” she continues, and has since gone back to take more pictures with them, exchanging raw files with them so they can have a go at editing and adding their own spin on the pictures. The photographer finally concludes on the project: “I just want people to see the young people as the beautiful, warm and confident people they are.”
GalleryEm Cole: West London Boys
Em Cole: West London Boys
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.