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Wasted, weary and wary: The ‘wildlife’ of Shoreditch

“The satire just staggers up the street,” says Dougie Wallace of his latest collection documenting the revelers and the casualties, the trendsetters and the fashion victims, and other assorted human wildlife stalking the concrete jungle of Shoreditch.

The East London neighborhood has long been synonymous with hedonistic nightlife, gritty urban authenticity and hipster colonization.

The Scottish photographer, who specializes in expressive social documentary, arrived there from Glasgow 15 years ago and has been on safari at the parties and on the streets ever since.

“Living the Shoreditch life has helped me develop an eye for the hilarious, messy side of human uninhibited behavior,” he explains on his website.

Wallace's hyper-real portraits of the wasted, the weary and the wary mix comedy, exuberance and pathos, often in the same image as inhabitants of overlapping and diverse London worlds rub up against each other within the width of a camera lens.

Afternoon pub drinkers slump into their seats under the stern gaze of a reproachful nurse whose portrait hangs on the wall. A man drops his pants in a park, showing casual disregard for the police car passing a few feet away.

Wallace describes himself as a “participant rather than a voyeur” in the mayhem, admitting that the exact circumstances behind some of the photos remain hazy.

“You can see that I was having fun. Like everyone else, I was in there partying from Thursday through to Monday,” he said. “You couldn't just fly in if you were the top photographer in the world and say, ‘Right, I'm going to document Shoreditch.’ You wouldn't get the pictures. You’ve just got to be there.”

Wallace likens his shooting style to boxing - “sparring, ducking and weaving to get the angles, to catch the expressions and emotions, right in their faces” - and he has the wiry build of a flyweight fighter to carry it off.

“I provoke it,” he said. “I've got two flash guns, so there's no invisibility. I'm not scared to make them come to the camera, and a lot of the photos are reactions to me. I'm not one of those street photographers who are like, ‘I'm a photographic ninja and you can't see me.’

“You don't know what's going to happen, and that's when the art happens. It's how they react, it's whether the flash hits them in a certain way, or if there's a bit of movement.”

Brought together in a book, “Shoreditch Wildlife,” to be published later this month, Wallace's photos chronicle an area in an accelerated state of transition. Once the millennial epicenter of the East London clubbing scene, weekend crowds now come as much for its bustling street markets, designer boutiques and galleries as waves of regeneration and gentrification have tamed its wilder instincts.

“It may be that Shoreditch is a wee bit over. It's not the counterculture anymore,” he said. “It was great back then, but if it had just stayed the same you'd be really bored. Shoreditch has always morphed itself into different things. It is what it is.”

- Simon Hooper, Special to CNN