Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Stags, Hens & Bunnies...A Blackpool Story

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.
Dougie Wallace Book Signing© David Rothwell

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.[1] 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...