Freddie Miller’s The District reframes perceptions of drill artists and Deptford’s Pepys estate

Taking inspiration from photos taken in 1970 for the Architectural Review, the London-based photographer focuses on the synergy between the place and the people.

In Deptford, London, on the bank of the River Thames lies Pepys Estate. Opened in 1966, and comprising three 24 storey towers – the tallest in London at the time – eight 10 storey blocks and multiple lower structures, it still stands today after many phases of demolition and remodelling. A born-and-raised Bristolian and avid documenter of people and communities, including a butcher named Joe from the Bronx and fishing competitions in Oaxaca, Mexico, Freddie Miller has most recently taken his camera to the southeast London area to document its drill artists.

The District came about after Freddie was invited to take part in the exhibition Boundary Conditions, a group show thematically seeking to reframe the estate, at Gareth Gardner Gallery in September. Inspired by photos of the estate taken in 1970 by Tony Ray-Jones for The Architectural Review, Freddie initially gave himself a “fairly loose brief,” to photograph its young people. “I sent messages via social media, and visited the estate to find contributors,” Freddie tells us. He soon met Skitszo via Instagram, and they agreed that the project would also double as music promotion for the artist and his friends. “I gravitate towards subculture in my work so finding a group of mates who were part of the drill community, and wanted the images for their own purposes, just seemed like the perfect fit,” he adds.

For Freddie, visiting the estate without his camera first was paramount, as was immersing himself in the community and building trust. And when it came to the actual documentations, he says, “it was important for me to capture the estate and friendship group in a sensitive and collaborative way”. Alluding to the media and Metropolitan Police’s scrutinising of drill lyrics and the overall culture (the Met requested for YouTube to take down a total of 510 music videos in 2021 and since 2020 there has been a 1360% increase in requests made to the platform), Freddie sought for it to be more than a media depiction, and a focusing on the pride in their hometown. “I felt their musical ambitions and the strength of their friendship, that’s what was important for me to show.”


Freddie Miller: The District (Copyright © Freddie Miller, 2023)

Throughout The District neither the artists or the estate override each other, because Freddie’s photographs embody the symbiosis between the two; at every turn of the series you will find yourself trying to map out the area and their everyday connection to it. And considering the ambitions of Boundary Conditions, Freddie says that the challenges were in “ensuring not to gloss over the harsher realities of inner city life, such as the general lack of care and investment from the local authority,” while being careful not to take a voyeuristic approach. “I tried to hint at these realities. Like in the photo of [one of the artists outside] the youth club, which had been closed for several years, and the community cafe which also closed over summer, highlighting the fact that there are few places for young residents to spend time”.

Going forward, Freddie still longs to document subcultures and people in the pockets of the world’s most engrossing scenes. “I think counterculture and resistance are more important than ever in our increasingly alienating world,” he says. And, we find that what makes Freddie’s work and approach so interesting is that he doesn’t seek to add his own perception to the frame, or make them overly sentimental. So, as he works on his next project based on ritual and folklore – “a little different to drill but also more related than one may think” – we’ll be watching this space for the collaborative documentations emitting from his lens.

GalleryFreddie Miller: The District (Copyright © Freddie Miller, 2023)

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Freddie Miller: The District (Copyright © Freddie Miller, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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