Coffee with Steve Mepsted, Programme Manager for Digital Media, Photography and Film

Steve Mepsted is no stranger to our community. Prior to his five years at our Waterloo Centre, he previously taught at Kensington & Chelsea College for 27 years. He is a practicing photographer, and is currently working on a series of still life images inspired by the Covid-19 lockdown. You can view ‘Isolation Still Life’ on his website.

We visited Oasis Centre Hub Coffee House on the Kennington Road, and enjoyed a latte and a chai.

When I was a kid my mum had a market stall on Portobello Road. She was a craftsperson; she made candles, and jewellery, and bags. We used to get the first train from Redbridge at 5 in the morning with trollies filled with candles and things, and set up a stall. I just got the bug.

I vowed that as soon as I could, I’d move to Portobello. So that’s really my touchstone in London. I’m very lucky now to live just off it as part of a housing cooperative which was set up in 1976. I had my first pint on Portobello Road age 14, when my mum considered me old enough. That pub’s my local nowadays.

I love being underneath the Westway– you can walk its whole length, just circling underneath all the traffic going above. It’s a rare space that’s been held in trust for the local community since 1971. So you have very strange little installations, and art events, an amazing history of music- particularly the punk era, with The Clash playing underneath. It’s still very vibrant under there.

I’m a wanderer, but I have a terrible sense of direction. I’m totally lost in London. Lost at speed. I get caught up in the currents and eddies of the city; they grab me and drag me off in directions that I didn’t intend to go. 

I love to wander down that graffiti tunnel off Lower Marsh; it’s one of London’s strangest spaces. It feels like an underworld space- somewhere that I’m really drawn to. It’s spooky, but I feel really comfortable down there. Maybe I was a tunnel dweller in a previous life. Maybe I was a mole.

The best thing about being a Londoner is the community– my local community, my friends, my colleagues. And you’re never short of anything to do. I run music nights in a pub in Fitzrovia- one of the oldest ‘proper’ pubs in London, The King & Queen. It’s been a music/folk club since 1958; Bob Dylan played his first ever UK gig in the room that I put music nights on in. I love the London music scene. You’re never out of touch.

I recently discovered a film site called MUBI– it’s a movie site that only shows a choice of 30 films at any one time.I like it as the films are not the usual fare- they are old classics, arthouse, forgotten gems and firm favourites. It’s more of a hand-picked, curated site than a vast endlessly scrolling library. 

Artists and art should be paid, and so often aren’t. With my students I have to instil a sense of worth.

I believe you’re a better teacher if you have your own practice. You can help people with the progress of their work, and frustrations. You’ve experienced those massive frustrations where you’re just banging your head against a wall, before realising you need to go bang your head against the other wall for a while. Sometimes that’s all it is- the relief of a different wall to bang your head against. That’s the creative process.

As a teacher, not knowing who you’re going to get in a class is brilliant. At Morley, you never know who you’ll get. You get a mixture of incredible, rich life experiences coming to your classes. I like working in institutions like this. Long may it live.

Life is a balance between being as creative as possible, work, and life. I’m enjoying my kids being grown up; I’m a double-grandfather now, known as Pops to my grandkids. As I’m getting older I realise those are the important things. The most important thing is the balance between all the things you’ve found yourself with- friends, favours for people, commercial work, creative time, the very real responsibilities of my post, my community, relationships- it’s all balance.

I have always enjoyed routine. Routine provides focus for me and, to be honest, the last few weeks working at home have been busier than usual! Transitioning 34 courses from studio and classroom based learning to a virtual environment has been challenging but I feel proud of my team- they have embraced the possibilities. 

I have been practicing some Yoga – badly.  It really helps physically and mentally,  when one’s normal exercise is restricted.  I try to build in some periods of rest when I may cook or work on my own photography for a while, or go out for a socially-distanced walk on Wormwood Scrubs! 

I do a family quiz night with my daughters through Zoom– it’s a good way to touch base and have a laugh with each other in a strange time. 

I have extra time to develop my own practice now. I’ve been working on some new images using my old film cameras and black and white film which I can process at home. It slows me down; it’s very relaxing and I can spend all day happily making just six photographs. I have been working on a series of still life images exploring the metaphorical content of objects around my home and testing how they may speak of the situation we find ourselves in. You can see the work I have been making on my website.