Jeremy Gibbs (RomanyWG)

Jeremy Gibbs (RomanyWG)

By Arden de Raaij

Jeremy Gibbs aka Romanywg is one of  those people that his all over the place. In the punk era he started carrying a camera (busy on making a book on that) went on to be a film director, made custom vinyl toys and nowadays he has found his home in the urbex and street art scene. I think the only possible question can be: why didn’t we interview him before?

You’re everywhere! Film director, making a book, urbex/street art photographer, wife, kids, dog. How do you keep up with it all?
Well I’ve been in the fortunate/unfortunate position,(depending on how you look at it), of being unemployed for the past couple of years. What started off as deciding to take a year off to make a documentary about the Street Art scene has turned into another year of being unemployed. I need to back into work asap really.

You carried your camera around during the punk era (on which you’ve also got an amazing set on Flickr), can you tell us a bit about that time?
The Punk era was the best time of my life, although the Street Art and Urbex scenes are pretty much up there as well. Punk wasn’t just the music but an attitude. I was just the wrong side of 20 when Punk broke out and too old to start a band, (although I had lessons on the saxophone). So I just went to as many gigs as I could afford to and took pictures. Unfortunately none of my friends in London were into it at the time so I used to go along to these gigs by myself. The only place to start with was the Roxy Club, which had previously been a gay gangster club, on Neale Street in Covent Garden. The gigs would start around 10pm and finish after midnight and so I would catch the last train home back to suburbia and a few hours sleep before going back on the train to work.

I was a trainee producer at a leading Advertising Agency at the time but that didn’t last long as I was forever falling asleep on the job. All my money went on Punk. In the middle of, what is now Chinatown, there used to be a large open air market and a small record stall that sold Sniffin’ Glue and all the latest record releases. I used to go there daily and buy almost everything that had been released that week and take the record out of it’s sleeve and file the picture sleeves and keep them all mint and then make a cassette of the record and file the record away, much the same as people collect limited edition prints nowadays. Infact I think there are many analogies with Punk and Street Art. Starting with Banksy as the Sex Pistols and Steve Lazarides as Malcolm McClaren, the media manipulator.

What kind of camera(‘s) did you use back then?
I had just finished 3 years at Art College where photography was part of the coarse so I spent my first terms grant on a secondhand Pentax Spotmatic. It came with a 50mm lens but when I started to shoot the punk scene I invested in a 200mm lens where you could be 20 feet away from the band and still see their warts and all.

We read that you were in the middle of making a book with the photographs from the punk era. How is that coming along?
Early days yet but the original negatives are being scanned as I write.

You work as a film editor by daytime. What got you into this and what keeps you doing it?
Nepotism, my father was a great film editor, one of the best. He cut wonderful films like Performance, Walkabout, Rollerball, so many. I didn’t have so much talent/luck, but kept at it. Unfortunately you’re only as good as your last film and if you work on a film that makes money then you get all the offers. The biggest mistake I made was setting the style then getting the push off ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’. The film went on to make a packet and the editor that took over from me hasn’t stopped working. Another way to look at it would be that if I had finished the film I would probably be working 24/7 and would never have discovered Street Art and Urbex. I believe in fate, everything happens for a reason and I am happy with my life just as it is.

We found an amazing collection of custom qees and vinyl toys on your Flickr account, and in one interview we read “Well lets put it this way. I will still be making customs well into my 50’s.” But on your Flickr we read that you have quit making them. Why?
That was a joke in that I was 49 at the time of the interview, so I did make customs into my 50’s.
I felt that I had pushed the bar as far as I could and just didn’t have the time anymore. They all took a hell of a long time to make and in the end, if they sold, it worked out at less than minimum wage. Also, I really started to make them for my daughter Romany and she has plenty of them now.

How and when did your fascination with street art develop?
I happened to be walking past Santas Ghetto on Berwick Street in late 2005 and thought it looked interesting so had a wander round. I really liked a lot of the work in there and almost bought a Banksy Kate Moss ( I was told downstairs that it was £1500, went upstairs to buy one only to be told it was £2500, too much for me) but it gave me a feeling that this was a new and underground movement that was very interesting. As with Punk and now Urbex, subcultures have always been an interest to me. I saw a piece by James Cauty in Nude magazine of the Houses of Parliament being blown up and I searched and bought a print of that. That was the first of probably 150 prints of Cautys work I bought and then branched out more with other ‘street/urban artists’.

It’s almost unbelievable to read that you just upgraded to a dSLR in feb 2009, what made you decide to upgrade?
I was getting a lot of requests from artists wanting to use my photographs in upcoming books etc and finding out that the resolution wasn’t high enough. The photos looked fine on a computer but for print they wanted high res images and unfortunately they weren’t good enough. Now I have a decent camera no ones asked!

You became quite a master of the HDR technique in a short period. What do you find so appealing about it?
HDR is like marmite, you either like it or you don’t. There is a lot of snobbery about it still. People use photoshop and completely change the look of a shot, but turn their noses up at HDR as they think that the process makes the shot. HDR if used correctly, which is a learning process and I’m still learning, I think can look stunning. Especially for Urban Exploring not so much with Street Art. In Urbex it can really bring out the details in the decay and with good processing can really transform the shots. I love marmite and HDR.

Can you tell us a bit about the thrill of urbex?
I used to take pictures at Street Art shows, I still do a few but certainly not as many as I did last year, it just doesn’t excite me. I am more into the art on the street and if it’s illegal even better. I am more interested in the vandalism of painting or pasting a piece illegally on a wall for everyone to see. Unfortunately there’s not so much of that about anymore. Graffiti crews paint legal walls, street art has become more wheatpaste because it doesn’t take so long to put up. I can’t remember the last time I saw an illegal stencil on the streets and that is where my interest in Urbex came about. The first trip I took to Hellingly I saw a lot of street art/graffiti in this abandoned asylum that probably only a handful of people see each week and the writers/painters had gone to the trouble of finding a decent wall that suited their piece. I’m not saying all the pieces worked in that environment but when someone had taken the time to think about the space they really worked well. So we have vandalism and trespassing, I am breaking the law by being in there. I guess I’m just a kid at heart reliving my youth.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Who knows. Watch this space.