Meetings: Vicky Grout
Photographer Vicky Grout has built up a respected name for herself in the music industry. She’s shot some of the biggest artists in music today and has an enviable portfolio but as she looks forward she has a humble outlook on what her next steps will be. We caught up with her after the adidas Originals #TLKS panel she took part in last week to chat about her love of grime raves and the importance of being respectful and making time for passion projects.
You were originally born in Poland but you moved to London when you were quite young, is that right?
Yes, I was born in Warsaw. I lived there until I was four and then moved to London in 2000 so I actually feel like I’m London born and raised. I guess even though I wasn’t born there I was definitely raised there.
How has this had an influence on your identity?
I think it’s more a food thing as opposed to a hugely cultural influence. I love gherkins, love pierogi and sledz, which is herring. Polish food is so good, it’s quite similar to German food.
I’ve never really had Polish friends in England. I think there’s a stigma around being Polish and people don’t want to outwardly admit that they’re Polish. I remember when I was at college there were a few Polish girls but they only spoke English to each other. I tried to speak Polish to one of them but they replied in English and they said they didn’t like speaking Polish because of the attitudes towards them.
Growing up you went to a lot of raves as a teenager, did that have a big influence on you?
Even from being thirteen, fourteen I’ve always gone to live music shows but it wasn’t until I was sixteen, seventeen that I started listening to more underground and electronic dance music - not EDM! I was going to a lot of hyperdub nights, which then lead to more garage nights so that’s when I discovered Butters, which is a grime label and that kind of opened me up to the live aspect of grime.
What was it about grime in particular over any of those other musical scenes that drew you in?
I think it was definitely the energy. I think being in a grime rave is unlike being in any other rave. The energy that you get from the MC and the crowd is unreal. The MC is a hard drive and the crowd reacts then the DJ decides whether that reaction would justify a wheel up, so everyone is reacting to each other.
It just started by me going to these shows, enjoying them and wanting something to look back on afterwards. I unintentionally ended up networking with all these artists and because I had a good relationship with all them they felt comfortable asking me for photos. I think it was a very gradual and organic journey.
There’s a difference isn’t there between scouting for something that’s on the rise and wanting to make money off it by documenting it and then just being part of that culture and it being more of an organic, natural process.
I never wanted to be exploitative. I never wanted to monetise it, even now I’d much rather go to a rave with my camera, take some photos and just send them to the artist.
You’ve risen up with grime and gone on to do amazing things with you career. How do feel about your career now and your relationship with grime?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had to do a lot of personal growth in myself, realising my position in the industry as a white woman in a dominantly black scene. It’s difficult adjusting to that and accepting that as a white person part of my success is going to be because of the colour of my skin and that I am in a sense a palatable way showing grime.
I think I just have to be hyper aware that even though my intention was never to exploit it, that’s how it could come across. So, I make sure that everything I do is done in a respectful way. I think a lot of the artists that I work with know that I have genuine love and passion for it and that it’s never an exploitative situation.
Your career has grown now and you get booked on amazing jobs, what kind of projects do you want to work on next?
I think people mainly know me for my music work but my next step is to make more time for passion projects. I’ve got a project that I’ve been working on for way too long. I guess it’s a lack of confidence in myself because people know me as a grime photographer, a music photographer so if people start seeing me doing things outside of that then it needs to be really good.
How did you get into photography, are you self-taught?
Yes, I am self-taught. It was actually never even an option in my school or college to study it. I found my old family film camera, a little Olympus point and shoot film camera, and just getting film from Jessops and taking photos. Then I moved onto a slightly more advanced film camera - a full SLR so I could take it off auto and shoot a little bit more technically.
I was so reluctant to shoot digital for ages I just didn’t like the crisp and cleanness of it but when I was starting out and the budgets weren’t amazing it was a matter of being paid or processing films so I invested in a digital camera. It was actually shooting digital that made me better technically because you can see each change straight away. I learned about how the camera works inside out - film speed, shutter speed, F stop, all of that. For me to know how a camera operates now it’s nothing, it’s easy.
When you take pictures you get so much personality and so much character in the shots, how do you go about building that rapport?
I think it just depends on the person. I try and make a person feel comfortable just chatting to them and making them laugh so they feel more comfortable. If there is one particular shot where they’re candid or they’re smiling or laughing, that’s the one for me that I would pick because I think it’s important to get a sense of that person’s personality and character.
You’ve had a lot of attention, how do you find dealing with what you’re going to do next and the jobs that you take on?
I think a lot of us get a bit caught up in doing paid work and forget to take time for ourselves, whether it’s to do a passion project or looking after yourself. I think you just forget to do those things. I’m definitely in a place where I’m trying to take more time out to do more meaningful work. There was a time when I was running around trying to do everything and I don’t think it’s good if people see you do everything. There’s a lot to be said for a little bit of mystery, you don’t have to put everything up, you don’t have to be smashing it all the time.