LONDON UNLOCKED: Time stamped photos with Dougie Wallace

Walking down Berwick Street at 18:15 on Friday night, I’m 15 minutes early for my interview with Dougie Wallace, a street photographer.

He suggested meeting at Joe’s. We have a table outside. I order a Camden Hells and wait. 

It’s early evening in Soho, there’s a trickle of people strutting, stomping and sauntering by. I sit and watch. 

Dougie arrives wearing some comfy looking running trainers, a blue shirt, Dickies gilet and a cap. I presume the trainers are for making a quick getaway when one of his subjects reacts badly.

Glasgow-born, London-based, Dougie served in the army but gave it up for a more hedonistic lifestyle. Understandable.

Of course, he does still shoot.

One of Dougie’s signature projects, Harrodsburg, documented consumer culture of the 1%.

He took photos of garish shoppers in Knightsbridge and Chelsea, illustrating the immense wealth and spending habits of the super-rich.

For the first ten minutes it’s Dougie asking me the questions and doing all the listening: what I do, how many siblings I have, my thoughts on Matt Hancock. 

“It’s shocking, he’s stuffed,” Dougie said. I nodded in agreement. Turns out we were right.

Dougie has had six books published, won prestigious awards, featured in documentaries, been exhibited in world-renowned art institutions and is studied by arts students.

I was, therefore, pleased when he agreed to meet me. 

Our meeting was delayed because Dougie’s caravan tyre blew the previous weekend.

He was driving along the motorway, when his tyre popped. After hitting the central barrier and careering 25 meters down the road, the back of his van fell off. It was his “this is it” moment. But he survived. Not a scratch. His caravan wasn’t so lucky. 

“It’s mah pride and joy. It’s a nightmare. It flipped. Ah lost ten grand on it,” Dougie said. 

He’s taken the 38 from Angel where he lives with a “wee bird”. He’s a known face at Joe’s. I can’t help feeling proud to be the one he’s talking to. We get some more beers and It’s my turn to ask the questions.

He’s come armed with his camera and flashgun(s).

“A flash is like moths to a flame,” Dougie said.

He talks about the revellers of Soho and how they respond to his flashing. Dougie provokes performative impulses with his flashgun, capturing raw, often zealous emotion.

Dougie said: “It dinae exist before I took it, I’ve twisted the situation and made a new reality.

“People think they know London – Soho, Shoreditch – I shoot it in a new light. Showing it fresh.”

Dougie said he tests people’s reaction before he shoots them, although he assured me that if someone looks like a nutcase, he tends to avoid taking their picture.

He looks for funny faces. Something interesting, something different. 

“Mundane life, with a twist,” he said. 

“I’m a bit much really, but you need to do what you want. You can do anything except shout fire.”

His new project ‘LONDON UNLOCKED’ documents the stages of the pandemic.

For him they were the supermarket rush, government propaganda and celebrations.

During the pandemic he was commissioned by The Economist to capture scenes of the supermarket rush.

Remember that? Toilet rolls flying off the shelves. Those damn hoarders. 

He then started shooting out the windows of London busses at the end of April, capturing images of government warnings and frightened citizens.

And finally, the celebration stage. Everything after 19 July: Freedom Day. 

Other lockdown projects of his included making his own hand-sanitiser, which is slightly left of field for a street photographer, but it sounds like he’d thought it through (it had Aloe vera in it). 

Dougie said: “You don’t just shoot anything.”

He tells me it takes one thousand photos to get one worth printing, and that masks offer a visual time stamp.

Each photo taken during the pandemic is dated by the presence of the mask. An astute observation. 

He added: “You see the mentalist things and the mentalist things happen.”

Dougie radiates a Scottish charm that I suspect has kept him out of trouble during his career, so far. But he recognises how draining street photography is.

He said: “I dinae how long I’ll be taking photos for. It’s kindah unhealthy.” 

Although he does have his next project lined-up: The Battle for Scotland, we all look forward to seeing that, but for now, it’s LONDON UNLOCKED.

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