To find something sacred enough to document with photography is special. When those people are your friends, your sisters and your home, it’s even magic. “Girls on Film” is a visual diary that captures a hidden microcosm of London as it stays outside of the layers of our dogmatic society. In a small corner of London over four years, this series follows a group of women who lived, created and collaborated together – as they roamed through wasteland looking for materials, climbing through windows and shunning the rules.
There is a lot of focus from people to find a “scene”, or an alternative world based only on aesthetics. There is a tendency to then take from that scene – to call it a “cult” or a “sisterhood” while knowing little about it – for followers or to fill exhibitions. But when it comes to documenting life, authenticity can’t be beaten. INDIE talked to some of the girls from the photographs, about women supporting each other, recycled art, and the warehouse that bonded them together.
From living in a close knit community, do you feel a strong sense of unity?
Ellie: Both in the warehouse and living in this kind of community as a whole, there’s a sense of shared struggle against corporate London. We created this little bubble where we could thrive. You share everything – from your underwear to your heartbreaks. Being together in basically one room, you can achieve a different sense of connection. It becomes a family. It’s just an epic thing for young people, especially young women.
Kitty: Living in the warehouse, there is constant love and protection, and people are always there to support you. Living with ten or so sisters means always feeling powerful. Nothing can break you, it’s the strongest thing in the world.
How does it inspire your artwork, if it does?
Camilla: Being around all these different people and looking at the world outside while being resourceful with local materials is a really organic way to create. It is therapeutic and self nourishing. And with performance, it sky rocketed – it’s great to be on likeminded terms with your friends when creating.
Ellie: The trash that accumulates over time around the area – you are surrounded by piles of ephemera. It’s the most amazing crap – the beauty of the forgotten. You find very random objects that can become unintentional installations. In such a big space, you can make and create quite uninhibitedly. There is so much space to make a mess outside of the white walls of a studio. Up-cycling other people’s waste was really important for us. Making things from the neglect of that little area of London is powerful. It’s a way to create away from the eyes of the institution.
Do you think London is losing its artistic communities for real?
Ellie: I think these squats that sprung up in the ’70s and ’80s are what London now builds its”edge” around, but it’s become so manufactured and strange. You look at places like Camden – it’s sad that the underground that made London cool, and the community sense of it, has now been so commodified that artists are pushed out to the fringes. Increasingly, free spaces to create and come together are being taken over and built into luxury apartments and offices. What will London be without its edge, its underground, its weirdos?
But don’t you think that’s been happening with artists forever? Artists come, they make communities. Then the people with the money come with a different kind of vision, the artists move on, and the cycle continues?
Ellie: The problem is we end up with people in gilded places seeing these spaces as valuable from a financial aspect, meaning more industrial looking bars in East London, more posed warehouse parties. It just shows how much has been taken from these special, secret communities and re-appropriated by corporate forces. This is just taking parts of a culture that people think are trendy and it’s pretty questionable. I think it happens all over the world, and has always been happening. Things are cool and original, and then someone sees a profit and they take advantage.
Why do you think the concept of women empowering each other is such a focus of discussion at the moment?
Camilla : There’s this stereotype that girls can be really awful to each other that needs to be silenced. It all comes down to insecurity, and the beauty of what we have in the warehouse is the feeling of security with each other. That makes everything we do and say stronger, because we have that confidence in each other. I think that’s what’s missing in a lot of girls – they don’t have enough female support. With the power of unity around you, you can create things that are bigger and speak louder.
Ellie: Regardless of gender, no human being should ever be trying to squash someone else down – it doesn’t reflect well. And during your formative years, it’s about freedom – to make mistakes, to fuck up, to experiment. There shouldn’t be so much judgement. You have all the space and naivety to get what you want out of the world. It’s so important to have this strong team of women around you who have the same thirst for adventure, the same thirst for life. Your experiences combine, and I don’t know anything more powerful than a strong group of women. It’s easier to take someone down if you’re sitting alone at home scrolling through some other girl’s Instagram.
Is it strange to you that magazines, photographers or artists often want to document your life? Where do you think people’s obsession stems from in documenting a counter-cultural way of life? Does it feel sometimes that people are re-appropriating your reality for their own advantage?
Ellie: I think, in most instances, it’s people on a really basic level being attracted to the aesthetics of the space – it’s as simple as someone walking into that world and saying ‘This is alt and cute”. It has a strong expression of sisterhood, and I think a lot of people don’t even try to see the core of what we are. I think exploiting young women and their bodies in this way, when you haven’t lived it, and often not actually getting consent to take the photos at the time because the house is such a hectic place you can quite easily be a voyeur and get by. If I was a photographer after a cheap quick fix, it would seem like a great thing to stumble upon. There’s very few people that have fairly documented the experience – mostly the girls that lived with us or were a part of our group. I think society wants a deeper message, a feeling of being informed. People want to see genuine emotion and intimate connection.
Camilla: People are fascinated by ways of living that go against the norms of society or when people do things alternatively to how they “should” be done. The warehouse is a place so rich with stories and life – it’s definitely different to the average household in London. There’s a constant flow of people and ideas hatching that I think can be exciting for anyone coming in from an outsider perspective. There’s a charm to it. The fullness of feminine energy has a big part to play because we are all young women who aren’t afraid to show our bodies, aren’t afraid to be outspoken. There’s a romanticised, eroticised element to that, for certain people coming from the outside, which I think can be exploited and misunderstood. When people start documenting that in a fake way, it becomes a misrepresentation.
Kitty: At the time, it feels normal. Because we are part of a community where there are always photographers and other people around documenting things in their own way. And we’re liberated, we walk around naked or in underwear – we were completely free. And I can understand how that would attract interest – there is so much love there and the minute you enter the warehouse you can see it and feel it constantly. Men think they understand what it is, but are really just channeling their teenage boy wet dream.
If you could give some message to young women living in London, especially artists and creatives, what would you say to them?
Camilla: Have faith in everything you do. Be wise to see through certain people – if you feel like something or someone is not quite right in a situation listen to your gut. It’s so loud and important and it’s never wrong.
Ellie: Don’t sell yourself short. Believe in your message and follow it through. You can use the internet in such a powerful way, you don’t need someone else to give you this big break. Your purpose should just be stay true to working on what feels important to you. Because when you’re young and unphased by how you’re perceived, that is the most powerful time to create without consideration and just go for it. Collaborate. Whatever you can do solo, when you collaborate with others you can become an unstoppable force.
All Images Julia Hovve
Subject Credits: Ellie, Camilla, Kitty, Maxine, Jess, Lily, Grace, Heather, Ayesha, Alice, Charley