CHECKIN’ IN WITH VICKY GROUT
Starting off this year, we decided to begin a new series called ‘Checkin’ In With…’ where we sit down and highlight women we consider to be friends & family of Patta and speak to them about their careers, personal experiences in and out of lockdowns, and what has got them through this period.
For the third part of our series, we interviewed Vicky Grout, half Polish and half English photographer well-known for her portraiture, fashion, music and street photography documenting people and the essence of London. Vicky has previously photographed ALCH x Patta’s Reconstructed Vest lookbook back in 2017 and continues being one of the leading photographers in London’s streetwear scene. Photographing Skepta against a white wall at a fashion week after party in 2015, and later the photo being used as his cover art for the single ‘Shutdown’ and as his press shot up to this day, is one of Vicky’s biggest career highlights as it helped lead to many other things.
Read our conversation below.
Can you tell us about where you are from and what you do?
For anyone who doesn’t know this, I’m half Polish and half English. I was actually born in Warsaw, Poland and then I moved to England with my family when I was 4 years old. I’ve always lived in South-West London and grew up around Kingston. I’m a photographer, who mainly shoots people. The different types of photography that I do are portraiture, music, fashion, and street photography and most things which involve photographing people.
Who were your main influences growing up?
Growing up, I’ve always been very passionate about music. Music is what led me to photography and being a photographer. But growing up, I was heavily influenced by people like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Prince. When we were growing up in Poland, my sister who is 17 years older than me used to play a lot of Janet and Prince CDs. I’ve stumbled across Michael Jackson on my own, I was around 3 or 4 when I first heard ‘Thriller’ on the radio and I loved it so much that I said to my mum: “Play it again, play it again!” and she was like “I can’t play it again, it’s on the radio.” and I started crying and the next day she went out and bought me the ‘Thriller’ album. I used to listen to that Thriller tape on repeat, to the point where certain songs were unlistenable because I’ve worn the tape out from listening to it so much.
How did your photography career start and where?
Let’s start with when I first started photography, I was around 11 when I first took interest in it but didn’t start taking proper photos until I was 13 or 14 years old. I had an Olympus Mju II, the classic point and shoot camera that I would take everywhere with me and to a lot of gigs. I used to try to sneak my camera into places because at the time, back then phones could take pictures but they didn’t take them very well and how to get your photos onto your computer was a total mystery. Photos that you took on your phone, usually stayed on your phone and I wanted something to look back on afterwards. I used to do photo diaries and upload them onto my Flickr, Blogspot or Tumblr account, it wasn’t portraiture at the time but more so just photo diary imagery.
The summer between college and university was when I started raving on a weekly basis, I was going to places like The Nest, Visions, Alibi and Fabric without my camera, but as a raver, purely just taking in the vibes. You’re in such a small venue and a lot of artists just happen to be there. Specifically in 2014, when Grime was just on the cusp of it’s resurgence and it was all still pretty low-key at that point, so I’ve managed to meet a lot of artists as a fan and a raver and then I was like, ‘Why don’t I start taking pictures of this?’. When I started taking my camera with me, some of the artists would say things like: “Oh, I didn’t know you were a photographer?” I wouldn’t consider myself as a photographer then but I was just taking photos sometimes. From there, artists would tell me that they needed somebody to shoot their nights or do some press shots for them and it all kind of happened organically, where I started shooting for different artists within that scene. Later, that led to me shooting portraits and hitting people up on Instagram to shoot for fun and then it led to shooting lookbooks for small clothing brands and editorials, and later it became campaigns. It felt like it was all at once but also it was a very slow process over the years at the same time.
What’s the biggest highlight of your photography career so far?
I don’t know if I necessarily have one big highlight, I feel like I’ve had a few nice moments. One being my solo exhibition ‘AAA’ in 2016. People have asked me what I haven’t done one since but I don’t want to make an exhibition for the sake of it, I want to produce a decent body of work first. Most things that I photograph, I end up putting out on the internet anyway. It’s always hard to look back on all the shoots that you have done, but that shot of Skepta that I took for the cover art of his single ‘Shutdown’ is one of the many highlights and it happened quite early on and I feel like it definitely helped lead to other things.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome?
There are a few factors, one is being a freelance artist as you never know when the next job is going to be. In the first few years of my career, I was lucky to be living at home so I didn’t have to worry about paying bills or putting food on the table. I think I am lucky to be in a position where I’m doing ok, but at the beginning there was that worry. It wasn’t until I knew I was comfortable to move out as I knew I could sustain myself.
