Bethnal Green is the beating heart of east London, a heart that’s been broken and repaired many times. Devastated during the Blitz, today it’s home to large sections of the capital’s fashion, art and finance industries. It boasts cultural diversity, where bohemians and bankers can all enjoy the jungle of nightlife and a cornucopia of shops, bars and restaurants.
Just off Brick Lane – between Balti houses and bass bins – we visit the apartment of Nick Offord, a unit inside a converted textile factory. A 24-year-old model, designer and street photographer, we spoke to Nick to glean insight into the life of a young Londoner living in one of the city’s most exciting neighbourhoods.
As he plunges a cafetiere, Nick explains how he came to model for names such as Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen:
Some friends and I were sat on the grass drinking beers in London Fields park, enjoying the summer sun, when suddenly out of nowhere a young lady said: “Oh my god, stand up – you’d be perfect for my agency.” I had no idea what she was on about. After a short, slightly awkward conversation, I agreed to go to her office the next day. She took some pictures in the studio and sent them over to a couple of brands. The next week I was in Milan, doing the Alexander McQueen presentation. And that was it. Before that I had never even considered being a model.
So you earn your crust on the catwalk?
I model mostly full-time. I’ve done all sorts of fashion shows and shoots that have sent me all over the world. Although, one of the highlights has got to be spending three days in Venice with Jürgen Teller, shooting for a Marc Jacobs campaign – that was a crazy weekend.
What are your other interests outside of fashion?
I graduated last year with a degree in graphic design, so since then I’ve been freelancing on the side between shoots. It’s a bit of a juggling act but as long as I have my laptop with me I can take my work wherever I go.
What kind of design are you producing?
I’ve worked on a lot of print-based stuff, and I like the branding side of things as well. Recently I’ve been working with a music producer called Faces, whose EP featuring my artwork should be dropping very soon.
At the moment I’ve got a lot of freedom, so I’m hoping to keep it that way. My life is somewhat unplanned as I’m usually waiting on shoots and call-backs. It can be pretty stressful being totally out of control of the modelling, so to have photography and graphic design to fall back on is reassuring.
There’s an artwork above an electric piano in the flat, seemingly sporadic letters that, in fact, spell out the well-worn Samuel Johnson quote: “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”
How’s London life treating you, any plans to move to other locations?
I take each day as it comes. If I don’t have shoot commitments next month I’m heading out to Nicaragua and Mexico. I’m going armed with cameras in the hope to take my photography portfolio to the next level and settle a long hankering to travel round Central America.
But I love the area I live in, and having lived in some really sketchy parts of London over the last seven years I know how lucky I am to live in such a diverse part of the city. Everyone gets along so well, it’s non-stop and there’s always something interesting happening.
There is constantly mad stuff happening on Brick Lane, recently there was an incident that involved a cyclist being knocked off his bike, getting up, and in retaliation throwing his bike through the windscreen of the driver responsible. I’m not going to lie; I laughed pretty hard as the cyclist sprinted off down the road without his bike.
There’s the obvious visual interest of a designer’s apartment on show, various photographs and prints, including a framed print of a BMX magazine page. The fish-eye lens makes the front wheel of the bike jump out.
You were big into BMX?
That was a skate park we built in an old cattle shed back in Devon. We constructed it from timber we ‘skimmed’ from outside various builders’ merchants. Layers of plywood, old pallets, and any scraps we could get our hands on. We called it ‘The Barn’, and for years we built it up and changed it around. RIDE BMX magazine came down on a couple of occasions to shoot us riding, I guess that’s where my love of bikes and photography all started.
On the shelf next to this are a number of things, including an Olympus XA2 point-and-shoot.
Tell us about the photography.
I’ve been taking my photography much more seriously recently. It’s a great thing to do whilst I’m modelling and travelling. It’s people that really interest me and I love documenting life. I go to Paris quite a lot for work, so that gives me an excuse to take plenty of photos. The compact nature of my XA2 means it’s pretty unobtrusive; great for street photography, great if you don’t want to be noticed. I was actually in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo attack. I was staying near Place de la République, and it was fascinating to see how things escalated so quickly. By 4pm everything had shut down, people were protesting en masse and the energy in the square that night was unreal.
Why shoot on 35mm film – that’s pretty old fashioned now, right?
Shooting on film is everything to me at the moment. It’s the colour, the mood and the atmosphere you get when you play with film. It’s not knowing exactly what you have until you develop. That suspense is so exciting for me. Even though it’s so easy these days to take amazing shots, even with your phone, there’s something about shooting on film that can’t be replaced with digital.