The London Vagabond is a elusive graffiti artist who has used his time painting up and down the capital as an inspiration for his new found interest in photography, producing some striking, intimate pictures of a London that we all know and love but rarely see in stills.
As a self taught photographer, LV began taking snaps just to chronicle his writing days, but soon became enamoured with the artistic style and now has moved from less traditional photos to a more sexual and voyeuristic one in his recent publicly exposed work.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with this documenter of all things erotic and the purveyor of the unusual. We wanted to spend some time with this huge character in London graff and now photography scene to find out about his work, his recent incarceration and to discuss what is next.
WG: I know you like to keep things pretty anonymous but could you tell us where you’re from and how old you are?
London Vagabond: London's tattooed big and bold on my stomach and London has my heart so that's where I'm from... I'm old enough!
More recently you've arrived at the medium of photography, but I understand you have roots in graffiti. Is this something you are still interested in, still doing, or will revisit at some point?
LV: You never stop being a writer, there is no way I will be able to live a life where I am not acknowledging who is getting up or that natural urge to pull your key out to scratch a tube or bus window. It is part of who I am and always will be. Prison can't white wash those roots!
How did you begin taking photographs? Does this stem from your previous artistic endeavours, trackside photography, things like that?
LV: I began taking photos because of my unorthodox lifestyle and the need to document the trouble I was getting into on my travels painting up and down the country…I wasn’t aware I was building a diverse portfolio. Love it or hate it my photos will stay true to my roots of non-conformity and I will always have undertones of provocation. The use of a pseudonym (The London Vagabond) relates back to anonymity and to times where my face was covered to avoid CCTV.
There is an obvious erotic element to your work and a lot of the photographs feature the female form. Where does this stem from and do you consider your photography 'art' or are you simply documenting?
LV: Women have most definitely become more predominant in my work. I guess this has happened over time as I’ve built strong bonds with the people I work with. Promiscuity and female dominance are reoccurring themes that saturate my thoughts so inevitably women started to become centre stage – I choose women because of their character and energy not always necessarily their look. I become a puppet on a string totally manipulated by them and it's my vulnerability I think that increases someone’s sense of comfort which leads to truer and more intimate photos. My photos are on the edge of documentary and art, I guess the line becomes blurred but at the end of the day it’s become my lifestyle.
Before your recent time away you did some work with Vivienne Westwood. How did that come about? And is this an ongoing collaboration?
LV: It was London Fashion Week last year in September and my girl was spotted outside The Box doing the splits on her Tinder dates face, so they were invited into the Vivienne Westwood party and she befriended the art director. They met at a later date and my portfolio was shown and it didn't scare her off, I was then introduced and we have been friends ever since. Who knows what the future will hold...
Can you give us any details on your recent spell inside? What lead you to that point?
LV: What do you want to know? A paedophile hunter schooled me on how to distil Hooch with real basic tools. I’ve also learnt how to make a TV remote run on a single battery and I bet you would never have guessed that not only can coffee whitener be used as a fixative but it is also flammable. Would you rather hear about how since the last time I was inside the spice epidemic is creating pure and utter chaos inside our prison system? That bullying is at its highest point and it all boils down to this synthetic cannabis? Or maybe you want to hear about the time I spilt coco pops all over my cell floor and in my trainers and I had a full blown breakdown!
On a whole it was interesting to experience up north jails and the infamous shithole that is Strangeways, like any holiday you come away with some memories.
How does it feel to be out? And what are you currently working on?
LV: It feels good to be free again and back down south! I've been stuck on tag for the past three months since my release so I haven't been truly free, most of my work post release has been shot inside the confines of my house so I have really had to get creative and experiment again. I have really had to focus on utilizing the same space and reinventing it so it feels new each whilst maintaining an element of consistency each time.
There is a whole host of 'analogue photographers' out there at the moment; do you align yourself with this current trend?
LV: I didn't start shooting film for any trend or even aesthetic preference, I shot film because of the case I went to prison for. Police stole my camera when I was raided and was forced into shooting film! I picked up a couple of cheap 35mm cameras and lucky for me I have sticky fingers so film was easy to come by. I was even developing for free at certain points using a little trick or two and help from mates. After a while of shooting film manually (not on a point and shoot) I realised that it was a craft that deserves respect and understanding, I haven't looked back since.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start out in photography?
The only advice you can give is go out and shoot... Develop your own style and strive for originality, there are far too many biters out there already!
What’s next for The London Vagabond? What are you working on in 2018 and beyond?
LV: I've never been someone that plans too much, I thrive off of spontaneity and since this year my freedom was taken away I never had the chance to produce as much as I could have! I have a few ideas kicking around for shows and publications so it would be cool to make that a reality in the coming year, in the short term I want to continue to produce photos that will shock your parents and have your partner keeping tabs on your news feed.
Follow the London Vagabond on Instagram here.
Written by: James Brackenbury