Hackney – A Tale of Two Cities / Zed Nelson


Zed has lived in Hackney all his life.

A 16 year-old schoolgirl was recently killed by a gunshot fired through the window of a fast food restaurant in Hackney. The, gunman, riding a bicycle, was trying to scare a rival youth gang. On the same day an 18-year-old was shot in the leg in a street gun battle.

Hackney, though crime-ridden, poor and dilapidated, is also now London’s trendiest neighbourhood, and was home to the 2012 Olympics. Down the road from the shootings, contemporary design studios and modernist apartment blocks pepper the landscape, like out-of-place totems of middle-class gentrification.

The social landscape for an under-privileged teenager growing up in Hackney, one of London’s poorest boroughs, is a million light-years away from the new urban hipsters who frequent the cool bars and expensive cappuccino cafés springing up in the same streets. These worlds co-exist side-by-side but entirely separate, creating bizarre juxtapositions of wealth and poverty, aspiration and hopelessness.

As was seen in the riots that took place in London last year, an under-class generation with seemingly limited horizons and ambitions are increasingly dislocated from progressive society. As Hackney’s over-stretched police force attempt to combat gun and knife crime in the area – mainly the result of petty turf-wars between young gangs – this series reflects on the extraordinary contemporary social situation in the borough, where fashionable young hipsters, yuppie developments and organic cafés co-exist awkwardly with Hackney’s most under-privileged.

It was in Hackney Zed went to school, learnt to ride a bicycle, lost his virginity and took his first drugs. In his twenties Hackney represented a place to get away from. But today, Nelson has fallen back in love with the area. This series, a work in progress, meditates on the confusion of cultures, clash of identities and the beauty and ugliness that co-exist in the borough today.


About Zed

“The visual ‘language’ of my images is about integrity and connection with the subject. The images should feel ‘true’...real...genuine… Working with a good Art Director is a huge plus, paving the way for a creative and structured collaboration in the image-making process.”

Zed’s work is known and recognised around the world. Coming to prominence with the seminal ‘Gun Nation’, which won five major international photography prizes, he has consistently produced work that makes us reflect and wonder.

(To read more about Zed Nelson, see Who we are)