Zed Nelson: Photographer and filmmaker on growing up in Hackney

Zed Nelson.

Zed Nelson. - Credit: Archant

Growing up in Hackney, Zed Nelson would complain about it becoming a hipster epicentre, but then he would catch his reflection in the window of a cafe and see himself with a flat white and his silver laptop.

Nelson, a photographer and filmmaker, seems to relate with both the traditional working class and the new influx of urban hipsters, the two contrasting worlds featuring in his recent documentary The Street.

Shot in Hoxton Street over four years, the film is a historical document of the "hyper-gentrification" of the area. Nelson says it gives a voice to people who are underrepresented, though is not overly political.

As a teenager, Nelson, now 54, got to experience the rough side of the borough in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"I went to a really s**t school, like, the worst. It's gone now thankfully," he said.

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He would leave education at 16 without formal qualifications and spent his time "just getting stoned and wasting time".

One of his friends was murdered and another was sent to prison for 15 years.

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Nelson worked hard to make up for list time and studied for a degree in photography.

Since then he has enjoyed a successful career, which included international awards for photo projects such as Gun Nation, a harrowing portrait of the gun culture in the US, and Love Me, a depiction of the global obsession with youth and beauty.

"At the start of my career I was naively idealistic," he said. "But then I got disillusioned with the possibility of being able to solve problems with photography and journalism."

For now, he keeps on working on projects he believes in, alongside work that pays the bills.

Was the film a passion project then?

"Anyone would be insane if they tried to make a documentary film for money,'' he says simply. "You have to have a level of obsession, to be addicted to a subject to do it."

The Street is out now.

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