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Your Space Or Mine

Vincent Chapters’ photographs pay tribute to the everyday beauty of London life

Vincent Chapters (otherwise known as Shane Vincent) can’t exactly define what it is that compels him to reach for his camera, but he recognises the decisive moment when it strikes. “I wouldn’t know until I see it,” he explains. “But when I see, I know.” Working purely on intuition, the 29-year-old documentary portrait photographer has spent the last decade chronicling the world around him, and that world is London.

Born and bred in the capital, Chapters has lived all over north London but he still hasn’t yet exhausted the city’s vast possibilities. “London has shown me a lot. It’s taught me a lot,” he marvels. “There’s a lot of different worlds within this one city and, yeah, man, it’s crazy.” His photographs distil the dirt, dynamism, and joy of the urban landscape, paying tribute to the idiosyncrasies, resilience, spirit, and style of his beloved wider community.

Now, as part of the latest artist iteration of BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s Your Space or Mine, Chapters’ photographs will be displayed for the first time on billboards on the very streets that inspired his work – including one location in Gospel Park that’s particularly close to his heart. He explains, “I was born five minutes up the road, man.”


Words by Emily Dinsdale

The images featured in the latest Your Space Or Mine are taken from Chapters’ Nuff Love – a photo project which gathers together the most evocative pictures from his archive. The work spans an eight-year period and documents a series of moments in the lives of Londoners going about their business, like a sequence of vignettes of inner-city life.

From friends, neighbours, passers-by who capture his imagination, and the network of musicians who move in his circle, Chapters has a flair for taking relaxed but compelling portraits of the people he’s drawn to. His pictures are celebratory and, as a result, they’re characterised by a visible reciprocal respect between photographer and subject – there’s a lot of love in his images. “It’s just free… it’s my mates or people I meet who I like, people who I find interesting.”

He’s always felt he had something to say. As a teenager he flirted briefly with songwriting but, while music may remain his greatest passion, he quickly realised it wasn’t the medium for him. “I made three songs and I thought I wanted to be Kano and I wasn’t Kano and I got frustrated,” he laughs. “I’m not the best communicator, verbally. So, taking pictures, for me, was just a lot easier.” Despite this thwarted formative attempt to write songs, music still remains a huge influence on his work as he continues to shoot musical artists he admires – including the likes of Scrapz, 67, Oscar Worldpeace, Shaybo, Skiifall, Fredwave, P-rallel, Lola Young, D double, Kamaal Williams, Kam-bu, and many more – at gigs, backstage, and in the studio.

While his images speak of Britishness, he’s disinterested in perpetuating what he sees as the America-centric perception of the UK as a land of high tea and scones, and the kind of privilege the majority of us only really encounter in Richard Curtis films. He feels compelled to tell a different story – a story about the real individuals he crosses paths with in his everyday life. Chapters’ London is found largely in the ungentrified enclaves of the city… the doorsteps, living rooms, playgrounds, and communal spaces where life manifests itself in its most unadulterated, visceral forms.

Moving in the footsteps of renowned image-makers such as Tom Wood and Tish Murtha, Chapters is – whether he cares or not – part of a long line of great British documentary photographers taking pictures within their own communities. Despite the social realism of his work, he’s not motivated by the detached anthropological curiosity of many other celebrated chroniclers of British life, such as Martin Parr or Roger Mayne. Chapters isn’t making a study of working-class London – he’s an insider taking portraits of his own world from within; taking pictures of life as it unfolds around him.

Below, we talk to Vincent Chapters about London life, the allure of music, why he keeps taking photographs, and how it feels to see his work displayed on the streets he grew up on.

For the uninitiated who’ve never encountered you before, maybe you could begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your work?

My name is Shane Vincent, some people know me as Vincent Chapters. I am a photographer, born and raised in London. And that’s really where most of my pictures are taken… all around the city, inner-city communities, people, and lifestyle within this place – the goods and the bad. I try to keep it as honest as possible. That’s me in a nutshell, I guess.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Just London. That’s how I would describe it.

