During the first lockdown, photographer Will Douglas started doing something he hadn’t done before. He lived near an outdoor gym, and with lockdown underway, decided to pop down and give a pull up a go. After a few days visiting the outdoor gym, he started speaking to some of the people training there. Will tells us: “I found out how the gym came to exist, by melting down knives off the street and picked up from the police station, taken to melt down and create a safe space for community members to work out.”
Amazed by how something as devastating as knife crime can turn into something so positive, Will wanted to meet more people who are part of this community and get to know their stories. Along the way, he met a variety of people from the community, from people who’d been involved with knife crime to those working in politics, across all ages from the elderly to young kids, the gym welcomed all.
Over time, he decided to photograph the community and, from time to time, he’d pop down to the outdoor gym to take another portrait. These pictures became Steel Warriors, a project promoting a heightened sense of community achieved over lockdown and celebrating the importance of outdoor spaces in a trying time. Blown away by the dedication and respect shown by the steel warriors, Will adds on the series, “my aim is to present a project that shows the people behind the biceps. The people that make this community. Capturing that sense of positivity that the gyms have given us.”
Will has always been a sociable person. Growing up in a small town in Essex where “not many people under the age of 60 live,” he recalls playing a lot of sport as a kid. In general, “I just loved running around,” he says. Sport helped Will to develop and now, he can look back on his childhood and realise that this gave him a foundation to pursue photography as a career. “I loved all the highs and lows that sport pushed onto me,” he explains, “it helped me grow as a person.”
In time, Will studied photography at Nottingham Trent university then moved to London shortly after graduation. There, he slept on around 20 different floors in East London, trying to get as much assisting work as possible which eventually led to his first commissioned job, a project for an Adidas event shooting a five-a-side tournament. In that moment, shooting the tournament, he remembered the rush of playing sport as a kid, and felt the excitement and exhilaration of emotion from the pitch. It led him to work on a number of sports photography projects, including a shoot which saw him standing in a ring with Anthony Joshua, and another time, in Barcelona on a pitch with Lionel Messi.
Someone who truly loves to shoot people, Will’s practice captures the energy and fun of a scenario. He aims to squeeze all the joyful juice out of a scenario and pour into one image. “I always get told I’m smiling behind the camera, and that’s probably true, if someone is having fun in front of the camera, you can rest assure that I’m having equal fun behind the camera too.” And that is really what Will’s practice is all about. “Photography really does take you back to the beautiful moment that happen every day in our lives,” Will goes on to say, “most are forgotten, but there are somewhere I get the opportunity to photograph and remember, and I love giving that to people.”
GalleryWill Douglas: Steel Warriors (Copyright © Will Douglas, 2021)
Will Douglas: Steel Warriors (Copyright © Will Douglas, 2021)
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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.