“I played music for a long time, I really loved the experience, but sometimes found it restricting working with individuals who weren’t necessarily as motivated as I was,” photographer Owen Harvey tells Clash, explaining his initial move into the practice.
“I still felt the need for a creative outlet, so I started to photograph more and more,” he continues, “I since haven’t really looked back or stopped taking images.”
Like Gavin Watson, Derek Ridgers and Anita Corbin before him, his lens focuses on British subcultures – predominantly groups of Mods and Skinheads: tomorrow the former will steal focus, as London’s Doomed Gallery hosts a pop-up exhibition and launch of a new zine celebrating his portraits from the contemporary Mod scene.
Borrowing its moniker from Lee Dorsey’s ‘People Gonna Talk’ – “there’s also a little series (in the project) of individuals whispering, so it just felt right” – the one night only show is accompanied by a talk from Harvey, in which he will further explore the subculture and its relevancy in 2016. We caught up with him for a preview.
What was your introduction to Mod?
My introduction to the whole Mod scene was at a very early age, whilst being introduced to bands by my dad – bands I loved were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple – and then I was introduced to The Who. After watching ‘Quadrophenia’ I was aware of the term Mod and had a very small idea of what it was about. Later a friend at school got into the whole subculture and stylistically stood out from the crowd; my interest really grew from there and I learnt more and more about the culture.
What attracted you to the scene as a photographic subject?
Initially it was the idea of being involved in something different I guess, and then I went to check out one of the nights. There was a great range of music played throughout the night on vinyl, people dancing like they were having the time of their lives, and everyone was dressed pin sharp. The first time I went to a night and experienced this, I honestly felt an incredible energy, I couldn't wait for the next one and knew I needed to document it.
Why do you think Mod fashion and culture is still so popular today?
I think perhaps people are attracted to being part of something that rejects mainstream culture in a way. The style can be timeless yet forward thinking, and you can meet people with similar tastes in music. For me, the subculture is made up of numerous things: style, scooters, music and then of course friendship, enthusiasm and enjoyment. All these attributes, in my mind, will always be popular and relevant.
And how do you think it’s remained so relevant?
It's timeless, so people can still pull off specific ‘Mod’ styles and look great, and the music is amazing to dance to. I also believe that currently, in a time when everything feels impersonal, with social media and high street fashion dominating, it's nice to have something that feels authentic.
For the show you’ve shot exclusively in black and white, what informed this decision?
Yes all the images are black and white, either shot on medium format or on 35mm film. I like that the current scene is influenced by late 50's and early 60's music and style, so I felt the images should play on this idea conceptually, and also have that timeless feel.
Your work takes you all over the country: Liverpool, Margate, Brighton, London… What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the scenes in each city?
In all honesty, I haven't noticed a lot of difference. All of those I've photographed have a strong knowledge of the subculture, they take great pride in their appearance and often have a strong love for scooters and music.
'People Gonna Talk' opens Tuesday 5th July; full event info here.