Your real name’s Shane. Where did the moniker Vincent Chapters come from?

The name Vincent Chapters came about because Vincent is my last name, so I’ve got two first names. Chapters was a name I chose in my early 20s, which feels a bit corny now but I wanted my work to feel like I was showing the journey through my world.

And can you tell us about your journey to taking pictures and how you arrived at photography?

I’m 29 now and I started probably taking pictures when I was 17 or 18. I mean, the first pictures that I ever took were probably on a Sony Ericsson two megapixel phone, back when MySpace was about and, you know, we realised that we wanted to have little display pictures looking alright in order to maybe to get girls and stuff. And I just ended up taking pics of my mates and then thought, ‘This is actually a bit fun.’ I enjoyed it. And then, yeah, just slowly but surely I took it a bit more seriously, bought a bit of equipment and just kind of ran around. I think that my approach now still is probably the same as it was back then and that’s what I like. It’s just free… it’s my mates or people that I meet that I like, people that I find interesting, and just inner-city life, I guess. Nothing too over-thought. That’s really the crux of it.

What does London mean to you as a city?

I don’t know, I guess everything! I mean, I was born here and grew up here. London has shown me a lot. It’s taught me a lot. There’s a lot of different worlds within this one city and, yeah, man, it’s crazy. North London is my home territory. I’ve lived all over north London, really… from Camden to Finchley, to Wood Green, to Islington. I get about.

Each pocket of London has its own little identity, I guess, but I would say north is different. North is a nice blend of east, west, and south in its own little concoction. It’s an interesting place for sure, man. It’s an exhausting place, but it’s not too bad. There’s a lot going on here.

What inspirations did you encounter while growing up and how are they visible in your work?

I don’t know. Like I say, I don’t really think about it too much. Like, I haven’t really gone to Central Saint Martin’s and made a thesis and really delved into what it is I’m doing, I just kind of did it. It is just literally people that I meet and, like, to me, it’s not that deep. But maybe people can probably pick out things that are interesting more than I can.

I did try and do music at one point but, you know, I’m not the best communicator, verbally. So taking pictures, for me, was just a lot easier. I made three songs, and I thought I wanted to be Kano and I wasn’t Kano and I got frustrated. I thought, ‘There’s got to be another way that’s easier for me to communicate.’ And then I picked up photography and it just seemed to make sense to me. It wasn’t too difficult.

But I guess, in terms of influences, I mean, it is just inner-city life – the energy within the city, and different kinds of communities within it. And just the lifestyle of it, you know? I remember when I was younger and American culture was heavy. And America’s point of view of our identity was just like Hugh Grant, tea, and scones, all that stuff. And I was just like, ‘Hang on a minute, I can’t believe they actually think that.’ So then I just thought, ‘Let me just show the different worlds within this city.’

How would you define your own vision of English culture?

I mean, it’s a melting pot of everything, isn’t it? You know, so many different people merged together. It’s sick! It’s amazing! There are so many different little worlds in the city and you can kind of just weave in and out of them. Yeah, man, it’s a wicked place.

What do you feel it was that you were struggling to communicate in music that you are able to articulate with photography?

I remember we were probably like 13 or 14 and we all put in a tenner each and went to this shop called Turnkey in Soho and bought this mic. And then I think we had this software called Fruity Loops and we found some beats or whatever and we thought, ‘Yeah, this is it! We’re gonna make these tunes and it’s gonna be sick. We’re gonna be big.’ I think I made two or three tunes and it just wasn’t… I just knew. I love music so much that it’s honestly probably my biggest passion, but it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t… it just didn’t really work out.

Then I just thought to give something else a go and I just thought that taking pics with my mates for MySpace was kind of fun and then just kind of ran with it. Man, I think it just made a lot more sense to me than music.

Music is definitely a massive passion of mine. And I’m lucky to have worked with a lot of musicians and artists that I admire over the years. And yeah, that’s kind of my place because I get to work with these musicians, I get to go and photograph them at the shows. Going to the shows of the artist that I really admired, that is amazing for me.

