When Vivienne Gamble moved to Peckham in 1999, after graduating in modern history from the University of Glasgow, she found taxi drivers would refuse to take her home to the south London neighbourhood, such was its reputation for crime. “It was much rougher than what I was used to,” she says. “But it’s changed so dramatically.”
The area, which gained particular notoriety after the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor in 2000, and then again during the 2011 London riots, has long endured a certain infamy. Yet over the last two decades it has also become an artistic centre, and more recently, one of London’s hippest neighbourhoods. A disparate community of artists and creators has repurposed its cheap warehouse spaces, developers have updated its grand but crumbling Victorian housing stock, and bars and clubs have set up in unlikely venues such as pool halls and railway arches, and according to a recent survey by The Sunday Times, it’s now the most desirable place to live in the capital – not least for its cultural and party scene.
The latter is encapsulated in Peckham 24, a round-the-clock celebration of the local contemporary photography community which takes place on 19/20 May, the same weekend as Photo London and Offprint. The event, which BJP is supporting this year, centres on Copeland Park – a former industrial estate in central Peckham that’s the polar opposite of Photo London’s glamorous home in Somerset House.
Gamble, who founded Peckham 24 with the artist Jo Dennis last year, runs a gallery called Seen Fifteen in the Bussey Building – a red-brick former cricket bat factory that sits on Copeland Park. With huge windows along two of the walls it’s an unconventional gallery space, a long way from the ubiquitous white box, and Gamble encourages the artists she works with to use it creatively. During Peckham 24 it will be showing Beyond Here Is Nothing by Laura El-Tantawy, an installation that features transparencies stuck on those big windows to create a sense of claustrophobia.
Born in Egypt and brought up in Saudi Arabia, El-Tantawy studied in the US before moving to London, and returned to Egypt during the Arab Spring to make her best-known work, In The Shadow of Pyramids, which was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2016. Beyond Here Is Nothing is much more personal, a meditation on the psychological effect her migrations have had on her.
“In The Shadow of Pyramids started as a personal journey into her own identity as an Egyptian woman and then it changed when she witnessed, very closely, the events in Tahrir Square,” says Gamble. “Now she has circled back to what she was originally exploring. I’m very excited about showing this new work for the first time.”
Safehouse 1, a derelict house on Copeland Road, will host a group show curated by Zelda Cheatle during Peckham 24, titled Uncertain States and including work by Mark Aitken, David George, Jonty Sale, and Fiona Yaron-Field. The Nines bar, a teeming local drinking hole in the middle of Copeland Park, will host a video installation by Magnum nominee Sohrab Hura, The Lost Head and The Bird, in its windowless back room; the main bar at The Nines will also host artists talks and workshops, and the Peckham 24 closing party.
DKUK, a hairdressing salon in a tiny arcade next to the Bussey Building, will host video work by Phoebe Davies; DKUK also has a tiny backroom gallery, which will host work found through an open call. This competition was open to anyone with work made in the local area, or who lives there, and went to a series of images proposed by Rhianne Clarke which were made by her father but only discovered in 2015, a year after his death.
The sprawling Copeland Gallery in the middle of the site will host several exhibitions, each in their own discrete space. At Home She’s A Tourist is a large group show curated by Tom Lovelace, for example, featuring work exploring domesticity by Emma Bäcklund, Mette Bersang, Julie Boserup, Jonny Briggs, Julie Cockburn, Gabby Laurent & Dominic Bell, Louise Oates, Eva Stenram, Clare Strand, Dominic Till and Tereza Zelenkova. It’s Gonna Be Great is another group show, curated by Lewis Bush and Mark Duffy, which centres on Donald Trump’s election and features satirical work by Alison Jackson, Tom Stayte, and KennardPhillipps.
Better-known galleries such as the South London Gallery and the Hannah Barry Gallery are also taking part in Peckham 24 this year though, with SLG showing exhibitions by Erik Van Lieshout and Alicia Reyes McNamara, and Hannah Barry hosting an innovative installation on skateparks by Oliver Griffin, which will include space for skaters in the gallery.
Gamble started Seen Fifteen after working for years in the TV industry; deciding to pursue her love of still images she took an MA in the history of photography at Sotheby’s Institute, and then interned at Candlestar – the agency behind Photo London. “It’s been challenging,” Gamble says of founding the gallery. “There have been times when I felt like I could have given up, when the going got tough; there’s a lot of uncertainty in running your own gallery. But it’s a dream for me and something I care about a lot.”
Gamble is originally from Belfast, and has given Irish and Northern Irish artists a platform at Seen Fifteen – including Ciaran Og Arnold (a recent recipient of the Mack First Book Award in 2015), Jill Quigley, and 2016 BJP Breakthrough winner Jan McCullough. This year, she’s invited Belfast Exposed Photography Gallery to join Peckham 24; it’s presenting Robert Ellis’ ongoing series Proverbs, which features images and audio recordings made in Uganda.
Peckham 24 started to take shape as Gamble gained confidence within the photography industry; she ran a group show called Peckham to Paris; MYOP in London in the Safehouse in 2015 during Photo London, then joined forces with Dennis to launch the festival last year. Although small compared with this year’s edition, the inaugural Peckham 24 attracted 2000 visitors over its 24-hour run.
“I realised there was no fringe around Photo London,” Gamble says. “The photography community descended on the city for that week and there was a huge opportunity for artists to initiate their own events on the fringes of the main event.”
Hosting Peckham 24 in and around the Bussey Building was key, she says, and not just because her gallery is based there – the building was threatened with demolition in 2007, but the local community rallied and saved it. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else in London quite like the Bussey Building,” says Gamble. “There’s a real sense of pride that we managed to save the space.”
Her hope is that Peckham 24 becomes an established part of the Photo London week in future, giving visitors the chance to leave the glamour of the Somerset House art fair to see “an area of London where artists are actually working on a day-to-day basis”.