I think another obstacle, which I didn’t recognise until a bit later on in my career is that being a female photographer could definitely have its downsides. Maybe at the beginning, I didn’t really notice it before but after being in the industry for a while you’re like ‘oh everytime I don’t get picked for a job is because it’s going to this guy.’ There’s so many things that you overlook and later you realise it's happened because you’re a woman and earlier on I thought it’s because I was quite young but now I’m like ‘I’m not a baby anymore!’ It’s also down to not getting paid the same amount as certain male photographers.
There’s also another thing that I had to consider quite early on in my career. Being a white female photographer shooting Grime and Black music at such a young age went over my head a little bit because I was there for the music and I was so passionate about it and the cultures surrounding it. Later on, I kinda realised that this could be construed in a completely different way, and that it could be seen as exploitative. Everybody likes to think that their intentions are pure but your actions are what determine that. I definitely had to think about my position in the industry and my position in the scene as a whole, in the spaces that I was taking up too much space in. Throughout life you’re constantly learning and unlearning, which will hopefully help you to become the best ally that you can be.
What’s your routine been like?
My lockdown routine...I’ve not been able to stick to one every time but I do try! Generally, I read for 30 mins after I wake up and try to avoid looking at my phone first. I’ve read so many books this year, and I’m proud of myself because I always set myself a goal to read a certain amount of books each year, and this year is the first time I actually reached my goal of 24+ books. It’s all the sunny days during lockdown where I was just sitting in the garden and reading because there were no shoots or anything going on. I’ve been trying to do some Duolingo as well, and have been learning Spanish and Portugese recently. I’m Polish and I can speak it, but I’ve been learning some Polish too as I feel like it could be better. I speak it with my mum and my sister but I don’t really speak it with any other people, It’s a hard language! I’ve been meditating and doing yoga with my friend Alix who is a yoga instructor and she’s been doing these group zoom yoga classes that were really helping me through lockdown. And a lot of bubble baths...haha so basically just a lot of self care!
What would be the biggest thing you’ve learned or taken from the first lockdown that has helped you through this one?
Creatives generally live a very fast paced life and the first lockdown was very refreshing for me. I need to count myself lucky because I live in a comfortable environment and it was nice to just breathe. My landlord was very understanding and let me pay half my rent for a couple of months. I’ve just moved into a new flat, with a new relationship and everything was very new and calm. From having that period of not really doing anything at then from the end of July up to end of November, it had been nonstop shooting because everyone realised they had a timeslot to get all this content shot and produced after everything being postponed for 4 months and the industry picked up again. I had gotten so used to the slow pace of the first lockdown, that when work started to pick back up again, it was too much for me. I was stressed all the time because I just didn’t feel like there was enough time in the world to do everything that needed doing.
It’s the second lockdown and this period now that has been getting to me and I’ve noticed that I’ve been repressing my anxiety for a long time. This time around, it had a bigger toll on my mental health but having a partner beside me, that is supportive and helps me to chill the fuck out, has definitely been a blessing. With this lockdown, I have realised that you don’t have to live at a pace that is a mile a minute all the time because life is short and the stress is just not worth it. I’ve been so stressed over the last few months and I’ve been getting these intense migraines and I’ve even given myself stress-induced tinnitus, where I can hear constant ringing in my ears due to stress. Everybody just needs to chill, the bag is not always worth it. That’s what I have taken from this.
Has your creative process dramatically altered this time around?
Pre-lockdown and pre-Covid, I was struggling to find time for personal projects and I’ve just jumped from job to job and not really taken the time to focus and do projects that I actually want to do. During the first lockdown when there was no work, I wrote down everything I wanted to do and achieve during that time. I’ve done a small portraiture project where I’ve purchased a bike and cycled to all my friends' houses that lived close to me and shot them from 2 metres away. There were a few other things that I wanted to do but then work started to pick up again and once again I was in the space where I was working so much that when I’m not working, I’m not trying to think about other projects...I’m either trying to sleep or have a hot bath. Mentally, it’s too much for me. Even if I haven’t stepped back into things the way it was before Covid, I still feel like I’ve lost my creative flow a bit. During the first lockdown, I felt way more creative than I have ever been and I feel like a lot of people were feeling this way because there was almost no pressure to create anything, it’s just you and you are free to think about whatever it is that you want to do. It feels like the pressure is back on again and it’s a bit intense.
