Photographer Jake Green has cast his lens on some of the most influential figures to have emerged from the British rap and grime scene (Picture: © Jake Green, editing by Dominic Gibbon @ Metro.co.uk)
They are among the biggest names to have emerged from the grime scene — and to Jake Green they are just as much a part of London life as pie and mash.
The visual artist, who hails from London’s East End, has taken absorbing images of some of the genre’s alumni showing the stars in reflective and off-guard moments.
Green previously captured the disappearing institution of pie and mash shops on his doorstep, but he feels the likes of Kano, Skepta and Lil Simz are now a much more relevant part of city life.
He spoke to Metro.co.uk after being nominated in the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize, which is run by the National Portrait Gallery, for a picture showing Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder with his face enveloped in vape smoke.
His magnetising images show the changing face of Britain, especially in London, but also have a wider global focus, such as through his focus on the coffee production chain.
Skepta is among the grime stars who have been put in the frame by Jake Green (Picture: © Jake Green)
Mercury-prize winner Skepta owns the stage in exuberant Shutdown style (Picture: © Jake Green)
Speaking to Metro.co.uk during Black History Month, the nominee paid tribute to the grime scene originators, many of whom branched out from rapping to other spheres of the creative and media industries.
‘It’s an honour for me just to be a small part in the day of the amazing, talented people who I get to meet through my work,’ he says.
‘I don’t think they need anyone to immortalise them, as they are already immortalising themselves.
‘I share pictures on my website of people who have made a big impact on me as artists, like Kano, Skepta or Lil Simz, or who I have met in my working life.
‘What’s amazing about them is that they have re-rewritten the rules and are carving out their own path. We have seen that at an early stage with Kano and then Skepta and then Simz, and they have collaborated and worked together to create their own movement.
‘I grew up in one of the most multi-cultural parts of London and I can appreciate what they’ve been through to get where they are, so I’m just in awe of them and I feel blessed to have been able to take their pictures.’
Kano looks deep in thought in one of the natural moments captured by Jake Green (Picture: © Jake Green)
The prize is aimed at showcasing talented photographers, from newcomers to experienced professionals, and reflects a diverse range of images.
Green, 42, is among five shortlisted photographers in the running for the top three places, with the winner due to be announced on November 6.
While the gallery does already have photographs of grime artists such as Skepta (Olivia Rose), Kano (Alasdair McLellan), and Dizzee Rascal (Simon Frederick) in its collection, he would like to see such images given greater prominence and the doors opened up even more.
Lil Simz strikes a suitably contemplative pose as she sits for a portrait (Picture: © Jake Green)
‘The portrait prize is very diverse and does a great job of catching a cross-section of a year’s worth of photography, but I think the National Portrait Gallery probably does need to do more to level up the collections which are full of old European males,’ Green says.
‘They need more Skeptas, Kanos and Lil Simz and I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Lil Simz are producing those portraits as well, as she has been producing her own cover art.
‘I’ve entered Lil Simz, Skepta and Daniel Kaluuya in the competition before and not succeeded, but it shouldn’t even be about the prize, there should be someone at the gallery going out and making sure they are included alongside other established portraits on permanent display. If it doesn’t happen it will be the gallery’s loss, because it will happen elsewhere.’
Jake Green’s prize-nominated picture of an obscured Shaun Ryder (Shaun Ryder by Jake Green © Jake Green)
me nana fie by Serena Brown has been shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing prize (Picture: © Serena Brown)
Green’s iconography also includes a focus on the quintessential East End institution of pie and mash shops, documenting the proud frontages that are becoming a bygone tradition.
‘Pie and mash started off as a reflection of the white working class at a time when that demographic was growing in London, and now it’s a much more diverse place,’ he says.
‘The great thing about London and working class culture, especially in the East End, is that it moves and evolves very quickly and it’s very accepting.
British actor Daniel Kaluuya cuts a humble figure despite being a garlanded Oscar-winner (Picture: © Jake Green)
Big Narstie takes a street pose away from the colour and movement of his TV shows (Picture: © Jake Green)
Pie and mash shops are a disappearing institution in London as the demographic changes (Picture: © Jake Green)
‘All of the artists who have grown up in London are the new voice of London and of Britain and are now much more relevant than pie and mash shops. They are a real celebration of what London is and while I can talk about my own city because I’ve grown up here I think the same thing is happening in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and many other places.’
Green’s images, also including Sir Mo Farah in an unguarded moment, reflect his approach of letting his often globally renowned subjects be themselves.
His spontaneous frame of a smoke-obscured Ryder was taken while he was shooting a commission for Channel 4 in Manchester earlier this year.
‘It’s humbling and flattering to be nominated for the Taylor Wessing prize alongside such talented photographers and to be endorsed by judges who are at the cutting edge of photography,’ Green says.
‘The picture of Shaun Ryder, who is an icon I have grown up with, was just one of those magical moments where you are there to take glossy, well-lit portraits and you have the chance to carve out a behind-the-scenes image of something a bit more down to earth.
‘It just happened spontaneously, he was joking and laughing and the vape just completely engulfed his head. We both laughed about it. He was such an amazing character who took time out to work with me, even as his cab was waiting.’
Sir Mo Farah looks at ease in the disarming presence of Jake Green (Picture: © Jake Green)
The photographer, who set up the Leyton of London creative production studio, is keen to open the drawbridge for newcomers to the industry, especially for those who face financial or cultural barriers.
‘We need to take opportunities like the Taylor Wessing prize to open the door to people who might not have the confidence or the financial security to become photographers and to have access to an enriching, satisfying career,’ he says.
‘The National Portrait Gallery is doing a great job, and I am doing whatever I can to create these opportunities, but it’s only just the start.
‘Institutions like the portrait gallery have a great influence and they need to take opportunities like the prize to really open up those doors. I have visions of the likes of Skepta, Kano and Lil Simz one day replacing the likes of Oliver Cromwell and Francis Drake.’
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Jake Green says the likes of Skepta and Lil Simz have become more British than pie and mash.