I have just got home after what was an extremely inspired talk at the Barbican Centre. Hosted by Magnum Photography, we were treated to three different perspectives on fashion and subculture. Talks were given by Magnum Photographer Chris Steele-Perkins, Curator of photography at the Museum of London Anna Sparham and award winning broadcaster Ekow Eshun.
Rather than give you a play by play account of what was said and who said it, I want to connect you to what I took away, the perspective it gave me and how I was left feeling inspired.
Most of the photographic content and dialogue documented times way before I was born. During a journey through the times of the Mods, Teddy boys, Skin Heads, Punks, it was clear that in generations gone by it was extremely apparent and easier to connect to social groups and sub cultures. It was cool to be identified within a certain unified identity. “This is us” rather than “this is me”. People had to earn their stripes to be considered in the gang, once they had done that they were part of the family, a letter within the DNA.
Whilst fascinating in Chris Steele-Perkins exceptional body of work, one thing kept repeating in my mind; “It’s not like how it used to be”.
Some may say I have no right to use such a cliché. But that was the power of the content, it made me feel like I was there. It was so true and well documented that it was a natural reaction to feel I could make such a statement of comparison.
By that statement what I mean is that subcultures are no longer as strong and distinguished as they were. Character, culture, fashion and the way we present ourselves is now often blurred. We are something of everything rather than cemented to one way of life. Our attitudes are fluid, as are our ideas and representations. I asked myself why? Why are we harder to identify?
My theory is that we have spent the last couple of decades promoting the era of the “individual”. You can be unique. You can be your own person. You can avoid being a sheep. What I believe this has created is a fear of being pigeon holed, a fear of being type cast and the fear of oneself being lost in a societal wilderness where nobody knows your name.
The irony is, that is exactly what has happened. This fluidity has made it so much harder to identify, that you end up merging into one mass group with nothing to pin point you.
We are all on social media, we are all taking selfies, we are all drinking some exotic based caffeine beverage and Instagramming our din dins. We are the jack of all yet the master of none. The capitalist individual has led us to the communist all for one and one for all and we haven’t even realised it. Okay, that last sentence may have being a tad extreme, and of course it would be ignorant to suggest subculture is completely a thing of the past, but it certainly isn’t as easy to find.
And this is where the inspiration as a photographer comes from. What I took away from tonight’s talk was a challenge. A challenge to dig deeper, look past the obvious and find those small communities and unified identities. For me I want to go out in the field, look past the monotonous Instagram feeds and Facebook drama. I want to get out into the world, where a photographer should be, and connect to how we communicate and identify with each other on a humanistic social scale.
One thing I would say, is that I am not opposed to fluidity. Why shouldn’t people be able to feel part of several social identities? But for me it has to have a purpose of personal progression, a way of searching for oneself, rather than a fear of being found.
It was a great talk tonight, all speakers did splendidly well. Magnum Photography managed to do what they have done for almost 70 years, deliver challenging, accurately documented, thought provoking content.
Now I am going to get my camera and get exploring. I can't wait to show you what I come back with.
Thanks for reading.
If you enjoy my articles, please subscribe by simply filling in the form below. You can also follow me on the social media platforms listed below.