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Community in Art - The Story of Richard Dixon

About a year and a half ago, I attended a photography talk in Shoreditch. In a small studio space underneath the Photobook Cafe, I listened to a talk by freelance photographer and founder of Aseptic Studios Richard Dixon, who also goes by the moniker “LostinTottenham”. He specialised in collage photography, but also had an impressive amount of portrait.

Listening to his story and what he was doing was fascinating to me, and something I wanted to learn more about. I’d just moved to London myself and the idea of working for myself, helping work within a community and have an arts-based job was all right up my street. I wanted to make contact with Richard, so that night I sent out a DM on Instagram. A short FaceTime the next day and then going to his studio in Tottenham to interview him by the end of the week, I had all the content I needed. 

And so that all sounds fantastic, what a fun little project to be getting on with - the only downside is I’ve sat on this for 14 months now and done nothing about it. Great work. 

In that time Aseptic Studios no longer exists and I haven’t really reached out to speak to Richard in that time other than for some photography tips. As a side-note, apologies Richard. 

A small amount of self-pity aside, I wanted to write this month about Richard’s story to becoming a professional photographer, the importance of maintaining a community within the art world and the relationship art has with education within the UK. Richard’s work has been fantastic in providing a space for young artists to explore their skills, connect with other like-minded individuals and produce great work to develop their careers, so I guarantee there will be plenty of nuggets of wisdom to take from reading this. 

Why Photography? 

Richard’s story begins in the 1990s in Tottenham, where he was born and raised. Richard confessed he wasn’t surrounded by art growing up, and wouldn’t have labelled himself “art-conscious,” but credits his beginnings in photography to his family’s interest in the matter.

My family has always been big on taking photos and my auntie has had some cool cameras around… I was in uni when I bought my first camera, or maybe sixth-form, and that’s when I started just taking pictures of everything.

It was one joy taking the photos and playing around with the equipment, but Richard said that most of the fun derived from where the photos would go, posting them to platforms like Tumblr and Instagram. 

Now of course this is where it all seemingly stemmed from, but Richard also had a big interest in music, which was just as strong as (if not stronger than) his interest in photography at the time. He talked to me about how he used to produce quite a bit growing up also. It’s still something he enjoys doing today, but obviously isn’t as involved as his photography.

When I started producing, it started with Hip Hop. That felt like the easiest thing to do. I’ve made loads of different kinds of things, nothing really in particular. Recently I’ve been making a lot more sort of house and that kind of stuff as of lately. My last stuff was house music, but I rarely ever release it. I never really got seriously into it like I did photography.

Richard still does his music, but much prefers more of the curation side of things, often in the capacity of being a DJ. He stated nowadays it’s something he prefers because he is taking the backseat and letting the musicians make the music. It’s his way of keeping that relationship and involvement in music, and often does work with local radio stations. Curating for radio shows is also a great way for him to use music to express himself, when we spoke he was about to go onto a local radio show to curate a set that answered to a specific theme, this was the kind of stuff he enjoyed more. 

It was interesting because Richard grew up at a time when music and photography really converged at quite a serious level. It still does today, but he noted this specifically with hip-hop, and how stars like A$AP Rocky, Kanye West and Rihanna were seen just as much as fashion icons as they were successful musicians. This blending together of form isn’t anything new now and wasn’t even new back then, but it’s easy to see how the two feed into each other, allowing Richard to build a love for both subjects simultaneously growing up. 

As mentioned earlier, Richard admitted himself that he wasn’t very “art-conscious” growing up. He described himself as more of sports and science guy, having graduated with a degree in bio-medical science before getting into and exploring the art-world. It was his job at the V&A that first introduced him.

I started working at the V&A in 2012 when the Olympics were on. It was just a summer job, and it was a sports kind of thing they were doing for the children… I would always go to these events at the V&A and work at these exhibitions. Being in that kind of space was so different for me. I started to like it and that’s when I got into art. Just by being in the environment; if I wasn’t getting paid back then I’m really not sure where I’d be now.

