Dalston-based photographer Chiara Gambuto documents the city’s countercultural venues, and the people who inhabit them
Italian-born photographer Chiara Gambuto fell in love with London after moving here to pursue her creative dreams in 2015. Having grown up in Meda, a provincial town situated a few miles north of Milan, and now living in Dalston, the image-maker describes the city as abuzz with undiscovered talent – a place where everyone is free to express themselves without judgment. “A city that fails to provide everyone with a platform for their ideas is a city I call suffocating,” Gambuto tells Dazed. “People make places. Without them, London wouldn’t be the kaleidoscopic, round-the-clock melting pot it is today.”
Innately fascinated with the worlds of music and performance, she started documenting London’s underground scene in 2021, as the city began to recover from months of lockdown. First photographing young people in south-east London’s independent music venues, then bringing her camera to Hackney’s clubs, Gambuto worked on a visual diary that she hopes will immortalise the city’s “hypnotical passers-by” as they make their way through the night.
“Everyone should know how important it is to put yourself out there and just be,” she says of the message behind this new ongoing body of work. As a self-confessed introvert, the photographer explains that she is especially inspired by people who experiment with fashion without worrying what others think of them. Drawn to individuals she feels emotionally and aesthetically connected to, Gambuto documents a mixture of bands, performers, artists, and friends. Whether hitting the dancefloor, mixing a DJ set, getting ready for a gig, or making out, her subjects embody the raucous, pulsating atmosphere of the venues they animate – from the Shacklewell Arms, Venue MOT Unit 18, the Moth Club, the Windmill, New River Studios, Ridley Road Market Bar, the George Tavern, and more.
“My shots are a personal archive that I keep updating every day,” she says. “When documenting London’s underground scene, my goal is to capture the energy that people emanate at a specific moment in time while also allowing my mood, emotions, and fragilities to shine through.” Referring to photography as “the most creative act of impulsivity”, she recalls how a Nan Goldin work was what inspired her to pursue photography at the age of 14. “I was never really inspired by other photographers. Most of my artistic ideas came from painting and cinema,” she says. “The vibrancy of that portrait and the way the subject stared into the camera stayed with me for a long time, well before finding out who Nan Goldin actually was.”
Through observing people at London’s clubs and legendary live music spots, Gambuto gets to visually narrate how this community is uniting in the aftermath of COVID-19. “The only way to build long-lasting communities is to foster a sense of belonging among the people that inhabit them,” she says. “As a loyal spectator of gigs and club nights in London, I was moved to see how, when old venues were forced to shut down during lockdown, new ones were being launched by the same group of resilient people that believed in the strength of their community and couldn’t accept to see it die.” She adds that this series is a love letter to all places that welcomed her and made her feel safe since she left her home country, to the faces she met along the way, and those she is yet to encounter.