British photographer Nico Froehlich seeks to capture the hidden charms of London and "the social reality of change" in his recent series dedicated to exploring the politics of urban spaces and gentrification. Having recently won a LensCulture Award for his series South of the River, we caught up with Nico to learn more about his work.
Born and raised in south east London, Nico Froehlich is a photographer represented by AMP Agency who focuses on showcasing the beauty and diversity of declining working-class life. Through his images, he draws attention to the marginalisation and displacement of original communities, an all too common and unfortunate side effect of gentrification.
This isn't to say Nico's imagery is weighed down with negativity, though. In fact, his images capture the "essence of life" in the culturally rich streets of working-class communities and act as a celebration of the diverse social groups which can be found both in London and around Britain as a whole. And as a child of immigrants, Nico understands all too well the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of our cities and shining a light on the things that once obscured his youth.
A prime example of Nico's talents is his series titled South of the River. Having recently been named a LensCulture award winner, this set of photographs depicts everything from the exterior of a fish bar glowing in the night, an overflowing sink of washing up, and the loaded stillness of an empty public swimming pool. It's this focus on everyday details – which includes a half-empty bottle of takeaway ketchup – where Nico's strengths as a photographer lie, as he aims to seek out and document the authentic moments of London life.
Beneath the surface of these photos, as with lots of Nico's work, is the spectre of gentrification. Speaking to Creative Boom, Nico says that the effects of regeneration, both good and bad, fascinate him because they are a byproduct of urban environments.
"I recognise the pace of change in my area in particular; my work serves as a reminder of the importance of variety and celebrates the optimism and perseverance of people and communities who are often disregarded and disempowered."
He adds: "Growing up in this area of London had a huge influence on my creative outlook," he explains. "London is incredibly layered and, at its best, it thrives as a cosmopolitan, multicultural city. These cultural influences have enriched and shaped me as a Londoner and subsequently influenced my creative development in a way that cannot be overstated."
While it would be all too easy for Nico to create a dismal portrait of the effects of gentrification, he demonstrated his originality and creative flair by bringing out the vibrant colours and life that are found in his home. "South east London is incredibly vibrant and colourful," he reveals. "It is part of the social fabric here, and there is always a sense of hopefulness – regardless of the many detrimental factors stifling fairness and progress."
As for the people who appear in Nico's photographs, such as the teenagers tucking into a box of chicken nuggets, a red puffer jacketed mum with her daughter riding along in a matching pram, or the owner of Pound Plus standing proudly outside his shop, he says these added to the sense of realism by mostly being "chance encounter street portraits of the many people I meet on the streets of south east London."
Nico's recent recognition by LensCulture is well-deserved, but it also came as a surprise. "I genuinely did not expect to win the competition," he says. "I (obviously) thought I could do quite well, but to win was overwhelming. The encouragement and recognition are incredibly motivating."
South of the River serves as a surprising reminder of London's multi-faceted and often overlooked communities. And it's not just an eye-opening series for viewers. Even Nico has found a new appreciation for the boroughs in which he was born and raised.
"If anything, I am constantly reminded of how beautiful and varied this city is," he concludes. "There is so much richness to explore and document. London's overlooked, authentic elements make this city wonderfully unique."