We talk to local photographer Andrew Leo about the Postcode Project, his foray into a less commercial and more personal project, borne out of a love for his local area. Shooting moody, documentary style street photography of the people of his local Roman Road and Globe Town, photographer Andrew Leo captures a feel for the real Eastenders.
Far from the growing pockets of gentrification, East London and its old guard are still very much here. They’re selling fresh fish at the far end of Roman Road, sinking pints in the pub or pulling punches in the boxing club. Like Leo, you only need know where to look, to find them.
‘When I lived in Islington, I felt like no one from Islington lived there anymore. I was a banker surrounded by other bankers. That’s why I ended up moving to Bow. I love the people around here,’ says Leo.
Investment banking at Meryl Lynch at the time, he needed an outlet for his creativity, and so he began photographing his friends’ bands for fun. ‘I had a friend who’d studied photography and she pushed it with me – she started to explain about framing and how to take a straight picture – really standard stuff I didn’t even know,’ he says of his rudimentary photography training.
Then came an interest in lomography cameras. Leo quit his job at Meryl Lynch. ‘I hated banking enough and loved photography enough to know I’d made the right decision,’ says Leo of his choice to begin at the very bottom again, assisting at photography studios in 2006. His first paid photographic jobs were in the fashion world – creating commercial campaigns for the likes of Austin Reed.
‘The first time I saw my photos blown up on a big billboard in Oxford Circus, that felt like a big achievement for me,’ says Leo. One job begets another and so he has continued to work both on the commercial side, while also balancing his work with personal projects like his documentary style shots of the people of Bow.
‘After working as a banker, I try and not work at things I hate,’ he says of his need to strike a balance in his professional life. The Postcode Project came out of a need to photograph something personal. ‘I thought a lot about going away, documenting my travels, something like that – but one day, it just hit me – everything I was interested in photographing, all those extraordinary people, were on my doorstep.’
Having lived on Globe Road for 12 years, Leo realised it was his local patch of London ground and its tight community of people that was so inspiring. ‘Everyone here looks out for each other,’ he says. ‘There’s such a good history and the real people of Roman Road have stayed here.’ Photographing the old boys and the new faces of the area is what the Postcode Project is about – a visual log of the steadfast Roman Road lot.