Philipp Ebeling forgoes the tourist hot spots to document where life is truly happening and constantly evolving
With a compositional eye curated into a calm and collected portfolio, photographer Philipp Ebeling avoids the cliched hunt for poignant narrative in his work. It’s something he reaffirms when I ask him to talk about his new book, London Ends, and its conception: “There isn’t one. It’s an amalgamation of all the places I have been drawn to since leaving Germany in the 90s. When I arrived here in London, I was overwhelmed by the scale of it. I wanted to know every last corner of the place, to understand it as fully as I could. For years I crisscrossed the city on my bike, finding new routes to the same places, exploring new neighbourhoods in outer London and getting lost. Eventually, I found that I had been circling the city, and decided to join the dots with a long walk. My wife and I set out from our house in Hackney, we headed east first and later south. We walked 250 km in ten days, without ever coming home or crossing the centre of the city.”
Setting out to uncover the ‘essence’ of outer London, Ebeling and his wife, opted for walking over travelling by car or tube, giving them time to really feel the capital’s smaller towns. “Everything in London is shifting from the centre – quite literally. Hardly anyone can afford to live in the centre, so they are moving to the peripheries and that’s what is making them more interesting. I’m focussed on social documentary, exploring local industries and in the representation of small towns in London, because it’s time for change. It’s time to look at these areas and assess the creative and political restructure that’s happening there – it can’t go unnoticed. Anyone who opens this book and assumes it’s about everything that is, quintessentially, ‘London’, is wrong. It’s about the edges of London, the ends of London and why these spaces are more deserving of attention than ever before.”
“Life in outer London is unpredictable, which always gives another dimension – you may visit Tottenham (for example) ten times over, you will see something fresh each time” – Philipp Ebeling
How did you get your start in photography?
Philipp Ebeling: I published my first photo book two years ago (although I have been taking pictures for much longer than that). My photo books offer up a take on social documentary – it is a style I feel most natural adopting. But, it didn’t start off that way. Like most photographers I started out with commercial projects – I shot a lot of music videos and lookbooks for musicians. It wasn’t until much later that I started to getting work with architectural and urban planning practices. When my commissions started to become site-specific my interest in landscape heightened and my social documentary made progress.
Did your approach to photography change when you moved from Germany to London?
Philipp Ebeling: I felt free. I was under no restraints. In Germany, I was so familiar with my surroundings, the people, the places. In London, it was the opposite everything was unfamiliar, it felt alien - like I was looking at the world with fresh eyes. However, I have been here in London for 18 years now, it is my ‘home from home,’ my approach to photography hasn’t been constant since moving here, but I do feel like London highlighted my interests and it gave me the opportunity to work with them.
Your work rarely deviates from the two cities you can call home (Germany and London). Is this a conscious choice?
Philipp Ebeling: Yes. Some photographers go to different countries to be photojournalists etc. I have never found the need to do that. I’m so absorbed by my surroundings, they are so unpredictable and multi-faceted. Life in outer London is unpredictable, which always gives another dimension – you may visit Tottenham (for example) ten times over, you will see something fresh each time.
Traceable in all of your work is this focus on the peripheries, where does this interest come from?
Philipp Ebeling: From two places actually. From the small town I grew up in and also the belief that here, in London, on the outskirts, the communities are far more interesting than the anything that is happening in the centre. Everything is shifting from the centre in London, hardly anyone can afford to live there for one – which means all creativity is slowly migrating out of London and into the smaller towns lining the centre. They are changing, and where there is evolution there is excitement, nothing becomes static. I hope to capture that sense of evolution and to a lesser degree, the revolution that comes in hand with small town living. These places are by no means London’s ‘end,’ they are where the new wave of London life begins.
The last image in the book, became the first image of the project. Why was this photograph so pivotal?
Philipp Ebeling: One afternoon I returned to my home in Whitechapel during a freak snowstorm. I rushed into the house to get my camera and started to photograph the local market on my doorstep. These pictures of Whitechapel in the snow started a process of documenting the city. I began working with urban planners, architects and city hall, creating pictures of small communities, in some of the capital’s lesser-known areas. I became fascinated with the places that are often overlooked in the story of London, places that feel very familiar and yet were also completely unknown to me.
What does London mean to you?
Philipp Ebeling: Life.
London Ends, published by Fishbar, is available now