Dougie Wallace


In the late 16th century it already had a bad reputation amongst moralists for being a shithole full of beggars, tramps, drunkards and thieves. Maybe that’s why Shakespeare loved it so much. Founded centuries before Brooklyn, Shoreditch is the world’s longest reigning “it spot”.

Once home to royal jesters and Elizabethan comedians, the neighbourhood has recently hosted the likes of Damien Hirst and Peaches Geldof; the latest in a long line of misfits to populate its vomit-stricken cobblestones. Since being labeled as terra non grata way back when, every few decades has ushered in a new era. From French Huguenot refugees and Ashkenazi Jews, to Bangladeshi immigrants and wayward hipsters, each wave of migration adding a fresh puff of cream to the multicultural layer cake.

In the 90s, Shoreditch became the district of choice for Young British Artists, both moneyed and penniless. Soon after that, it became infamous for “the Shoreditch twat,” a pejorative used to describe the overdressed twentysomethings that flocked to the ditch upon learning of its reputation.

Still, Shoreditch survived and evolved, and against all odds remains one of the best places on the planet to spend your pay-cheque on pints and live on the cheap. But with the 2012 summer Olympics drawing nigh, many are worried that the days of affordable rent and ramshackle vibrancy could be lost in the pounds and pence.

Recently, ION chatted with the berg’s preeminent documentarist, Scottish photographer Dougie Wallace. Over the past decade Wallace has crept its streets, snapping the drunken and drugged debauchery with a gonzo style that will no doubt serve as a historical record for this, the latest chapter in Shoreditch’s checkered history.

So you’re from Scotland yeah?

Yeah. Glasgow, but I’ve lived here fifteen years. It’s good, you get used to it.

Has the neighbourhood changed much?

It’s changed tremendously, but I think it’s for the better, it’s like the new SoHo; the place where everybody goes drinking and meets up and stuff.

Has it gotten more expensive?

Yeah, there’s always been that, artists might say that the rent is going up and you have to get a bit further out, that’s gonna happen with celebrities and that. It’s radically changed but that doesn’t mean it’s for the worse.

Your photos are along the lines of typical party photography, but you’ve got quite a original take on it.

Yeah it’s more like clubland without getting too kitsch, more autobiographical. I’m basically a street photographer, so I try to capture the common denominator behind it all. Rather than sort of, randomy pictures.

And how did you get into street photography?

Em, just when I picked up a camera about ten years ago. I’m sort of a travel photographer as well. These Shoreditch pictures are just pictures I’ve been taking … usually I’m just wandering the street and I see a picture, or I’m out clubbing and I’ve always got my camera, but now I’m actively pursuing it. Usually I do reportage or travel, and it just so happens that I live in Shoreditch. But now I’m actively getting out and taking pictures of Shoreditch, when I never used to. You know what I mean.

So how do you approach photographing a trendy area without it seeming totally cheesy?

I dunno, I’ve just always been here. I only use the good pictures. I approach people with a flash so I get compared to Bruce Gilden a little bit. I jump out at people, so usually you’ll get a an expression in the face. But I don’t always jump at people, obviously.

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