How do you see this changing/affecting your industry going forward?
I don’t think it will affect the industry that I’m in too much. It feels like the industry has figured out how to navigate around this. You’ve got Covid medics checking people’s temperatures on set and everybody has to wear masks. Even though it might still not be 100% safe, there’s certain rules and regulations which can make people feel safer. In terms of Covid, I don’t think it will ever fully go but it will just become a bit like the flu.. The way in which this country (England) has approached the pandemic is ridiculous. There’s places like New Zealand where they are Covid-free now, and they are living their best lives. This country’s attitude towards it is so poor and it means we will be in this situation for a long period of time. I think masks will become a regular thing, which is for the best and I think we might keep some social distancing too...I don’t really need a stranger in my 2 metre radius anyway! We will have to adjust to the new normal.
What has been your biggest motivation over the past couple of weeks?
Expanding my skill set to something outside of photography, whether it’s directing or art directing. I think it’s a good idea to expand that. I’m not saying we all have to completely retrain into corporate jobs or being able to work remotely but aside from that, creatively there’s so much more I want to be able to do.
Do you have any advice or tips on how to remain positive during these times?
Firstly, you need to remember that this is something you can’t control so there’s no point trying to stress about it. Obviously, it’s easier said than done if your family is affected by Covid. But as a whole, you can’t control this and everybody is in this together.
Secondly, you don’t have to live this fast paced life because it’s not worth it. Your mental health is so important, especially during these times it’s more important than anything else. You can’t do your job or live your life properly if your mental health is not at 100, so you have to work on yourself. Self-care is key.
Thirdly, maybe this is something that I have not struggled with but I know some people can struggle with this. I don’t mind being on my own, I can quite easily entertain myself which is quite funny because I have ADHD and my attention span is so short, I can jump from one thing to another and I’m always entertained. I can read a book, watch a film, go for a walk and somehow not be bored and enjoy my own company. I know that some people definitely struggle with that.. Being able to be comfortable with yourself and be comfortable in your own company is a very important thing to learn and figure out. Things like meditation help with that a lot and learning how to be at peace with yourself is very crucial at this time.
Have you recently discovered any new interests?
I bought some DJ decks. Not many people know this but I’ve been on and off learning how to mix for about 4 years now. I would practice it in different places and when it was convenient for me to go there. Once lockdown started, I have realised I had nowhere to practice anymore so I managed to get a basic set of decks from eBay for a decent price.. I’ve not been doing this as much as I would like to because I got all the equipment towards the end of lockdown when I started shooting again. I’m not ready to show the world yet, but it’s definitely a hobby of mine.
What artists have got you through this period?
I’ve been a big fan of Soulection since 2014, shoutout to Joe Kay and the whole team. I love what they are doing. I feel like Soulection has definitely changed my life for the better and not a day goes by where I don't listen to at least one mix of theirs. They started in 2011, and I’ve never listened to the early shows so during lockdown I’ve started going through the earliest shows on Mixcloud to catch up on what I’ve missed out on.
Other than that, I've mostly been listening to chill music like Daniel Caesar. But then sometimes, I would be in a mood for Jungle or Drum & Bass. I go from one extreme to another especially if I’m doing housework. I miss raves so much, so putting on music like that gives me a feeling like I’m almost there (sorry not sorry neighbours).
What’s the one thing you most look forward to after lockdown?
Definitely nights out, live music and festivals! I miss it so much. I just want to be on a beach in Croatia, dancing to some jungle.
And lastly, how did you get linked with Patta?
I’ve been wearing Patta since I was around 15, when I was a little sneakerhead (lol). A few years back I shot a lookbook for TM Sportswear, and the person I was shooting was Damian Malontie aka Damo from Patta. At the time, I didn’t even realise he was a part of Patta. Then a few months later, I was photographing Appelsap festival in Amsterdam in 2016 and I bumped into Damo there. I also met Dre there, before the London store was even open. I was photographing part live music and part streetstyle for The Fader during that weekend and he was wearing a full Patta shell tracksuit and I took a photo of him. Shortly after, the London store opened up and I got to know the guys who worked there. They got me to take photos of the store when it first opened. I’ve also known Ellis from years back, from maybe 2013/2014, but who doesn’t know Ellis?! I would say I became a part of that family quite early on. It’s always love with those guys.
Words and Images: Olivia Jankowska