How South London Bikelife sidesteps the negative stereotypes

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In 2014, masked bikers started riding around Dan Giannopoulos’ neighbourhood in Greenwich, South London. The local and national press was instantly critical, but Giannopoulos was intrigued, and soon decided to start shooting them.
“I like exploring subcultures and fringe communities; this was something that really sparked that interest and it was right on my doorstep so I had no excuse to not pursue it,” he says.
“At the time I was shooting a project on the banger racing community, and moving straight into this seemed like an obvious thing to do…It felt like a natural segue – they explore similar themes of working class communities developing intriguing subcultures.”

From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos
From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos/INSTITUTE
After a failed start with a group on the South London/Kent borders, Giannopoulos met a larger community riding near the O2 arena in April 2015; sending images to the riders after their first meet-up, he quickly formed a working relationship. What struck him was how friendly and humorous the riders were, he says, contrary to their reputation

“They all looked out for each other,” he says. “Defiantly so. They all encouraged each other, cheered each other on, and they all rallied to support each other when someone was injured or even killed whilst riding.

“It became clear to me very early on that the majority of these riders are not the horrible people that the local and national press have made them out to be. For the most part they are just disaffected, misunderstood and sometimes directionless kids who have found some sense of belonging in this community.”

Dan Giannpoulos Bikelife_005
From the series South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos/INSTITUTE

Giannopoulos has now been shooting the riders for nearly two years and, amassing a huge portfolio of work, started to wonder how best to edit it down. He took part in the BJP/Magnum Photos professional practice workshop to get some pointers and, impressed by what they saw, the workshop leaders picked it out as one of the most interesting projects from the weekend.

“I never normally do photo workshops or portfolio reviews, as much as I would like to, as those sorts of things generally aren’t designed to be accessible to people from lower income backgrounds,” says Giannopoulos. “So it was great to attend one that was affordable and had such a great line up of experts and talented peers.

“I took a lot of positive things away from it – [the photographer] Diana Markosian offered some massively insightful advice on editing and sequencing images, as well as suggestions on how to explore the subject further and more deeply. [FT Weekend Magazine photography director] Emma Bowkett had some helpful words about how to get the work out to a wider audience – which has proven beneficial to me already. And being able to see the work that other emerging photographers are producing was also profoundly motivating.”

From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos
From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos/INSTITUTE
Dan Giannpoulos Bikelife_004
From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos/INSTITUTE
Dan Giannpoulos Bikelife_006
From the project South London Bikelife © Dan Giannopoulos/INSTITUTE
To see more images from the South London Bikelife series, check out Dan Giannopoulos’ website. The photographer was recently taken on by Institute. BJP’s next workshop with Magnum Photos takes place on 01/02 April, for more details visit the Magnum website 

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy