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Zine-maker Wedgley Snipes talks street photography, the Bow Food Bank, and a load of hot air

Welcome to the whimsical world of Wedgley Snipes, hand-dryer reviewer extraordinaire and un-official photographer of Roman Road.

Wedgley Snipes is likely one of the world’s leading experts on hand dryers. It was when he discovered the Facebook Group ‘People who appreciate high-quality hand dryers’ that his six year love affair began. 

Proudly showing us his first purchase, a 1920s Handy Andy – which is sometimes used to bring a little warmth to his Fish Island warehouse bedroom – Snipes found their combination of utility, style and warmth enthralling. 

Now on its fourth issue, The South London Review of Hand Dryers is at first glance, a parody of The London Review of books, but take another look at it and it doesn’t seem so silly. We all have our niches, our quirky passions, and for Snipes this is genuinely hand dryers, which he has turned into a gleeful excuse for creativity and community.

‘It’s a shame that P+L Systems is tucked away in the toilets of a west London snack house. I think he deserves a place out front serving customers or keeping out the rabble rousers,’ reads one review in the March 2019 issue. 

Having made his name in hand dryers, Snipes (whose real name is Robert Whitehead) set up his own publishing house – or should that be warehouse? – Super Wedge Press to enable further publishing ventures. For anyone unaware, a zine is a derivative of a magazine, usually produced by one individual or a small group on a niche topic. 

Spending the past year on furlough from his job in a cafe at an advertising agency, Snipes has hunted for projects to make use of the time. Alongside his housemates, they formed a band ‘The Furlows,’ whose original tunes include ‘Dishi Rishi’, ‘The vaccine’ and ‘Good money.’ He branched out into a special one-off pandemic edition reviewing hand sanitisers, a shameless ‘COVID cash grab’. 

He also picked up a camera and started playing around with framing, angles and portraiture, always stopping to take some snaps when off down The Roman to pick up groceries, or during a spot of daily government-sanctioned fresh air. 

Market organiser Jesse sits smoking a cigarette on Roman Road
Jesse, shot during his second favourite part of the day – break time. His favourite is ‘the end.’ Photo by Wedgley Snipes

At a time during the pandemic when many people were just ‘desperate to chat,’ Snipes found himself snapping away at anyone who would let him, and so his next project was born: ‘A photo zine of Roman Road’. 

Snipes found that it wasn’t always obvious who would allow him to take their photograph. ‘A lot of people who you’d think would be really up for having their photo taken – super fashionable people – really wouldn’t be up for it. And then there’s a chap who is missing an arm and he was like “absolutely!”’ 

The zine is divided into sections: firstly the market; then masked shoppers, to document the ‘specific and strange and not at all fun time’ in which the project occurred; then bikes and bike culture; next it’s pets, and of course, Chris Kimberly and his dog Skye make an appearance, and lastly the colourful characters that make this area what it is. 

The result is an honest record of Roman Road at this momentous time in history, having buckled down and got on with it during the global pandemic. It shows the ordinary, urbane lives of people ploughing on, having a cigarette break, collecting groceries, or catching some gossip. The unposed photos are unguarded and open, with a real sense of candour. 

One of Snipes favourite people in the zine is Jesse, who educated Snipes on the workings of the market and East London life. ‘When Jesse found out I was doing a photo project on Roman Road he insisted I spend some time with him. Not a bad offer when you consider how friendly and funny he is,’ says Snipes, ‘and he proper loved having his photo taken.’

Snipes has designed the cover of the Roman Road zine to look like a Monopoly board location, and has dreams of hyper-local zines popping up all over London to expand on the theme. Up next for Snipes is Fish Island, then Old Ford Road. He hopes that other amateur (or professional) photographers get in touch to document their street or area. 

‘I just want to create a community… I want other people to have the experience I had, a positive thing, to get to know your local area!’

Cheeky Cockney Chris Kimberley rides his mobility scooter down Roman Road with his dog Skye on his lap.
Cheeky Cockney Chris Kimberley rides his mobility scooter down Roman Road with his dog Skye on his lap. Photo by Wedgley Snipes

As Snipes cosied up with his local area through photography, he found himself wanting to get more and more involved in its goings-on. After reading in the news about many Londoners’ increasing reliance on food banks, he started volunteering at Bow Food Bank, packing bags of food for collection. 

‘The people that work there are just heroes, it must be very stressful running it, but Lynn who runs it is incredible,’ he says. All of the proceeds from Snipes’ Roman Road zine are going to the food bank, and at only £6, this is a bargain. 

Like many young people who migrate from elsewhere East London, it can be hard to find your place in this melting pot of people and cultures. But for Snipes, the pandemic forced him to become hyper-local, and through his photography project, he joined the Roman Road community. His Roman Road photo zine is his own contribution back to the community that helped him develop his skills and passions this past year. 

Shipes’ photos of everyday East Enders have been selected to join a host of other photographers’ work in the exhibition Roman Road stories, running from 8 to 19 June. The photos of both the rich past and buzzing present of this area will be displayed in 14 shop windows from 33 – 353 Roman Road, alongside a showcase at Four Corners Gallery.

So if you’d like to get involved with photographing your area, would like to purchase a copy of the zine, or even have a hand dryer worth reviewing, get in touch with Wedgley Snipes, Roman Road’s own touch of whimsy.

If you enjoyed this, take a look at our piece on the women behind Fear Naut magazine, for women who barge.

A woman sows off her long, brightly coloured nails outside a salon on Roman Road
Katie outside Thompson’s DIY store. Photo by Wedgley Snipes
A man sits with his shows off next to the Bacton Street sign
A man sits, shoes off, on Bacton Street. Photo by Wedgley Snipes
Two men bump elbows while smoking cigarettes outside The Albert pub
Elbow bumps abound on Roman Road. Photo by Wedgley Snipes
A man with one arm stands outside a corner shop near to Roman Road
A man pauses after picking up groceries from a corner store. Photo by Wedgley Snipes
Artist Wedgley Snipes standing next to a vintage hand dryer.
Wedgley Snipes next to his pride and joy, a 1920’s Handy Andy hand dryer. Photo by Tabitha Stapely © Social Streets

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