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What do Artists do All Day? - Dougie Wallace


What do Artists do All Day - Dougie Wallace 

The practice of photography combines the world of science and technology with the artistic realm. Photography also incorporates a marriage of the cerebral and often to a lesser extent the physical. The street photographer Dougie Wallace is one who employs a great deal of physicality in capturing his highly charged street images ranging from Blackpool Hens and Stags to the uber-rich of Knightsbridge and Chelsea for his new book ‘Harrodsburg’. 

At a preview I attended of the latest documentary in the ‘What do artists do all day’ series, which follows him making pictures for the book, Dougie is seen delivering a few prints to the office of one of his fans, Magnum photographer (and president of the agency) Martin Parr. Parr’s work was also, as it transpires, a big influence of the Glasgow born photographer. 

This is not surprising as Parr’s work has probably been more influential of British photographers than anyone since the likes of David Bailey. The number of street photographers who site Parr as their main influence is phenomenal. It could be argued that Mr Parr’s work was responsible for a whole new style of street photography. 

Many current exponents of street photography, like Dougie Wallace, share common elements with Martin Parr’s work, namely, humour, colour, lighting and a ‘warts and all’ approach to highlighting a very specific subset of society. But inevitably unique talents will always distinguish themselves. 

With Wallace, as is clear from this new documentary, making his images is a highly physical and coordinated effort that often requires him to work fast and get his camera right in the face of his subjects. Although he’s moving quickly, he often stays to rattle off a few more flashes, as the subject recoils, delights or becomes angry at this unexpected attention. 

This approach reminds me of the New York photographer Bruce Gilden who’s walks down 5th Avenue (which can still be seen on youtube) camera in one hand, flash in the other, snapping away at people as if he were invisible, without any concern for the consequences of his subject’s reaction. The difference with Wallace is that his camera is often about a foot closer to the subject than Gilden’s, but regardless, he just keeps snapping away, even when he’s being shouted down in anger!

It takes a certain amount of confidence to do that kind of photography. In this documentary, there were many shots of Dougie Wallace walking on the street which made me think of the scene in Saturday Night fever where John Travolta makes his way to the disco in his white suit. They don’t just walk, they stride and swagger! It also reminds me of a childhood incident of a peculiarly Scottish nature where, as a 12 year old returning home, I had walked from the garden gate to the back door of my house where my mother was standing, observing me and drying a plate in the sunshine. As I passed her, she clouted me over the ear! “What was that for?” I asked, covering my sore ear. “Walking BOLDLY!” She replied…

Dougie Wallace is a refreshing change from many of the street photographers of the ‘Parr era’. His work is not subtle, considered or carefully constructed. It’s visceral, provocative and confrontational and above all it’s ‘exposing’.  His subjects are often extreme, but we pass them everyday with perhaps only as much as a raised eyebrow. His approach of throwing a lot of light on them via multiple flash units and his sheer bravado at getting right in their faces, results in pictures that are hard to stop looking at and they set him apart from many street photographers. Where many people would look at much of the current street photography published and say ‘ooh that’s clever’, viewing Wallace’s work is more likely to illicit an “OMFG!” or a belly laugh, and as one who dislikes ‘clever photography’ I think that’s a great reaction!

The Documentary, made by Jack Cocker can be seen on Thursday 16th at 8.30pm on BBC 4. It’s  the funniest and most entertaining in the series by far!

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