Where are the authorities? Where is Red Cross, where is the list of the residents? It is startling how slow the reaction of those who should know better. It also mirrors the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and how suddenly death has become a racial issue. It has most certainly become a political one.
What happened to humanity, the last few days have witnessed double standards and how we react to the plight of differing ethnic groups. The latest reports from the forest fires in Portugal give an estimation of 64 dead, that was an act of mother nature and totally unpredictable and sadly unpreventable. However, here in the richest borough of London in a so-called modern high-rise apartment block, they Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) didn’t even have the inclination to heed the warnings as far back as 1984 in an Adam Curtis Documentary, and as recently as November 2016. The report shows how the tower blocks are fundamentally flawed in design; not even a sprinkler system was in place to which, it most certainly could have slowed the advancement of the fire that befell the residents of Grenfell Tower.
What sickens me, is this incident and the other earlier events could have been prevented, had the inspections took place thoroughly and recommendations been adhered, put forward and actioned. Fundamental change has to happen, the investigation into the Grenfell incident has to be a transparent act, which will benefit the residents, their families, the community and future generations who are housed in apartment blocks.
A standard which is high should be set for all and not just the upper echelons of society. Fire Safety should not be compromised. The public inquiry has been launched, Scotland Yard has launched their own criminal investigation, and of course, the London Fire Brigade have launched their own respective inquiry, as to the cause of the fire. Whilst many of those who managed to evacuate the premises have speculated that a white-goods appliance was to blame, others have suggested it could have been a grow*, gone wrong. Regardless of the cause, the main protagonist for the fire enveloping the building is no doubt the materials specified for the cladding.
Eye-witness reports have documented as to why the fire spread so quickly on the outside of the block was the cladding, here then lies the blame and initial lead for the inquiry, though LFB has suggested it could be years before we have answers. Seemingly another failing of the authorities, this is, it would seem is Britain’s, ‘Hurricane Katrina’.
* Grow - Homegrown Cannabis Utilising LED Hydroponics
Blackpool, a place I can recall from childhood memories, spending hours either on the beach building sandcastles with my younger brothers or, paddling in the sea, or throwing pennies into the arcade games; Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and the like, very retro, but all the rage, nowadays. If it wasn’t the arcade games, then it would be the water cannon or the crappy off-target plastic shotgun and it’s very low supply of ‘ammo’ for a ‘quid’ ago. Still, it was all so amusing at that young age, as the men in the family, would go for a couple of pints, and the women well, they looked after the kids as usual. Years later, I find myself sat in the car driving my way up to this very Northern seaside resort, think Lancashire accent, but all the dazzle and grit of Vegas. One might think I’m here for a 1UP reunion, to play a final farewell game of Space Invaders…but no, I am here on a mission to follow one of Britain’s most intriguing contemporary photographers of the new millennium. Enter Dougie Wallace, aka ‘Glasweegee’, I first met Dougie at a Photo-Forum at a Calumet Camera shop on Drummond Street, NW1. It was a fantastic talk and I got to meet another photographer famous for his work; ‘The New Gypsies’, Iain McKell. I was taken with these guys and actually those that attended especially Anne Heslop, an established photographer in her own right. So several emails and chats later, I would follow Dougie to Blackpool, he was working on his project, ‘Stags, Hens and Bunnies’, the kind of in your face colour flash photography, for which he later became known for. His style is Bruce Gilden meets Elliot Erwitt meets artistic endeavour, very personable and very matter of fact, he isolates the subjects with the subtle use of flash. However, the scenes that play out and are captured show a dark side to the Britishness that myself and Iain McKell had chatted about post photo-forum talk, these photographs are not like the work of Keith Pattison; covering the miner’s strike August 1984-1985, these show the nature of any would-be bride or husband to be, in a state of flux, to drink off into oblivion the last ‘hurrah’ if you will of freedom, before settling down to married life, as though it were a sentence to be getting hitched. The photographs depict a side to the British, for which the Brits have become notorious, drinking and debauchery, and over indulgence. It’s not just the drinking, it’s the ridiculous outfits they wear, as though it were an honour badge, to be dressed up looking like a failed superhero, ending up face down on the pavement, expelling liquids from every conceivable orifice. However, most of the punters are happy for Dougie to document this last hurrah, as a keepsake for British society to reflect upon at a later date. He moves quite stealthily meandering through the drunken crowds, to isolate a particular perspective on the human condition; this is what I have come to like about his work. If you want it raw, if you want it ‘in your face’, here he is, head on to get some sense of what it’s like to be out on the piss in Blackpool, there are fights, glasses thrown, punches met with weak teeth, and even the odd pissed up ‘stag’, cellophaned to a lamp-post on the parade, for all to see and admire. This is it, Blackpool in all its archaic glory displays a profligate, yet warmly welcomed northern city, which sees humanity and pathos in this popular seaside resort. After following a few parties, it’s time to depart this place, I say my goodbyes and arrange to meet Dougie again sometime soon, he gives me a hint of a project, he wishes to conclude.
