Tristan Bejawn sensitively explores the inaccurately conflated relationship between youth violence and UK drill
The London-based photographer has been delving into a subject he feels passionately about, focussing on an aspect of youth violence that the media often chooses to ignore.
- Ruby Boddington
- 2 March 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
It was one specific portrait from Tristan Bejawn’s portfolio which introduced us to his work. Selected as part of the British Journal of Photography’s annual Portrait of Britain award, it’s titled Kennington’s Eton Scholar and shows a young man, Joshua Adeyemi, staring down the camera, dressed in the uniform of the famous (some would say infamous) British public school, Eton. The portrait, we later found out, is part of a wider series called Drawn Out which explores the apparent parallels between inner-city youth violence and UK drill music in London over recent years. And we reached out to find out more.
“I always get excited by portraiture,” he tells us. “The depth and variety of what you can achieve is boundless, and you really don’t need a lot to start making something interesting. There’s so much you can say, and when you get it right, and you feel that you’ve captured something honest and genuine, that’s when things get really interesting. ”
While it was one portrait that drew us in, Tristan’s portfolio is full of captivating stories told in nuanced ways through portraiture and vignettes. His family is from Singapore but Tristan grew up in south west London. In 2014, he moved to Camberwell around the same time he decided to commit to photography full-time and so now many of his series focus on the area. “I aim to just be present within a space, and then try to organically and unobtrusively capture what’s around me. This is why my long term projects tend to be close to home,” he says on this point.
As with many photographers, he began by traveling to the far corners of the world in order to create work. “But as I’ve developed as a practitioner I increasingly see the value of staying put and photographing my own lived experience,” he continues. Drawn Out is an excellent example of this. Shot over a three-year period it aims to counteract the media’s inaccurate conflation of youth violence in London and UK drill.
Key to the series’ success is Tristan’s merging of human voices alongside images of grief and loss, something he did to “untangle the human tragedy from the headline-grabbing debates around gangs and drill music.” It’s a genre which has garnered a lot of attention, echoing the negative press N.W.A received in the late 80s for their track Fuck Tha Police. Drill originated in Chicago but has since taken on a life of its own in the UK, particularly in London, in recent years, and is “typified by its unforgiving lyricism about the extremes of disfranchised, hyper-masculine adolescent life.” Drawn Out, therefore, seeks to represent the complex relationship between “urban societal fragmentation and subcultural artistic production in modern Britain – a relationship that is rarely interrogated with sensitivity or nuance,” Tristan explains.
Aesthetically, the series compiles more formal portraits alongside iPhone snaps or images taken on point-and-shoot cameras. These casual styles of documentation in turn mirror the visual language of violence which is so often associated with footage captured by bystanders. “By including these vignettes, I aim to give a sense of the space from a day-to-day perspective which in turn contextualises the voices of the subjects in my pictures,” Tristan adds.
Conceptually, it’s a series which tackles extremely complex and multi-layered subjects but Tristan handles them with care and a certain sense of conviction. For example, Kemani, the 18-year-old son of Mark Duggan whose death sparked the 2011 London riots features in the series. Kemani now raps under the moniker Bandokay, and is a member of the leading UK drill crew OFB.
“It’s a subject that I feel passionately about; Southwark’s been my home for half a decade, and is also one of the deadliest boroughs in the country for knife crime,” Tristan concludes. “I chose to focus on an aspect of the story about youth violence that isn’t widely covered in the media, introducing people like Joshua Adeyemi as ambassadors of hope who can steer the conversation and better inform policy makers on how to address these endemic issues. To me, his portrait highlights the wasted potential in the lives lost to youth violence every week.”
GalleryTristan Bejawn: Drawn Out
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.