In his new photo book and exhibition, the photographer explores the story of gentrification through the narrative of graffiti
Known for his social documentary photography, in which people are captured like animals in the wild, Wallace has focused his unmistakable, unforgiving lens on everyone from Kensington’s grotesquely wealthy to Blackpool’s marauding packs of brides and grooms on their stag and hen dos. If there’s absurdity to be found, Wallace will find it, expose it, and heighten it, with no one coming out quite unscathed.
Now, Wallace has turned his gaze to the streets (and walls) of east London. Over the course of six years, the photographer shot the fast-changing surroundings and faces of Brick Lane with a particular concentration on the street art that saturates the neighbourhood. The result is photobook East Ended, an archive document of the transformation and gentrification of an area through the graffiti on its walls and the commentary it provides.
“There is no place like east London in terms of concentration and diversity of (graffiti) – it lends itself to various interpretations. I felt compelled to offer mine,” says Wallace of the project. His base for the past two decades, the photographer has been a front-line witness to the radical transformation of East London. “I remember the hedonist party days of the 1990s and the rise of the creative force in this area that would lead, in stages, to the arrival of big money,” he says. “The making of East Ended was from the vantage point of the early days of authenticity long gone but their echo living on.”
From the artist tags to Brexit murals to luxury commercial advertising, Wallace’s series of photographs reflect the evolution of street art from illegal vandalism to big money commodification, a medium of artistic expression and rebellion co-opted by brands like Gucci and adidas to sell products. It’s both the hyper-specific story of a place as told through the changing narrative of its walls and the universal capitalist tale we’ve seen repeated over and over again through the years.
“The beauty of the area for me is its mishmash – the diversity of aesthetics on the walls,” Wallace says. “I am fascinated by all these complexities and the questions they raise – about art, about society – although, I wouldn’t necessarily think of my own work as explicitly political or even critical.”
Here we’ve curated a selection of published and exclusive unpublished images from the book that highlight the way the people of Brick Lane creatively express themselves and their identity.
In memory of Gary Fairfull.