Too Many Man couldn’t be a more apt name for a project about female representation in grime – or lack thereof. While the genre has changed dramatically from its pirate radio days to its widespread mainstream success, female faces both on stage and behind the scenes still appear to be few and far between.
Ellie Ramsden set out to change this perception when she started her photo series last year. Taking its name from the 2009 Boy Better Know track – which fittingly references the lack of women in grime raves – the project includes portraits of women MCs, DJs, radio presenters, musicians, producers, journalists and others involved in the scene. As Ramsden launches a Kickstarter to turn Too Many Man into a photobook, she tells CR about her lifelong love affair with grime, and giving a new insight into the genre from a female perspective.
CR: Tell us about your work and your own relationship with grime
Ellie Ramsden: Growing up in South East London I’ve always been surrounded by underground music, concrete architecture and a diverse mix of people, which I definitely think you can see through my photography. I’ve never been someone who wants to create beautiful images, I just want to show what’s real. I’ve been listening to grime since I was about 12 so it had a big impact on me throughout my teenage life. I’ve witnessed the scene grow from lo res videotapes playing on the recently deceased Channel U, to grime artists headlining festivals across the world. I have quite an emotional attachment to grime because of this.
CR: How did Too Many Man first come about, and how has it developed over the last year?
ER: I’ve been photographing grime for years, at radio sets, live events and a few portraits here and there. I got in touch with The Grime Violinist a couple of years ago to photograph her – she was the first woman in grime that I’d photographed and during the shoot, I came up with one of those initial ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if I photographed the women in grime?’ conversations. Tanya ran with it saying it would be great, and so the idea sparked from there. I started photographing more women in the scene, but I didn’t think about putting the work together as a book until a few months ago.
CR: How did you find the women you wanted to be part of this project?
ER: I either talked to them in person at raves and events, or contacted them on Instagram. I explained a bit about the project and that the aim was to represent the women in the scene and give them a platform to share their thoughts and experiences. The response was great, so I just kept going. I’ve tried to get women who are involved in all parts of the scene, so MCs, DJs, radio presenters, musicians, producers, journalists, as well as women working behind the scenes. I wanted all these women to be seen, rather than just focusing on those at the forefront.
CR: Why do you think it’s important to shine a spotlight on these women and shoot them in their hometowns?
ER: So many industries are male-dominated; it’s not just the grime scene, and not because the women in these industries don’t exist, or because they’re not as good as the men. Many women struggle to get the recognition they deserve. There are a number of reasons for this, but I just wanted to give these women a platform to be seen and heard. I think it’s important to photograph everyone in their hometowns because grime is a very territorial genre. It was born in London, but now MCs are popping up all over the UK in places like Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield. You can be from anywhere and be a grime MC now, but you still have to rep where you’re from – that’s just how it goes.
CR: Why do you want to make a photobook to showcase the series?
ER: I want to make a book because I feel that it’s the only way to do this project justice. The book is made up of portraits, location photographs, exclusive interviews and handwritten lyrics. By putting the work together as a book it has allowed the project to expand, and exist as more than just digital photographs and text – it’s an insight into these women’s lives. The accompanying exhibition and launch party are about celebrating these talented women by giving them a space to come together and perform.