Dougie Wallace continues to push the boundaries of the social documentary genre with his latest body of work, expanding on the issues raised in his Bangla Town project, which documented the gentrification of an inner city community. Turning his attention to the consequences of the rising economic and political power of the 'one per cent', the result is Harrodsburg: an up-close wealth safari exploring the wildlife that inhabits the super-rich residential and retail district of Knightsbridge and Chelsea.
The project is a powerful, timely and stark exposé of the emergence of an ultra-affluent elite who have turned London into a global reserve currency, changing the face of our city, pricing out the upper middle class natives of Central London, excluding first times buyers from the city and marginalise old wealth from their time-honoured habitats.
While the UK's economy was stagnant in 2012, £83bn worth of property was purchased in London without financing. With one in ten purchases made through secretive offshore holding companies, London is now recognised a prime haven for, in the words of our Prime Minister, "plundered or laundered cash". Old communities are being uprooted and displaced, terraces and housing estates ripped out and replaced with overpriced wood and glass boxes. New enclaves of opulence are being created - Little Doha or Qataropolis - containing houses so resplendent that they render Buckingham Palace a bit shabby.
Kensington and Chelsea is the only area in the South East to buck the housing trend with 40% of properties empty. In a phenomenon dubbed ‘lights-out-London’, buy-to-leave absentee property owners are pushing up house prices without contributing to the local economy, adding insult to injury for the hundreds of thousands living in temporary accommodation or languishing on social housing waiting lists.
Through the prism of London’s lavish designer shops, resembling minimalist art installations, Dougie Wallace tells the story of glut, greed and the wealth gap playing out on the streets of a city which has seen a 400% rise in demand for food banks in the last year.
Harrodsburg, Wallace’s name for the area, which takes in Bromptom Road down to Sloane Square and up to The Ritz on Piccadilly, used to house London’s ‘posh’. But since the oil crisis of the mid-1970s, gulf millionaires began coming to Britain in larger numbers, settling first in Mayfair and later spreading to Knightsbridge. Joined by the Oligarchs and the Hedgies, this phenomenon has evolved into the various tribes of the global super-rich buying up London homes like they are gold bars, as assets to appreciate rather than as homes in which to live.
Eid Festival, or what has become known in luxury retail circles as the 'Ramadan Rush', is marked by the sudden and conspicuous influx of dozens of wealthy Arab royals and businessmen escaping the extreme summer heat of home. Flocking to their London residences with their air freighted million-pound-plus gold-plated Bugattis, some encrusted with Swarovski crystals, they infuriate the remaining long-term residents as they cruise around the area with their ceaseless noise pollution. Meanwhile their wives and daughters are weighed down with bling and shopping bags in the luxury retail spree that accompanies the season.
Employing his trademark wit and keen eye for the absurd, Wallace has produced an uncompromisingly revealing series of pictures which satire the super rich and their spending habits in uncomfortably intimate, gaudy detail.