Back in London, and am looking forward to viewing the book launch of ‘Stags, Hens and Bunnies’, a long time coming but all the more worth it, Dougie has arranged a number of exhibitions to launch his book, and to promote new material, or rather material he has been working on for a while, one of those nights is arranged at the Printspace in London, with an after party drinks session, in a local Shoreditch bar. Most of the staff from the ‘printspace’ attend too, and I get a sense that Dougie really is moving in artistic circles when I happen to converse with a few painters, who have come to admire his work and of course purchase said copy of ‘Stags, Hens and Bunnies, a Blackpool story’. Yet, I know there is more to come in the form of Shoreditch wildlife, a project he has been photographing of late, and the other project we spoke of and his visits to India, and how legislation is affecting the Padmini taxis, India is known for its high levels of vehicle emission air pollution. Although the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed in 1981 to regulate air pollution and there have been some significant improvements. However, the 2016 Environmental Performance Index ranked India 141 out of 180 countries. This prompted Dougie to document the region formerly known as Bombay, now Mumbai and the phasing out of those Premier Padmini taxis, a majority of them are characterised by the garish interiors, and of course their charismatic drivers, but so too, the observing occupants indulging in the Glaswegian whimsical approach accompanied with a burst of flash from his flashguns. He would frame the subjects in such a way that would be not too dissimilar to the approach of Bruce Gilden; isolating the very subject. Often the images vibrant, colourful, and almost high definition. This is what Dougie was born to do, to be immersed in his perspective of the world and to share that point of view, to show us what the consequences of the rising elitist ‘one percent’, are having on all who live in inner-city London, and it’s economic and political demise through gentrification on the remaining ninety-nine percent. Dougie’s work of late is critically acclaimed, whilst its true that not all who have viewed or read about his work in columns of various broadsheets, magazines, and the social media, it is, without doubt, that his work is getting some serious attention from the right kind of people; Dougie Wallace received an award from the inaugural Magnum Photography Awards alongside LensCulture for his work; Harrodsburg. The images are bright, brash and in your face, they point a finger at the elite and show us how ostentatious they are. They’re colourful granted, but they also show how big a gap there is in the housing market, out goes the housing estates and communities, to be replaced by opulent wood and glass super sheds built on a steel frame, and sold off to those who now see them as gold bar assets, rather than a place to live. Dougie Wallaces’ work reflects what is happening in Britain today, we see how the mass appeal is to those Arabian oil barons who come to London, to escape the torrid heat of the middle eastern summer. We see many Qatari families shopping in Knightsbridge, and buying all the properties up in that Kensington and Chelsea postcode; pricing out what was once considered only for the upper-middle-class purse of the stiff-upper-lip Brits, has now become a currency free for all for the ultra-affluent Arabian Royals. Certainly a far cry from…Stags, Hens, and Bunnies…a Blackpool story, Dougie has created a whole new documentary perspective on the super rich of the world, and there got it, flaunt it playgrounds. Whilst there is a stark exposé of the rich kids at play in Londons SW1 postcode, there is also the influence of Elliot Erwitt in Dougie’s work, his latest venture sees him shoot the most elaborate, toy dogs, which inherently become fashionable to have in one’s Louis Vuitton handbag, but remember they are just colourful as their owners. The photographs depict anything from Labradoodles to Chihuahua and Pomeranian mixes, then we have the bigger gundogs too. They’re all there to see and just as brash as the owners. So what next for Dougie Wallace,
Watch this space…
It’s a great city to walk, to take in its sights, smells, and sounds. It’s a city that overloads your senses, even one’s sense of taste, London’s restaurants and fast food joints has much on offer to be sated in this bustling metropolis of London. Yet, here I am walking the Regents Park Canal walkway, and central London seems miles away. I could be in inner city London shooting backstreets, however, today I felt like walking and taking in all that it has to offer, and it was a good decision. I find a series of shots, not all yet edited or posted to this site because I like to savour what I have taken by walking away from them, I often choose the medium of film to shoot, rather than digital. My camera choice is an old Pentax MX; its great I have two primes; a 28mm and a nifty fifty to boot, that’s all I need to get by shooting and documenting the street. Get home count my rolls, then get ‘em deve’d at home or at Lomo. It’s great because you can scan them and see what you do have then, edit them down, this one, in particular, is reminiscent of a novel penned by George Orwell, that dark dystopian backdrop Nineteen Eighty-Four, then I suddenly remember why it was I chose to walk along the canal, to escape the dehumanising capital, and it’s fervent politics, leading up to an insecure future in the form of #BREXIT, yes, even the very colloquial term has earned a place in digital society, and granted an official hashtag!
However, it’s the future that worries me, it disturbs me almost, as I realise I have many friends who are European, and Arabian some Islamic by default, others Christian. Okay, I admit I don’t define religion nor do I define race, what does that mean exactly, is it a race to the very end to see which of the species can last or, has earned the right to this third rock from the sun? That’s pointless, surely we’re all in this together, the insects of this world are just as barbaric as humans, however, those insects work and live together cohesively for the benefit of their respective species. I revert back to my own species and recognise that this woman, though granted is Middle Eastern, she absolutely has every right to exist in a country where she feels that it will benefit herself and her family. This brings me back to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, incredible writing which makes one feel his imagination, whirring about inside your head, to envisage such a time and a place, here finally I get to use my other sense, that of touch and to be able to feel that dystopian time within the very frame, I have taken.