A wander around the Brick Lane area of London will reveal two types of graffiti: the illegal kind – once frowned upon, now a significant draw for tourists – and the paid-for kind, commissioned to blend into the environs by every brand from Adidas to Oatly, not forgetting Gucci’s looming Art Wall.
This divide has come to represent the intense form of gentrification that’s struck the area in recent years. Of course, these changes haven’t escaped Dougie Wallace, who’s been based in east London for over two decades, and forms the basis of his new photo book published by Dewi Lewis. The same photo series also received an Honourable Mention in the CR Photography Annual 2019.
As with past projects like Harrodsburg and Shoreditch Wild Life, nobody quite escapes Wallace’s lens unscathed. Yet here his focus spans beyond the people he encounters: place is an equally important co-star in his scenes of the East End. Backgrounds suddenly come to the fore and interact with the people – whether mirroring them, contrasting with them, or even poking fun at them.
Luxury ads hover awkwardly behind remnants of street markets. Slogans painted on walls make irreverent statements about those stood in front. Graffitied backdrops wrestle with attention-grabbing outfits illuminated by Wallace’s flashgun.
The photo book is rounded off with an essay by Paul Lowe titled The Age of Shoreditchification, which takes us through the history of the area and why Wallace is poised to capture it in its current state of disarray.
“Such an oversaturated, overproduced, over-manipulated and over-filtered environment demands a critical response that cuts through this visual fugue and lays bare the absurdity of our collective act of self-actualisation through selfiehood,” he writes. “Come the hour, cometh the man – Dougie Wallace who was made to make the streets of Shoreditch his caustic playground.”
East Ended by Dougie Wallace is published by Dewi Lewis; dougiewallace.com; dewilewis.com