Soho Unlocked: Dougie Wallace captures the heady days of post-lockdown partying

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Copyright: Dougie Wallace

Opening today, an exhibition of new works by the Scottish photographer documents the revellers of London’s Soho, returning to the much-loved party spot after months of Covid-19 lockdowns

Street photographer Dougie Wallace is no stranger to scenes of excess. Dubbed “Glasweegee”, the Scottish born, East London-based photographer is famed for his chronicling of debauchery and “tragi-comedy” – the messy side of uninhibited human behaviour.

The photographer’s latest body of work, created throughout 2021 as Covid-19 restrictions began to lift, explores yet another area famed for its style and raucous nightlife: London’s Soho. Opening today, Soho Unlocked is on show at Motel Collection Gallery until 02 October. Although, Wallace says, this does not mean that his latest project is complete.

“I’ve been shooting this for more than a year, ever since the unlocking [from Covid-19 restrictions],” the photographer explains in his thick, Glaswegian accent. “I’ll probably do it for another three months, but I could do it for five years.” It’s easy to see why Wallace would be tempted to continue the project, it offers an endless string of memorable faces and moments – neither of which Soho is likely to run short of soon.

“The atmosphere and the times we were in, it wasn’t the time to be too ‘in your face’”

However, there is a particular joy depicted in many of the images which, when combined with masks and Covid marshals, is reminiscent of a very specific time. “I just walked down to Soho and everyone was seated outside, all alfresco as if it’s Paris,” Wallace recalls. “All the roads were blocked off and it was so picture rich, you just get a feeling for it.”

Perhaps Soho Unlocked is less ‘in your face’ than some of Wallaces’ other, best known work. “It’s not like my Blackpool stag and hens, where there’s eight people coming down the street and it’s all big antics. The atmosphere and the times we were in, it wasn’t the time to be too ‘in your face’,” he says. 

Still, there are still many moments of chaos, captured in his usual, unabashed style. As London gradually emerged from Covid-19 lockdowns and nightlife returned to Soho, the photographer was presented with a great deal of wild celebration – not all of it entirely legal. 

“I’m working on a wee sub-project about nitrous oxide balloons, but they are illegal, so it gets a bit rocky sometimes,” he explains. “But the image of the police woman with the canisters – when I saw that, she wasnae [sic] getting away. She was like ‘can you get that camera out of my face?’, but I just kept on walking back. I needed that picture.”

Nitrous oxide balloons appear regularly throughout Soho Unlocked, as do the closed businesses which surround many of those indulging in them. Boarded up theatre’s provide the backdrop to images of both revellers and raucous football fans, with crowds of jubilant Scotland supporters playing a starring role in the body of work.

This tide of Scotland fans who, against government advice, arrived in London to watch their team in the delayed June 2021 UEFA European Football Championship, made for Wallace’s favourite image of the series. “The Euros were the biggest thing that happened. It was a great night when the Scotland fans took over – 20,000 of them,” he recalls. 

“The image of the fan with Buckfast wine, I asked him ‘where did you get that from?’.” Wallace pauses here to laugh, before continuing, “and he told me he brought four of them with him, all the way down from Scotland.”

The image of the Buckfast-drinking fan typifies Soho Unlocked. It is a record of time which will likely be remembered – however hazily – as the strangest for a generation. There is little in the way of deeper meaning here, but there is emotion, irreverence and an atmosphere so expertly captured, that the heady days of post-lockdown partying seem almost palpable. 

Dougie Wallace: Soho Unlocked is on show at The Motel Collection Gallery from 25 August to 02 October 2022.