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Your Space Or Mine

Steven M. Wiggins

Steven M. Wiggins began taking photographs in 2015 with the aim of documenting the people and places of the area he grew up in: West London. Taking his camera initially to the streets of Acton, Wiggins began to make a record of his surroundings via street photography, portraiture and urban landscapes. Eventually, Wiggins branched out and started covering all areas of inner-city London.

With subjects as vast as childhood friends who have been involved with gang violence, Notting Hill carnival revellers, council estates, everyday characters you see on the street to leading grime and rap artists, his work culminates in a dark, gritty and unique look at modern life in London.

His pictures for this project come from the grime and rap world, with all photographed on the streets where they’re from. “This project is a brilliant way of celebrating two elements that feed off of each other – music and the street,” he says, adding he hopes it inspires others on the streets too.

“There’s also people from some backgrounds and social classes that have an interest in photography or art but may not feel like they’re welcome in gallery spaces so don’t ever think to visit one – this is why projects like this are needed because they essentially give everyone the opportunity to view art and photography in person.”

We caught up with Steven to find out more about his inspirations, the story behind his shots and what he hopes people will take away from his photographs.


Words by Liz Aubrey

Tell us about the images you chose for the project…

“These were all images that I had taken previously. I was going through my body of work and I focussed on handful of UK rap and grime artists who I’d shot in a street setting. These were the very streets where these artists had come from – the streets which inspired their music. I wanted to show their roots and where their music originated. It fitted perfectly with the theme of this campaign.”

What do you want passers-by to take from the images when they see them?

“A project like this really opens photography up to the community. It makes it accessible. For people who maybe wouldn’t go out of their way to go to a gallery or somewhere creative or artsy or for people who maybe aren’t interested in that kind of stuff, I’m hoping it might make them stop, think twice and tempt them to find out more. I’m hoping it will make them want to see more of this kind of thing. In working class communities, where a lot of grime and rap comes from, many don’t always feel able or welcome enough to visit an art gallery. I’m hoping a project like this might change that.

“Another thing is that it will be just be like a cool thing to see someone coming from my background having images on a billboard. I’m hoping it will give everyone a sense that no matter what your background, you can be a part of creative projects like this and have your work exposed to a wider audience.”

Why is the street, as opposed to a gallery, a good place to see these images? 

“It creates a unique experience of being exposed to creative work in an unexpected place while you go about your everyday life. Putting photography on the street exposes it to an entirely new audience. A project like this enables people from an array of different backgrounds to consume creativity while they go about their day. I think projects like this can only work to get more people involved and interested in creative arts.”

Do you think the images will also help get people excited about seeing live music again?

“Absolutely. It’s also obviously been such a tough year for everybody. People often turn to music for relief, inspiration, to lift the spirits and so forth, and that has been taken away quite brutally. Hopefully these pictures will remind people about the power of music, get them excited again about seeing live music which is probably one of the most popular things that people do when they want to socialise, have a good time, let their hair down. Hopefully it’s a reminder that we can get back to seeing these musicians again soon.”

Tell us about some of the shots you have chosen…

“Dizzee Rascal by the phone box with the betting shop in the background epitomised music and the street for me. He’s a legendary UK and international musician stood next to these staples we see in every British street all over the country. UK grime and rap artists were both genres birthed from the street, so it felt right to photograph him there, in Bow, E3. With Sketch, I took that on his estate – the same with Scrufizzer: that shot is taken in West London where he’s from and where he grew up. It’s not any old random street environment, it’s a place which shaped who they are as artists and ultimately entire genres of music. I hope people will see how much music comes up from the streets. How music comes from these ordinary places which are a part of people’s everyday lives.”

What are your memories from the various shoots?

“Most of the pictures were very spontaneous. I wouldn’t say they were structured at all. A lot of the times when I’ve shot these artists, I’ve just met up with them in their local area, chilled with them for a while, got to know them and then just taken pictures as we’ve gone along. It’s all been very natural.”

A lot of the shots would suggest you got a lot of trust from your subjects. How do you achieve that?

“I think a big reason why these artists have reached out to me is because my work has always just been very London-focussed and I think the artists like how I put the city across – I’ve grown up on the same streets as them, so I know where they’re coming from. As we’re coming from the same place, I feel comfortable with them, they feel comfortable with me and that’s how we’re able to get trust for shots like this I think.”

Do you have a method to help you get the perfect shot?

“I personally don’t think there’s a recipe. I feel if you go in there thinking ‘Alright I want this iconic shot, I want that iconic shot’ or whatever, I kind of feel you’re going to be trying too much and a lot of the spontaneity and magic is lost that way. It’s all about the moment, catching the artist in a particular moment. They often bring the most surprising and interesting images.”

“One of the most iconic shots I took was for Nines and it was eventually used for his album cover, One Foot In. The funny thing about that is the shot they used for that cover was actually one where I was just testing the light. It wasn’t even a proper shot. Some of the best shots come from accidents!”

Do you tend to avoid giving artists specific directions then?

“Yeah. I will give some direction, but I like to stand back a bit and capture moments where they don’t think I’m taking any pictures at all. A lot of artists are used to very stylised approaches so sometimes, they don’t understand my approach. They’ll ask for direction and I’ll given them some, but not much and deliberately so. I will get them doing things but at the same time, I just tend to stand back and take pictures when they’re not really expecting it. Trying to catch those unique moments can often make the best shots – ones that become iconic!”

What inspired you to start taking pictures of musicians?

“I’ve only been doing photography for a relatively short time; I started in 2015. What gave me the motivation to start was actually just seeing other London based photographers who were putting up all their work on Instagram and stuff. I saw what were was doing, shooting their local areas and I felt inspired. A lot of my work is specifically West London based because that’s where I grew up. My inspiration from looking at these other photographers was to show and document the area where I grew up, which often wasn’t the subject of many photographs. That gave me a lot of experience shooting the street.

“I started to see more and more work by photographers who had taken pictures of some of the biggest hip-hop stars like Jonathan Mannion, where these artists had risen from the streets. Seeing his work was very inspiring for me. He was capturing artists in their kind neighbourhoods – a natural environment, no fancy lighting, no props, none of that. Just very real photographs and that’s what I like: I like things that are realistic and real, I don’t like things that are super-staged or anything like that. Seeing his shots really kind of spurred me on and gave me more inspiration to document not only the streets, but the music that was coming from these streets.”

What do you want people to take away from your pictures?

“I just want them to get a vibe, I just want them to be able to look at the images for an unlimited amount of time and just still feel some wonder from it, even after a long time. I want them to really feel the vibe of the artist and the street, to the moment. I want to take the to the places the musical moments were birthed. I’d like them to maybe look up the artists on their phone after seeing the shots, for them to be curious, to discover more.”

 “There’s also people from some backgrounds and social classes that have an interest in photography or art but may not feel like they’re welcome in gallery spaces so don’t ever think to visit one – this is why projects like this are needed because they essentially give everyone the opportunity to view art and photography in person.”


Read more about the project here: Celebrating the music industry and the photographers who turn its artists into icons

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