I always wondered what do they do? Like, before they go on stage in the little green room? And afterwards, what’s it like? Now I’m lucky enough that I get to photograph those kinds of moments as well, not just the ones where they’re on the stage.

What role does music still play in your work as a photographer?

I guess quite a big part, man. I love that there’s so many different genres, there are different styles, it’s so broad. And I think the photography world’s a bit rigid, it’s a bit closed, and people aren’t really aware of photography having different genres; people aren’t really aware even of different photographers’ names. Like, if you are someone to name three musicians, they’d be able to name hundreds, probably. But if you ask them, name three photographers, I think a lot of people even just struggle. I’d love photography to be a bit more open. I feel, like, even when people make photography books, and stuff like that, it’s either fashion or it’s like Glasgow in 1980, and it’s a documentary or something that’s very specific.

I don’t think that music artists really see music that way, I think for them it’s just an expression. And I think if photography could be seen in that way as, like, it’s just more about the individual’s expression, then that’d be amazing, man.

What photographers would you say you most admire?

I love Renell Medrano’s work. Also, @kwimoh from London – I love what he’s doing, innovating style.

What compels you to pick up your camera?

I never know until I see it, know what I mean? It’s hard, I couldn’t really put it into words. I wouldn’t know until I see it, but when I see I know. I do put it down a lot, though. I definitely go through phases of like, ‘I’m done with this.’ Sometimes I just get distracted by life. But then I just think, ‘Nah, what other choice do I have?’

Please could you tell us a little bit more about Nuff Love

That was done in the first lockdown and I just had a lot of time, not much money, and a big archive of work that I hadn’t really had the chance to really sit down and go through. So I just thought, ‘I’m going to put together, I’m going to go through all of this stuff I’ve been shooting over the years, pick a load of my favourite stuff and put it into a little ebook that I could just put online for free for people to download.’ And that’s really what it was, man. I just was just a collection of pictures from London over probably eight years. I just put them together and hoped it encapsulated a bit of who I am and what I see, and my little world.

How about your collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD? Could you talk us through the work?

Similar kind of thing, really. I’ve just picked a few of my favourite pages from that book. And also just another few selected specific locations. So, for example, the northwest ones, like the Kilburn ones, I’m going to put some pictures up of my mate Lippy and his football team, Sho Time FC. And I’m going to use that to just kind of show him and his world. And then most of the rest of it is just going to be pages from my book and other just random pictures that I think would look good in the city on the street, you know? I think that’d be refreshing.

How do you think it’ll feel to see these images displayed on billboards on the very streets which have inspired you?

Amazing. I can’t wait, man. This will be wild, it’ll be sick. It’s a little dream come true. Hopefully, I don’t get sued! But, besides that, I’m really excited to see a couple of locations in particular. I think the Gospel Oak one would be cool to see because I was born five minutes up the road, man.

What would you ideally hope people encountering your images take away from the experience?

I don’t know, man, I think hopefully they’ll just find it just a bit refreshing and just a bit different to the kind of standard advertisement that you might usually see there. You know, mortgages, debts, bank adverts… hopefully they’ll see just something every day and just relatable, real, honest and nice to see. I hope people find that bit refreshing, temporarily.

Outside of photography, what else has captured your imagination recently?

I mean, I’m liking what a lot of younger people are doing at the minute and just kind of like taking the power into their own hands. Whether it’s music, fashion or photography and just, yeah, changing the world. It feels like there’s been a big massive change lately and everything’s got turned on its head and it’s good to see. Just generally, really, but especially in this city or even in the UK, in general. We’ve really found a new identity and it feels that a fresh new voice has taken over and we’re really standing on our own two feet.

What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself heading?

I’ve been wanting to try and get into video a bit and filming some bits and bobs. And, yeah man, just hopefully still working with people that I like and enjoy and all that jazz. Seeing what opportunities come my way, hopefully. In the meantime, staying afloat and trying to stay on track. I’m growing up, man.

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