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Dougie Wallace, Harrodsburg
Dougie Wallace/INSTITUTE

Dougie Wallace’s photos highlight Britain’s wealth gap

The photographer exposes a story of grotesque wealth, greed and excess playing out on the streets of Kensington in his new book

40 per cent of properties in Kensington and Chelsea are empty, while there has been a 400 per cent rise in demand for London food banks in the last year. The wealth gap is at an all time high. Dougie Wallace continues to push the boundaries of social documentary photography in his latest book, Harrodsburg, turning his attention to the rising economic and political power of the 'one per cent’. Harrodsburg showcases the ultra-affluent inhabitants of Knightsbridge and Chelsea as if animals in the wild, with his trademark wit and attention to the absurd.

The Harrodsburg exhibition and book launch (held at theprintspace in Shoreditch on 21 March) reveals Wallace’s uncompromising images that expand on the issues raised in his previous Bangla Town project – which documented the gentrification of an inner city community. There has been an emergence of a super-rich elite who are changing the face of London, with old communities uprooted and housing estates ripped out, replaced with districts championing lavishness and excess.

“I can spot a face lift from across the street” – Dougie Wallace

Documentary filmmaker Jack Cocker has captured Wallace’s Harrodsburg exploits as part of a new BBC4 series, What Do Artists Do All Day. The episode follows Wallace around Knightsbridge and is a celebration of British photography, broadcast on 16 March.

Harrodsburg won the inaugural Magnum Photography Award 2016 and employs Wallace’s humour through his series of photographs which satire the super-rich, giving an uncomfortably intimate insight into the lavish world of the ‘one per cent’. Below, we talked to him about his inspiration for the project.

As one of the most premium areas of Knightsbridge is turned into a freakshow – what inspired you to tell the story of the wealth gap in London?

Dougie Wallace: I was visiting Knightsbridge regularly for a series I’d been working on comparing the life average expectancy in Glasgow (54 for men) verses the average life expectancy in Kensington and Chelsea (78 for men). 

There's a grotesqueness here – what are you commenting on?

Dougie Wallace: The theatre played out on the streets daily around Harrods caught my attention and I turned my camera to capturing the madness around there. All my photo series have a comic element but they also convey a larger message about society as a whole. Harrodsburg talks about wealth, greed, excess and accentuates the huge gap between the 1 per cent and the rest of us.

Tell us a bit about your style of shooting.

Dougie Wallace: I use two flashguns and an Olympus camera. This gives near ring flash appearance acts like a mini studio.

Do you find using comedy, and highlighting these people as almost caricatures, is the most effective way to start the conversation about the wealth gap and the new ‘one per cent’?

Dougie Wallace: The best way to get your point across is to make them funny both ‘ha ha’ funny and funny interesting.

How do you approach your subjects?

Dougie Wallace: I never ask anyone but sometimes conversation starts up once I’ve shot them.

Did you notice any bizarre habits or incidents during your time there?

Dougie Wallace: The Arab women put up the veil as soon as they see you. The boys drive their cartoon cars round and round Harrods like a scalextric set and don’t go anywhere else. I can spot a face lift from across the street.

What is your favourite photograph from the series?

Dougie Wallace: Probably Neville going into the Messerchmitt with his dog red setter. The BBC tracked him down for the film and he came to the screening – turned out he was the chameleon in culture club video.

Harrodsburg by Dougie Wallace exhibits at theprintspace, Shoreditch on 16 -21 March, open Mon-Fri 9-7pm, launch held on 21 March 7.30pm. To register for free entry to the exhibition click here. To find out more about the book click here, published by Dewi Lewis Publishing. What Do Artists Do All Day will be shown on BBC 4 16 March 8.30pm