It seems as if people these days are able to operate just one gear only - it’s either full speed or reverse. There’s no medium level, no time to slowly reflect in which direction you actually wanna head. There’s no such thing as “a good thing takes time“ anymore, up to the point where any kind of new impression is heavily out of focus. And that’s exactly why the work of London-based photographer Spencer Murphy is such an essential one, because he actually invests time in an idea - whether he portrays pop culture’s A-listers or modern-day miners - before he skilfully executes it. Clients such as Channel 4, Dazed, Vogue ,and The Guardian, to name just a few, have made use of his talent since many years already.
His project “Urban Dirt Bikers“ brought him to the outskirts of London - areas that tend to annihilate memories of the city’s way more glamorous center with an astonishing speed - where kids use quads and dirt bikes to colour the concrete wasteland they’re growing up in. It’s much more like a brotherhood than an organized gang, there are no hierarchies, there’s no crime, it’s simply about getting a buzz and a little adrenaline high since they realized that their way out of the suburban tristesse cannot be expected too soon. Murphy took a quick break from working on his first documentary to answer a few Qs for Lodown.
Spencer, in times where each and everyone pretends to be a photographer and feeds the digital realms at any given time, would you say that your job significantly changed over the last few years? Is there even more competition involved - or is it maybe even the other way around because it’s way easier to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak?
I think it’s genuinely made life harder, there is just more noise out there, and more competition - of varying quality. I think good work and good ideas still rise above it but it’s definitely not like it was a decade or two ago. It’s so accessible and the appreciation for real technicians has dropped. The sheer density of work means it’s very hard to find an original idea and not get put off by other work out there that starts showing up in your feed because you are researching that idea.
I was wondering if quite a lot of your personal projects happen spontaneously while you travel?
I like things to just happen and pictures to find me - but I think you also need to help them find you. If I’m going on a trip, I will look into stories in that area or if I’m going for a specific story, I will write a list of ideas for images I have in my head and then keep an eye out for them. I think it just helps turn that visual part of my brain on. Sometimes I’ll hunt out those pictures and never find them... but along the way others will happen
Please tell me a bit about your “Urban Dirt Bikers“ project - did you come across this phenomenon rather accidentally?
Not really. I had seen the documentary “12 O’clock Boys“ that’s based in Philadelphia, and had thought what an amazing subculture it would be to document... but I don’t often have the budget to go on long trips to other countries unless someone sends me there. Some years passed and I moved closer to the outskirts of London and started seeing kids on dirt bikes and quads doing stunts on the roads near to me. It was then that I started to realize that the phenomenon was a thing here too, and I started to look into how to find the riders.
Were the kids all in right from the start or was it pretty hard to convince them to participate?
It was hard to gain their trust, and find out where they go for a long time - in fact, I almost gave up after a year of trying. But then one rider I’d made contact with on Instagram invited me out with him and his friends, and it started to come together. Without that reply, I think I may have walked away from it.
This kind of bike culture is fairly big in the banlieue’s of France since a few years - is it a predominately London kinda-thing in the UK, or would you find the same posses on the periphery of other major British cities?
I think it’s fairly prevalent in most UK cities now. The police often link these activities to criminality though because of the amount of scooter crime happening over here. So these guys get a really hard time and areas they ride get shut down. They are very rarely the same kids that are involved in criminality but unfortunately they often get treated like they are.
spencermurphy.co.uk words: Forty