April 18, 2019

Portrait workshop with Vicky Grout at SneakersnStuff

Vicky Grout (@vickygrout) is a photographer rooted in London. She made her name in the London grime scene, capturing live shots of musicians on stage, before gradually integrating portraiture into her oeuvre and then moving onto fashion shoots. We sat down to speak to her at the Sneakersnstuff store in Shoreditch, where she was hosting a  OneStep+ Portrait workshop, to get a grasp of her background, her love of analog film and what inspires her. 

Can you firstly tell us a bit about yourself where you grew up and how you got into photography?

I actually grew up in Warsaw in Poland. I’m half Polish, half English, but I was born in Poland then moved the London when I was 4. Even though I was born in Warsaw, I don’t really count those years as actually growing up there because I don’t remember much of it. I grew up in south-west London, in between Richmond and Kingston and I lived there for most of my life. So I’d say that I grew up in London.

Ever since I was small I’ve always been creative and made arty things. I’ve always been into visual things. When I was about 11 I asked for a camera for my birthday, a little digital Bridge camera, and you know when you’re young and you think that you’re being super cool and arty, taking photos with a diagonal slant and putting them up on my Flickr – I was doing that for a while.

When I was about 13 or 14 I found our old family camera, a 35mm film point-and-shoot Olympus camera, I found it tucked away in a draw and I would just take that with me everywhere. I’d take it to gigs, because I started going to a lot of gigs around that age as well. I’d always queue up for ages to get up to the front to take photos even though I wasn’t press but just to have something to keep afterward. I’d put them on my Flickr or on my blog and people seeing my work a little bit from that.

I did that a little bit and was working part-time in a shop and any money that I made from that would go straight on film but I never thought that it would be a viable career choice. It was just something that I did for fun but it was an expensive hobby for a 15-year-old. I did that for a little while and took a little break when I started doing graphic design at college, thinking that that would be a slightly more suitable and stable career choice and then the summer between college and uni was when I really started going out and going to underground music shows and raves, started going to Fabric and Vision, but without my camera.

I still hadn’t really picked up my camera yet but in that time I got to know all the artists and all the people in the scene, just from being a fan and being a raver. Just somebody in the crowd really. When I started uni I did a foundation at CSM in graphic design, but obviously, there’s going to be aspects when you can work photography into it, so I decided to go back into it.

Around that time I started taking my camera to the shows and raves that I was going to and because I had got to know some of the artists, they felt comfortable being photographed by me. I feel like that helped in that aspect, because some of the shows that I was going to at the time – this was when grime was having a resurgence – it was a lot of grime, garage, Butterz, and I would go with my camera and shoot what I could, more just to have something to look back on. I didn’t really realise but as grime was starting to gain attention again, people would see my work at the same time so we grew at the same time.

I defo started out doing live stuff, events and some press shots for artists that needed them and asked me for them, and then from that I started taking portraits of friends and people I was hanging out with at the time. As opposed to just live stuff, I started doing more portraits and more fashion stuff. People would be like ‘My friend’s got this brand, can you shoot their lookbook?’ and I’d do stuff for little brands here and there and that grew to doing brand campaigns and the sort of things that I’m doing now.

Shot by @harrietbrowse

Your work is predominantly analog, what are the things that you like about shooting analog?

I would say when I first seriously got into photography it was only analog, like when I found our little holiday camera. There was something super intimate and nice about buying the film, going to Boots or Jessups or wherever it was at the time, dropping the film off, waiting a few days, that excitement of not knowing what you’ve shot on it and what you were gonna get.

Early on, when I didn’t know how to use a camera, I knew how to take a picture but I didn’t know technically how to use a camera and I had a completely manual film SLR and obviously I didn’t know what the settings did, I just clicked and hoped for the best. Maybe 5 out of 36 photos would come out good and that would be enough to make me happy.

There’s something about that process that’s really special and something, a certain character. Some people can do it well but I can’t seem to emulate it in digital. Whether it’s the warmth or the grain to it, there’s just something about it that’s special.

There’s something so raw and intimate about portrait photography. How would you describe that special feeling that comes from a portrait?

I think the thing with portraiture is that it’s always important to try and get the subject’s either emotions or an aspect of their character through that image. I try my best to do that, I’m not sure that it comes through in every photo but at least that’s the aim. When I’m shooting the subject I try to make them feel comfortable, there’s nothing worse than an awkward photo. I see if I can get a little bit of their personality.

 

How would you describe your creative process?

I don’t even know if I have one. For me, in order to stay passionate about what I do and not hate, I try to do only things that bring me joy. Obviously that can be hard when it comes to commercial stuff, but there’s always a way to have full creative control or to keep things organic and fun so it doesn’t become stale. I wanted to move from live stuff to doing more photography, but I still do a lot of artist portraits because, for example, if I’m really passionate about a certain artist and I really fuck with their music, then that’s gonna bring that element into it as well. I try to keep things exciting and fresh.

Your work sees you shooting portraiture, music, fashion & street photography, with a focus on the London Grime scene in particular. What drew you to the scene?

 

Grime in particular, as I mentioned before, those were the sort of raves that I was going to but without my camera. I was going to a lot of Butterz nights, Hyperdub nights, and that gradually led to the grime nights. Around 2014, which was when I started going to them a lot, was when grime started getting attention again and obviously there was then more nights and more things on. There was this other thing about the live aspect of it that really drew me in, the energy, seeing MCs do a cipher onstage is the maddest thing ever. Being able to be there and then maybe later photograph it as well was something really incredible.

I would say when I first seriously got into photography it was only analog, like when I found our little holiday camera. There was something super intimate and nice about buying the film, going to Boots or Jessups or wherever it was at the time, dropping the film off, waiting a few days, that excitement of not knowing what you’ve shot on it and what you were gonna get.

Early on, when I didn’t know how to use a camera, I knew how to take a picture but I didn’t know technically how to use a camera and I had a completely manual film SLR and obviously I didn’t know what the settings did, I just clicked and hoped for the best. Maybe 5 out of 36 photos would come out good and that would be enough to make me happy.

Feeling inspired? We can’t wait to see what you do with the OneStep+ out in the world. Download the app for free – and discover more about the camera right here: http://polaroidorig.com/onesteppluswhite