Arcades magazine shows the beauty and bustle of London suburbs

Wendy Huynh grew up in the suburbs of Paris. But even though her family home was a 30-minute train ride away from the centre of the capital, she felt far away from it all. This feeling of restlessness, mixed with a tad of youthful angst, is what shines through the subjects of her magazine Arcades.

The first issue profiled the suburbs of her home city, and the second saw her tubing all over the periphery of Greater London in search of interesting stories. From the Hasidic community in Stamford Hill, to a gang of 15 year old BMX riders in Waltham Cross, the magazine is a photography-driven celebration of the bountiful, varied and energetic suburban life. Days after the magazine’s launch party, I sat in the courtyard of Somerset House with Wendy (below) for a chat…


What is Arcades?
Arcades is a publication on the culture and life in the suburbs. It’s mainly a photography magazine, with a focus on documenting. It’s also presenting artists or designers that work around the theme of suburbs, or who are from the suburbs, through interviews and fashion editorials. Each issue will be focusing on one city in particular — the first issue was on Paris, and the second one on London.

Why did you want to make a magazine about the suburbs?
I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, and when I was young, I felt pretty close to the capital, but somehow quite far from everything. So it’s this love/hate relationship that I have with the suburbs that made me really want to talk about it. I think people also have this kind of cliché idea of how Paris suburbs are rough, that there are cars burning everywhere — the no-go zones that we talk about in the news. And because the suburbs are not like that at all (now, anyway, there were still riots in 2005) I really wanted to document and show with transparency what is happening right now.


It also shows younger generations currently growing up in the suburbs that there’s ‘beauty in their own backyards’…
Yeah, I’m really interested in youth culture. All the kids that I’ve been photographing and following don’t necessarily go to bookshops or look at magazines, or even just have their photos taken, and I think Arcades creates this excitement of having their portraits in a magazine. But we went to Canvey Island for this issue, and our contact there was a 70 year old man, so we also photograph older people.

Do you find that people are quite open to being photographed?
Usually I have the magazine with me, or I’ll just talk to the person. I mean, so far [laughs], I’ve been quite lucky because everyone’s been very enthusiastic. In the magazine, I’m not saying the suburbs are good, bad, or cool, I want to show with honesty what is happening, without really having a specific opinion. I think people also understand that — they know that you’re not going to photograph them because you have something bad to say, and I think it’s this trust that encourages people to say yes.

For me, going up to a stranger and just start talking to them is such a difficult thing to do…
Obviously there are some people who said no, but I think the rejection is also interesting. In London, having people who are really open-minded about being photographed shows an aspect of the city. As for people that are more reluctant, that’s also something to talk about.


What were your highlights from the issue?
I went to Waltham Cross and bumped into these kids (above), and I think it exactly defined what I wanted to represent in terms of the youth culture in the suburbs. That’s my favourite photo in the magazine. They were about 15, just hanging out, annoying everyone, being really loud, but then when I approached them, they suddenly became really shy. You know, they have their confidence in groups, and it’s pretty interesting to see this difference.


I loved this feature in Stamford Hill too (above)…
The photographer James Rees has been living there for a few years, so he went and documented the Purim festival. The Jewish community is pretty shy when you walk around Stamford Hill, if you ask them to take a portrait they would just not even respond, but during the festival they loved being photographed and would actually pose for you, wearing these crazy outfits.

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