Exploring and explaining the grime scene is Ellie Ramsden. The 23-year-old photographer’s project ‘Too Many Man’ investigates why the grime scene is so mostly male-dominated, told through the eyes of the disproportionate amount of women involved in the scene. Ellie uses images and interviews to “give the women a platform to share their thoughts and experiences of grime in their own words.”
Living in South London, Ellie has been photographing grime for years. She is currently spending her time on ‘Too Many Man’, working with the Royal Photographic Society on their ‘Hundred Heroines’ campaign, as well as doing freelance photography – “cuz the rent doesn’t pay itself!” Ain’t that the truth.
“I’ve been listening to grime for over a decade, but it didn’t really hit me that the women in the scene weren’t really being represented until about three years ago,” Ellie told us. “Growing up, I think a lot of people, including me, don’t ask the question ‘why?’ – I always thought the scene was just made up of male artists, DJs, radio presenters, etc. because that’s just what I saw. Of course, there were artists like Lioness and Shystie, but they were never in the spotlight in the same way Kano, Wiley and Dizzee were. I think the first solo freestyle I saw was an SBTV video from Lady Leshurr, and I remember thinking, ‘We need more of this!’”
Ellie has been photographing radio sets, live grime events, “and a few portraits here and there,” she tells me. The Grime Violinist was the first woman in the grime scene Ellie photographed, “During the shoot, I came up with the initial ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if I photographed the women of grime?’ Tanya ran with it saying it would be great, and so the idea sparked.”
“I’ve always been artistic,” says Ellie, she used to draw and paint growing up. Then, after seeing her brother and Dad snap away on family holidays, “I begged my parents for a camera, I was finally given a hand-me-down, and it just went from there. I used to take pictures of my friends at house parties during secondary school, then I ended up taking photography for the sixth form, and now I’ve just finished a degree in Editorial and Advertising Photography.”
However, what part does photography play in the grime scene, and in music in general? “I think photography plays the same role in all music scenes; it documents the artists, the fans, the atmosphere… I think photography is really important; it’s the reason we have visual documents of important moments in history. Without photographs, we wouldn’t know what the artists and fans looked like back in time. Obviously, we have video now, but I still think photography can capture a moment that sometimes video can’t.”
In a music industry where female singers are arguably, I think the technical term is, smashing it – why is grime struggling to find that girl power and gender equality? “I think there are many reasons for the underrepresentation of women in grime. Firstly, there are just more males in the scene hands down. Grime is seen as quite aggressive and therefore seen as a stereotypically more masculine genre; I think it takes a very strong-minded woman to decide she wants to be part of the scene. Secondly, men back their friends, but for some reason, women can be very competitive towards each other. A lot of the women that I’ve interviewed and I think this is because of the society we live in, and the things we’ve been taught growing up, but things are starting to change. Girls of Grime are paving the way for females working together in the scene. There are loads of other reasons, but you’ll have to read the book to find out…”
In encouraging more women to get involved in the grime scene, Ellie said, “I think we just need to encourage people just to be themselves, and the rest will follow.” When it comes to those male artists in grime, the established and the up-and-coming, they should be speaking up? “Of course! The men in the scene hold a lot of the power, whether that be organising who goes on radio sets, scheduling headliners at festivals, or playing tracks in the clubs. Of course, there are women in these positions too, but men are in the vast majority of these roles. Once the men start including the women in their sets and at shows, which is beginning to happen, they’ll start getting a lot more recognition.”
As ‘Too Many Man’ grew more, and more women wanted to be involved, Ellie questioned how she could present the work to a larger audience. “When I started interviewing everyone, I photographed, and they all had something valid and powerful to say, I decided the best platform for the work would be a book. It allows me to help tell the full story of these women.” Ellie’s upcoming book features over 35 female artists, DJs, radio presenters, as well as the women behind the scenes, such as videographers, journalists, and PRs.
There were a few standout moments throughout this project for Ellie – because of “good vibes and good people”. “The live shows and radio sets always have mad energy. I think my favourite set was Shagar’s birthday set on Mode FM; the room was full of drink, smoke, sweat and good vibes. I also loved the Yagga Yo all female cypher; it was the first all-female grime show I’d been to. Miz killed it all night. Another standout moment was when I first met Madders and Shan Brown, as soon as I stepped into their estate all I could hear was their music blasting. I sat in their living room stroking their cat, drinking tea, listening to grime – that was pretty funny.”
Ellie is hoping the ‘Too Many Man’ book will be out in the next couple of months. “It’s been a long process, but it’s a huge body of work, as well as being my first book, so I’m learning the process as I go.”
And lastly? “Grime is not dead.”
We need some more girls in grime, and Ellie is the photographer to showcase them.
Words by Eliza Frost