Ich Bin: Valerie Phillips, photographer

The acclaimed NYC-born artist on gentrification, picking up chicken bones – and her favourite Kentish Town cafe

Valerie Phillips
Valerie Phillips: ‘The people who make this city such an interesting, inspiring place to live are being squeezed out.’ Photo: VP
Valerie Phillips grew up in NYC and spends most of her time taking pictures or directing. She likes “wandering around NW5 checking out the neighbourhood”. Her photographs have been described as “gritty, graphic and bullshit free”, and a portrait of Sienna Miller is in the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery. She has exhibited in New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, as well as publishing seven books. Most recent is ‘hi you are beautiful how are you’, a fourth collaboration with Swedish artist and sometime model Arvida Byström.

When were you happiest?
In the Mall Of America in Minneapolis, when I realised sometimes life does work out the way you want it to with who you want it to.

Where would you like to live?
Where we are now, in a former bakery from the mid 1800s – kind of like an open plan country cottage with ladders and loft beds and a flat roof for lying down watching the International Space Station whizz past overhead. Or at my friend Ingrid’s (another Kentish Town marvel).

What is your favourite sound or smell?
The coffee at Mario’s Cafe – sound and smell.

What is your greatest life achievement?
Meeting Monika, the girl I photographed for my first book.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
1. People are thinking something very different to you, even while sharing the exact the same experience.
2. Cherish your friends and look out for them always.
3. Don’t be an asshole if you can help it.

What is your earliest memory of the area?
Seeing PJ Harvey at the Bull and Gate. She wore jeans and big clumpy Dr Martens and her hair was scraped back in a ponytail. It was very loud and rough and stripped down. Gorgeous. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen. This was shortly before I photographed her for the first time, so perhaps early/mid 90s.

Artwork of Valerie's new book 'hi...'
Cover artwork for Valerie’s new book ‘hi…’
What makes you unhappy?
The mass gentrification of London at the expense of character, history, intelligence and individuality.
The people who make this city such an interesting, inspiring place to live are being squeezed out. Hideous, badly made, ill-thought out new builds, for spoiled rich students are blighting the landscape everywhere you look. Is this “progress”?

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
1. For people to pick up their fucking chicken bones if they insist on eating chicken while walking down the street. Which in my opinion, is the downfall of humanity.
2. A boxer puppy – rescued, preferably.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Some would say my constant swearing but I’ve been doing it since I was 12 and really love those words, childish as that may be.

What is your guilty pleasure?
An occasional filet-o-fish at McDonalds. Take away only!

Where do you hang out?
Mario’s Cafe, Kelly Street. Tennis courts, Parliament Hill. Costcutter, Gordon House Road.

Who or what do you hate and why?
I hate mayonnaise, summer, the odd asshole I’ve worked with in the past (you know who you are), Man United, wall-to-wall carpeting, getting up early, dresses/skirts, the countryside, people ripping off my work, ridiculously over priced charity shops, Wuthering Heights, reality TV, insects, most fashion photography.

What’s been your best experience here?
Walking around and looking at stuff with my guy in a random shower of cherry blossoms. Worst is school children en masse on the bus on class outings. Schools should provide separate transport for that kind of thing, instead of driving innocent unsuspecting public transport travellers insane.

Valerie simply loves hanging out at Mario's Cafe. Photo: Stephen Emms
Valerie simply loves hanging out at Mario’s Cafe. Photo: Stephen Emms
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Blue dye all over my hands constantly from having blue hair.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
When I was starting out as a photographer, this asshole PR told me he’d be doing me a bigger favour than I’d be doing him, by letting me photograph one of his shitty little bands.

What has your career taught you?
1. To be more hardcore and less compromising.
2. To create plenty of time and space for personal work.
3. To trust my instincts over opposing commentary or so-called advice.

What is your favourite dish and why?
A toasted fried egg sandwich and cappuccino at Mario’s. Delicious. And symbolic of reclaiming my weekends for doing exactly what I want, instead of working like a freak seven days a week, as per my former life. Seeing friends and listening to their hilarious dating escapades, reading papers, arguing about football. Bliss. As soon as Saturday is over I start looking forward to the next one.

What did you do today?
Stayed in bed. I have Tokyo jet lag (just launched my new book there). Watched Gunsmoke reruns, edited some images for my next book, drank several cups of tea from my Steven Gerrard mug.

Describe yourself as an animal.

This is box title
‘hi you are beautiful how are you’ is available here. For more info on Valerie head to her website.


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