20-year-old Vicky Grout is becoming as big a name in London’s grime scene as some of the faces in front of her lens. In a scene that’s fiercely protective of its own, Grout’s genuine passion and respect for the community — not to mention self-taught talent — has made her many musicians’ go-to documentarian. As Skepta put it in one recent Instagram post, “Hate photos, love Vicky Grout.” She’s got some of the scene’s biggest players saved in her contacts and splashed over her Instagram — all because her live shots are packed with characterful detail, and her portraits are the cleanest and the coolest around.
2016 has already been a landmark year for Grout: she’s shot Skepta for the cover of Time Out, been featured as an expert in a documentary about grime photography on BBC Radio 1, and captured intimate backstage moments at Wiley’s Eskimo Dance event for The FADER. In the week she opens her first solo exhibition in east London, I caught up with Grout on the phone to get her best advice for the aspiring music photographers out there.
Worry about your technique, not your equipment.
My first camera was my family's old camera. Just a small compact, Olympus, 35mm camera. I think I was 13 when I found that. I was taking it to shows I was going to; I was taking pictures of friends. I had a little blog and I put my photos on there. When you're shooting on film, you can have the cheapest, crappiest camera, and it can look good because it's film. You can even shoot on a disposable and it can look cool.
Practice, practice, practice.
Shoot every day. Shoot every show. Shoot everyone. I'm not trying to say put everything out there, but, use every opportunity you can to build your experience. Especially if you’re self-taught like me, the best way to learn how cameras work, how light works, your own style, how you want things to look...is to just shoot and you'll figure it out.
Get embedded in the scene.
When I was 17, I discovered raving. I'd go to a night that I wanted to go to, and bring my camera, taking photos for myself. Then I'd send them to the artist, and tag them [on Instagram], and then they'd be like, "Oh, cool. Do you want to come to the next one?"
A lot of the time, it would be small venues — the artists are walking around, and you can just chat with them. I made friends with a lot of [the artists]. Most of the time I was just fangirling, really.
But know your boundaries.
I'd like to think I'm quite well-acquainted with some of the artists, and don't want to be that jarring photographer that makes them feel uncomfortable, and is just trying to get their shot. There's times where I've missed a sick photo, but it's like, sometimes [it's better to] just let them live.
Be adaptable, and ready to grab opportunities last minute.
[The Time Out shoot with Skepta] was super last minute. Grace [LaDoja, Skepta’s manager] literally texted me on the day: "Can you come and do a shoot this afternoon?" I didn't know what it was for, but I was just like, "Yeah." It was probably one of the quickest shoots I've ever done. I don't think he wanted to make a big fuss out of it.
When I had to send the pictures over, I only had about 50 photos, which is unheard of. When I normally do a shoot I take about a thousand. But, for this one, I felt like I had the shots. I work quite quickly as well, so it wasn’t a problem for me.
“Don’t make art for others. Just do what you enjoy.”
Capture your subjects' personalities.
You need to be able to bring out someone's character. I like to think I’ve got a personal relationship with a lot of the people I shoot, or I get on with them. Even if I don't, I'll try to make them feel comfortable. I don't want them to look bored. A lot of times you chat to them and they might smile, or show a side of themselves that people don't normally see, which is nice. You need to be able to pick that out.
Treat your Instagram like your gallery space.
Tumblr and blogs have died out a little bit since Instagram became a thing. I don’t think a lot of people check for Tumblr any more — Instagram’s the best right now, just because, obviously, you can follow people, and see their work as soon as they update it. Color's very important. On Instagram, if the colors of two different photos don't go well with each other, that pisses me off. The photos as a collective need to work together. So I try to keep a color palette.
Learn your history, but don’t feel the need to copy.
Don’t put success before your craft.
Don't aim to blow; don't aim to be big. So many people in my inbox say, "How do you blow? How do you make it in the industry?" Don't worry about that. I wasn't trying to blow, I was just doing what I enjoyed. There's making art for yourself, and there's making art for others. Don't make it for others. Just do what you enjoy. It might work out, it might not work out, but being successful for the sake of it is not important to me.