Through this job, he was put onto more, continuing to work exhibitions at the V&A and also getting the opportunity to work, explore and interact with other art spaces around London. He got to work at places like the Museum of Childhood, the Design Museum and even worked at pop-ups around the city. But one he really connected with was the Science Museum, where he thought all the best exhibitions were being held. 

That was really sort of me because of my science background, and that’s where science and art collided. There was one called “Blood.” That was a great exhibition, they had like 13 artists. The science gallery is the one to go to. They do much more new and really modern subjects.

This exposure was a game-changer for him, and exploring the art world in London proved to be incredibly inspirational and motivating for him. It was these environments and this kind of work that ultimately led him to want to take his next step towards curating his own shows. Soon enough, Richard curated his own show of six different artists that he put on in a space in Angel. 

Since then, I’ve seen he’s put plenty of other shows in his own studio space and other ones in and around Tottenham.

Either way Richard’s connection to the art-world and interest in photography and music led him to begin Aseptic Studios, a venture with a friend he met while studying at university, that would help build a creative community in London and create more art. This initially manifested in a small space in Limehouse, built in an L-Shape and intended for music production and photography. However, photography took over. It wasn’t the perfect space, the L-shape brought challenges relating to natural light, and the commute to Limehouse made going there from Tottenham a hassle. A move to a larger studio in Tottenham, with bigger windows and excellent views of the city meant easier logistics all around. Fantastic! 

Richard was now renting out his space for photographers and filmmakers and had a career made in the creative arts. It was even something he was able to take abroad: months prior to our chat he had travelled to New York and had taken portraits of the people walking around - it was reminiscent of the old Human’s of New York project that gained a lot of fame years ago. 

The Art World and Importance of Community

Knowing Richard’s upbringing and career in the art world, it’s obvious to see he places an incredible value in the role of a community for art. We talked about this in-depth, and what he found most pertinent about this subject was how the sense of community had really fluctuated in the past few years - primarily for one reason: The Lockdown. 

In lockdown the art community was just so enriched, so many people were spending money on each other’s art and supporting each other… People really looked to find artists, and people were selling for charity. There was just much more of a sense of community. That’s not so much of that around now things are back to normal, which is quite sad.

The irony became that enforced isolation meant people were communicating much more with each other and reaching out to support each other, through zoom of course. Maybe it was the slow-down of pace at the time, perhaps a universal feeling empathy and support, maybe it was just because no one was looking at a plethora of miserable faces while breathing in TFL sponsored filthy air since commutes didn’t exist. Either way, it proved a positive impact on the sense of community in the art world as a whole. 

Though this loneliness had shot up in the wake of lockdown, Richard spoke about the work he was doing to rebuild that sense of community through his studio and through a variety of different digital platforms that Aseptic would provide. 

People can ask us questions, we have group-chats and slack and ask questions, talk and work together. It makes people feel safer and confident to try things or bring healthy competition. Having people like-minded like you is always going to push you to be better. 

Being one man, Richard said he couldn’t speak for the whole art community, but observed that its importance was irrefutable to him. His work had seen him take-in a lot of start-up brands, university students and other amateur / semi-professional photographers come in and build great successes. Richard loved this. He loved the stories that would come out of the studio, he loved the work that was being produced there and beyond, he loved resharing all the content that came out of those who used his studio. Most of all, he enjoyed the fact that he was providing a place for these stories to begin. He noted that it can be easy to find studios that are bound by red-tape, high-costs and a high-level of professionalism, he was proud he was able to provide something for those who had the ambitions. 

One person we spoke about stood out from the rest of them: 

I saw this guy start again, he wanted to start again, begin a fresh instagram. He did this shoot here and I was like “Oh my God” this is some of the best work I’ve seen done here. I’ve only been here two years, and in less than that he’s started shooting in the US for all these big people. Just shows you how fast things can change. It inspires me. 

The community Richard had created wasn’t just for the people who got involved, it was for those who had created it themselves. Suddenly he found himself wanting to push his own skills, and be humbled by the people he brought in. It’s ability to enrich and add value to artists seemed boundless. 

