In FullBleed’s short film, Dougie Wallace is closely tracked, with the film crew almost on his shoulder, as close to Wallace as he is to his subjects. He brandishes his camera like an entomologist pursuing specimens, some possibly dangerous. He ventures through the gilded thickets of Knightsbridge, engaging his subjects with honeyed words: ”I love these colours/ you’re beautiful” – a wave, a smile and he has his shot. Some are not beguiled: “When they shout ‘Chop off his head!’ you know you’ve hit a nerve,” says Wallace.
In this rich quarter, glittering crowds display the badges of wealth while gathering yet more; Wallace treks through, searching for his images: Harrodsburg is his trophy cabinet. Alert as any hunter, he patrols his targets’ habitat, observing their movements along opulent tracks. He knows the best hour, when light reaches this wealthy canyon. He knows the territory, the spot beside the traffic lights where luxurious cars pause and passengers, with varying degrees of anger and amusement, meet his lens. Though everyone is on the move and no one is still, they are frozen by flashlight. Waving his camera, Wallace captures greedy faces, claw-like hands, expensive baubles..
“I’m not sneering,” says Wallace, “just shining a light.” But what a light that is! Repeatedly, his photographs have a golden sheen, with burnished skin, gleaming rings, lustrous glass and polished facades. He often lights his subjects with two flashes: the air itself acquires a richer glow.
Hands are filled with phones and wallets and bags; arms filled with shopping and acquisition – there is even a wheelchair piled with iconic green and gold plastic bags…. Often Wallace shoots from below, but his upward glance is never deferential! There are confrontational stares at the camera, sometimes confident smiles. A close view point and saturated colours appear in other essays by Wallace, such as Road Wallah, but here proximity does not remove barriers. Occasionally Wallace approaches his targets so closely he is almost in the picture – in one image he is reflected on a driver’s phone. He creates sequences of telling details, the repeated litanies of consumption: pearls, manicures, exquisite dogs, sunglasses, shoes, shiny cars. Have these symbols of wealth become the identities? Are the badges of consumption consuming their owners?
In the BBC4 film What Artists Do All Day, Wallace mentioning the existence of food banks in this the richest of cities, yet asserts that he is not “an activist.” In Harrodsburg, perhaps we agree that he has no political stance, yet his is a deeply moral vision. These flawless images present the glossy surfaces of a world that believes itself to be equally flawless, yet is a world propped up by the accessories and accoutrements of wealth. He suggests that though the smart shopping bags may be full, the owners’ lives are hollow indeed.
– reviewed by Patricia Baker-Cassidy
Images © Dougie Wallace from Harrodsburg (Dewi Lewis Publishing)