Employing his trademark ambush street photography style, Dougie Wallace gets up close and personal with the ultra-rich, offering a revealing glimpse into their frivolous world.
If there is a photographer who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, it’s Dougie Wallace. For more than ten years, the East London-based Glaswegian photographer, has been turning his camera on everyone from stags and hens to Shoreditch hipsters, Bombay taxi drivers, and now the super rich.
Getting uncomfortably close to his subjects with a double flashgun, Glaswegee as he is known creates colourful unforgiving images that reveal the unedited reality behind his subjects. We see stags trussed up like turkeys, scantily-clad women cavorting around London, and yapping dogs snarling into the lens. Few photographers get closer than this.
In particular, Wallace’s Olympus-shot images of the global super rich in London’s elite districts of Knightsbridge and Chelsea paint a telling picture of glut and greed. This so-called ‘one per cent’ is the subject of Wallace’s Harrodsburg, a project recently published as a book by Dewi Lewis. It is nothing less than a visual satire on the ultra affluent elite and their exorbitant spending habits.
Wallace, who is represented by INSTITUTE and has been published by The Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian, Le Monde, and CNN among others, found himself drawn to an area stretching from Brompton Road to Sloane Square and up to The Ritz on Piccadilly – an area the global super-rich (from gulf millionaires to oligarchs) have steadily populated since the 1970s.
Training his lens on everything from women dripping in jewels to designer shopping bags, Botox-pumped faces, and yappy dogs (a favourite subject of his), nothing escapes Wallace’s gaze. On one level, his images humorously expose the ludicrously excessive behaviour of these privileged tribes, but they also shine a light on the starkness of London’s wealth gap, and how the super rich is changing the face of the city by buying up property – ramping up house prices and pushing out the old guard in the process.
The work follows on neatly from Wallace’s illuminating project about the difference in life expectancy between residents in Knightsbridge, who on average live well into their eighties, to those in Calton, Glasgow – near to where Wallace grew up – who can expect to live until their early fifties.
Wallace was shooting outside Harrods one day and realised the potential of this “picture-rich” place. Seventy trips and two years later, he has amassed the body of work that is Harrodsburg, which won the Magnum Photography Award in 2016. “You wouldn’t believe the things you see around here,” Wallace remarks in a BBC Four documentary: What Do Artists Do All Day?, airing on 16th March at 8.30pm.
“Knightsbridge is like another world. The people around here, the money; it’s unreal… something might happen just out of the corner of your eye, and that’s where you get the good pictures.”
To get his distinctive images Wallace used a two-flash setup with his Olympus camera – one flash attached to the top of the OM-D E-M1 he uses, and the other below. The camera – being small and light – suits his fast, reactive shooting style, and the manual focus clutch mechanism gives control when setting the focus on the move.
“Moving and running is what creates energy in the images, there’s energy from both subject and photographer,” he says, adding that the sensor and image stabilisation system are a real aid for his opportunistic shooting style. “It’s all a means to an end, though, when it comes down to reacting quickly to figures that stand out from the crowd, speed and portability are crucial.
“I’m after expressions and emotions,” says Wallace, who moved to the mirrorless system two years ago. “If I had to look through the viewfinder and focus, the game would be up.”
Recently returned from a two-month trip to India, Wallace has been working on a new project about dogs that loosely follows on from the pooches he snapped in London and Milano. “I’m fed up with people, so I’m only shooting dogs now.”
He smiles. “Nah, only kidding… But I like the idea of going to New York to photograph dogs, or to Tokyo where people dress their dogs up – that could be good.” There is, it seems, no stopping Wallace, who remains a photographic force to be reckoned with.