Dougie Wallace: the world’s greatest street photographer?

I’d never heard of Dougie Wallace until Chicken got me to watch a programme about him in the series What do Artists Do all Day? The title of the programme must be taken from a question that people ask commonly of artists. One stereotyped answer is that they live in garrets and paint all day in poverty, concerned not with money but with truth. Another is that they live Bohemian lives, drunk, surrounded by naked models, dashing off a picture on the tablecloth before lapsing into a stupor. Neither of true is Dougie (it would be all wrong to call him Wallace).

Indeed, Dougie doesn’t fit the stereotype of the artist. He’s a working class Glaswegian with an accent so broad they must have wondered about using subtitles. He’s a photographer not a painter, and he seems to take only seconds to create his powerful pictures.

Dougie is a “street photographer,” perhaps, a publisher in the programme argued, the leading one in the world. He develops a “project” and then spends hours every day roaming the relevant streets taking photographs. He takes them in seconds, usually without putting the camera to his eye. He has set up his camera with a flash gun (he gets through dozens), and often he shoves the camera right into the face of the people he’s photographing. He participates, encouraging his subjects to go further. Much of his talent is his boldness, his courage, his willingness to offend people. He doesn’t ask permission: he snaps people, and when they threaten to call the police he laughs and walks away. He’s big and strong, a street fighter as well as a street photographer.

Wallace Harrods

The project that featured most in the programme was Harrodsburg, photographing people–mostly ostentatiously and vulgarly rich people, many of them Arabs–around Harrods. He’s been at it for a year, maybe longer, and is happy if he gets one good picture a day he’s happy. But he must take hundreds. Something that mystified me is how the pictures end up so clear and usually so rich in colour. It must be party high technical competence, setting the camera just right. It must also be chance in that most pictures must be discarded. But is it more than that? Does he crop the pictures, enhance them? There was no reference to that in the programme.


Because he takes pictures that I don’t hesitate to describe as beautiful, even though the subjects are often so vulgar. He compared his pictures to those of Beryl Cook, who painted pictures rather like the saucy seaside postcards. This is especially true of his pictures of drunken nights in Blackpool. As he said, he’s been there, done all the crazy things the drunks do, and got drunk with them as he photographs them. But his pictures have much more edge than Cook’s; they are that mysterious thing “high art,” as looking at his magnificent website will show you.





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