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Words Joe Magowan

Photography Nico Froehlich


Sponsored by MPB

South of the River

Nico Froehlich captures his home turf of south east London in his ongoing, long term project South of the River. Using a mixture of documentary style realism and poetic surrealism, Froehlich celebrates the things he used to try to ignore when he was growing up. As gentrification continues its steady march across the capital, Froehlich shines a light on the working class community of an area in constant flux.

How do you think being a child of immigrants has shaped your view and perspective of South East London? And how does this translate to your imagery?

I was exposed to a lot of diversity, in various forms, growing up. My mother did a lot of things very differently and due to my desire of wanting to fit in, I would get embarrassed by a lot of the cultural and idiosyncratic differences. As an adult and a photographer, I find myself drawn to a lot of the things I obscured and hid as a youngster as a way of celebrating the richness of variety.

How have you seen south east London develop and change over the years? How does it differ from the south east London you first moved to as a child? Has gentrification changed it all for the worse or has it brought some benefits as well as hardships to the local community?

I am no expert when it comes to the effects of gentrification, but I can observe and listen and I have noticed a few things. There’s no doubt that some of these changes are needed, but from what I can see it’s more about profiteering. Most of the changes brought on by the developers have proven to be detrimental to many of the disadvantaged, and unfair to all individuals and communities who are pushed out of areas they have lived in for generations. I wish some of these well-to-do people moving into all these trendy and historically less affluent areas develop an awareness and realise that going to the same coffee shop every day and not developing a relationship with the local community and businesses that have been there for years has a real effect on the social landscape of the area.

South of the River ©Nico Froehlich
South of the River ©Nico Froehlich

Do you have any ideas on how cities like London can continue to grow and develop in a sustainable way that doesn’t harm their working class communities?

Ensuring affordable housing for all as London continues to develop! Most of the current changes are not sustainable for working class communities and the disadvantaged. The city is increasingly becoming a playground for the wealthy with swimming pools in the sky.

From my own experience of living in south east London, I’ve always felt that it seems to dig its heels in that little bit harder against the sweeping tides of gentrification than other areas of London. Is this something you’ve experienced yourself, and if so, why do you think this might be?

There’s local resistance to new developments all over London. I don’t think there is more resistance in south east London specifically. South east London is going through immense change now. In the past, there was less investment or property development in the area compared to other parts of London because we always lacked transport infrastructure, but that has all changed and is still changing. There was a heartwarming case of local resistance recently in Rotherhithe where the community got together and won their right to fair relocation. There’s a local group working to build the community in Rotherhithe called Plush SE16 which I recommend searching for as an example.

South of the River ©Nico Froehlich
South of the River ©Nico Froehlich

Your colour palette gives me a feeling of homely warmth when I look through your images. Was this intentional or something that came out naturally as you shot and processed your images?

I think it just naturally occurred. I didn’t pay too much attention to the various colour palettes I was drawn to. There’s definitely more consideration and intention now, even with the technical aspects. A large part of my project is conveying the area’s warmth, and for me it certainly is home.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your process and how you made the images for the series?

I spend a lot of time cycling and walking around large chunks of south east London. In a way, I am constantly scouting, but I am also on the lookout for chance encounter moments and building relationships with various people and businesses around the area. I only take photos if I feel like it is absolutely necessary. I use a Pentax 67 and 120 film and as you know, it is not cheap, but I like that. It forces me to work hard and be extremely selective, sometimes restrictions can be liberating.

South of the River ©Nico Froehlich

Your series contains a mixture of street photography style exteriors and more intimate interiors. What’s your connection to these interiors and who are the people that inhabit them?

The interiors are a mixture of shops, businesses, and communal and private living spaces. They are and were inhabited by people; strangers, friends and family, who live or have lived in south east London.

You have a multi-pronged approach that includes a classic style of social realism and a less traditional point of view that borders on the surreal. What led you to employing this mix of styles and do you actively seek out symbolism in your work?

Various sub-genres of street photography have influenced me, from surrealism to naturalism. Initially, it was mostly experimental, but certain approaches have become intentional. Subtle symbolism, when combined with naturalism, softly hints at certain observations and sometimes incomplete thoughts, while adding another layer of storytelling that can be interpreted in numerous ways.

South of the River ©Nico Froehlich
South of the River ©Nico Froehlich

The portrait of the woman with the headscarf in the kitchen has a more intimate feel than the other photos. What is your connection to this woman?

The portrait of the woman with the headscarf is my mother in her humble kitchen.

South of the River ©Nico Froehlich
South of the River ©Nico Froehlich

How do you plan to keep developing this work and how do you think you’ll present it in the future?

I don’t have a detailed plan as such. I will continue the project for at least another ten, possibly even twenty years, and keep myself open to whatever direction it may take me. I think I will stop once south east London becomes virtually unrecognisable in the not so distant future. I will eventually exhibit the project and publish a photobook, but that is far off yet.

Joe Magowan

Joe is a Northern Irish photographer based in London. He’s fascinated with subcultures, individuals who live outside the status quo, and the different forms of escapism people turn to in unaccepting societies. His work has been published in Dazed, Vice, Notion, Rolling Stone, Hunger and The Guardian.

Nico Froehlich

Nico is a British photographer born, raised and residing in South East London. Being both British and a second-generation immigrant, his work champions diversity and inclusivity, with a particular focus on social realism and working-class life.

Sponsored by MPB

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Sustainability permeates every aspect of our lives and is now a necessity, not a choice. Human innovation, determination and persistence is more important than ever and will ultimately decide the fate of our planet. In this issue, through photography and writing we explore insect-based protein, space colonisation, childfree people, the importance of payphones, the world’s largest blanket bog, support for artists, sustainable photobooks and Universal Basic Income.

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