One problem Richard was also able to provide through his work was a place to build a community for the visual artists, something he thought there was a lack of. Whereas with mediums like music, there are events like concerts for the like-minded to meet and mingle; for those interested in the visual arts, there are primarily cinemas and galleries, both of which are encouraging silence and hold a certain element of professionalism to them. Of course there are more types of events for these people, but they’re not as easily evident and perhaps not so easy to attend. 

One thing he was especially enthused about at that time was the idea of the mid-week event. People just off work, everything being quite relaxed, he said there was a special place in his heart for that. 

Ultimately though, Richard had a real passion for instilling that sense of community for people. It was something he enjoyed providing, and something to relish in the way it gave back. It definitely seemed to be the foundation on which he built his work on.

I enjoy the stories. It’s great, everyone’s so different / And making friends along the way. I have no direction really, but those are my north-star. Meeting people, seeing their work, the process, the end product and where it goes.

The Relationship Between Art and Education

Our discussions about art and the community naturally led to the government’s role within all this. It’s not hard to find a story where cuts have been made to arts departments in education, or subjects have been entirely scrapped in the interest of promoting science-based and role-specific subjects. 

Richard mentioned a friend of his who was a teacher teaching art, but her role within the school had to cover a multitude of disciplines that she wasn’t so well versed in. The answer the school provided was along the lines of “We can’t employ you if you can’t teach these subjects as well.” That summary of the state of arts place within education isn’t great, and it was something we took some time to look into. 

What we noted most pertinent above all was how the education system doesn’t seem to be a great place to instil a ‘self-starter’ attitude towards life after education. Richard believed we need to be taught to understand that things don’t need to be so “one-track.” 

An arts job seems impossible because you immediately ask “who is paying them?” It seems futile to try and develop a career in it because there is no standard path, and there’s no security in doing it. However, he did touch on the sense of hope that people get from the new digital environments that are ubiquitous to kids now. 

People are seeing ways outside of school, like YouTubers and content creators. But I wish there was more in school that said a normal job is not the only way.

Richard was actually providing work himself to bring this kind of attitude into schools; he told me that once a week he was going into schools and teaching kids how they could build a website or shoot content. It was a great way to show them that there are opportunities out there, creative jobs do exist and they can offer the security you would get by taking a standard path. 

It was definitely interesting when you gave consideration to Richard’s own background, a self-confessed “sports and science guy” who grew up to graduate with a degree in bio-medical science. He noted how, in that arena, being a self-starter seems basically impossible. To do so would first-of-all mean having all the funding to be able to have a laboratory. Very few have the money for that, instead, people go through the greater systems like the NHS and find their living through that. 

I’m not saying that to condemn taking that path, this is more just an acknowledgement that education within the United Kingdom doesn’t seem to encourage the idea that, if you wanted to build yourself a career based in the arts and entertainment, it’s entirely possible. 

Now of course, this is a subject that could be the foundation for huge debate, and it would be single-minded to say it’s just education that’s limiting someone’s ability to take a solo-career. But I agree with Richard that there definitely should be more space given to encourage those who want to work within the arts to be able to do so.

In that way, what Richard is doing both inside and outside of education is admirable and inspiring. If anyone was able to display how such a career path can provide with a life that is fulfilling and rewarding, it could definitely be him. We had just spent the last hour sitting in a studio he could call his own, about providing great guidance to those looking to build up their artistic talents and portfolio. Take that one education. (Funnily enough, I believe this was also during the brief chaotic reign Liz Truss).

Conclusions and Gratitudes

So there you have it, fourteen months of sitting on content and finally we have something to show for it. 

First and foremost gratitude goes to Richard for giving his time to let me speak with him for an hour. He had provided a very interesting talk through the Photography Foundation and I am grateful he let me bend his ear for a short while so that we could eventually produce some content on all things art. 

You can follow him to see his content and catch up with what he’s doing on Instagram: @Lostintottenham

Meanwhile, through this website I am continuing some creative pursuits of my own, now going freelance through the moniker “Yon-Created,” which you can read a lot more about by clicking through to this link. 

The aim is to revive the blog and talk more about the world of arts and culture. Since the last post, I have moved into London so will not be short of people to find and stories to tell. Stay tuned. 


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