Interested in issues of youth, individual identity and social groups, British photographer Owen Harvey has travelled the country documenting contemporary versions of subcultures that go back to the middle of twentieth century. In his projects “Mod UK” and “Skins and Suedes” – shot across London, Brighton, Blackpool, Liverpool, Margate and other places in England – Owen shows how certain fashions and convictions have both evolved and remained the same over the decades.
Mod is a subculture that began around 1958 and was associated with tailor-made suits, motor scooters and all-night dancing at clubs. Owen explains, “Through the years, Mod has seen many variations to its original style. From the influence of Italian Jazz music through to the fashion influence of bands such as ‘The Who’ and the Vespa and Lambretta, Mod is still very prevalent. Initially, as a photographer, I was visually attracted to the style of this interesting subculture. Then I become interested in its socioeconomics after I saw it described as ‘Clean living under difficult circumstances.’ I wanted to document this subculture in the UK as it currently exists.
“I have become very interested in what the term Mod actually represents. It is short hand for modernist, which would indicate something new and exciting, although this subculture is based on something that first existed in the late 1950’s. Due to this the images try to hold a timeless quality to them, with no real indications to a time period in which they were made.”
“Skinhead” is a term that carries plenty of negative connotations today – fascism, racism, the far right, aggressive nationalism. But these are unfortunate corruptions. The original subculture of shaven heads, jeans, shirts, Doc Martens boots grew out of social alienation and class solidarity.
“Skinhead subculture has a long and complex history,” the photographer continues. “The subculture drew influence from the earlier Mod style and originally had the music of Jamaican musicians in the 60’s as its soundtrack. Those involved in the subculture had a sense of working class pride and these attributes were often recognised in the white and black youth, who grew up across England. The skinhead style was often seen as an aggressive way of presenting yourself by the media, with short hair, rolled up jeans and footwear often referred to as ‘bovver boots’.
“The distinct skinhead look went on to be adopted by Neo-Nazis and various other racist groups and many original skinheads felt it was time to abandon their style, due to association. Some true skinheads refused to give up their style though and this caused a divide within the subculture of those with different political stances. As an outsider of the subculture, I decided to photograph young men and woman within the current scene, in order to try and learn what it means to be a skinhead in the present day.”
Owen is influenced by both photographers and filmmakers, among them the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Danny Lyon, Larry Clark and Alessandra Sanguinetti. His clients include the BBC, Time, Financial Times, GQ and Sony Music. Owen’s personal projects have been exhibited internationally at venues like The Photographers’ Gallery, Royal Albert Hall and Photoville NYC.
“The subculture thing I really love,” he says on his practice, “but it’s more about photographing people. It sounds super cheesy, but it’s about an exchange with someone. I’ve made really good friendships with people from taking photos, people that I never knew before. That’s really what I get from photography, it’s always been a super positive thing. My thing is people. I think it’s actually quite rare to find people who actually like dealing with people, a lot of people keep themselves to themselves, but I really really enjoy just dealing with people, and meeting people and photographing people, to me that is the best part of that, really.”
Images used with permission.
SKINS AND SUEDES