Owen Harvey’s Skins and Suedes Shows Modern Attitudes To Subculture

All images by Owen Harvey. Used with permission.

“…with various approaches, in various locations, that’s when it can often feel it’s most interesting and genuine,” says Owen Harvey when speaking about creating his project. “These sort of situations are when I work most freely and just photograph what excites me…” A photographer who gravitates toward subculture and human behavior, Owen has excellently documented youth and identity in the UK. Immersing himself in the movement that is the Skins and Suedes, Owen’s series took him to a variety of social events and locations, from the beautiful Brighton beach to boozy weekends in Blackpool. Speaking to Owen it’s evident he has a deep understanding of the psychological element of documentary photography. He gets what makes people open up. He empathizes with them; he wants to understand. To portray who they are, he creates a space in which they can be themselves.

Phoblographer: Skins and Suedes is a movement best associated with the 60s/70s. What motivated you to take a look at the present day movement, rather than looking at the modern subcultures of today?

OH: My first interest came through three different things really. Firstly, being around people at school and my dad, they were interested in subculture. Then, through my experiences playing in a band for many years and finally seeing Ethan Russell images in Quadrophenia. I’m interested in not only subcultural groups though, but also how people hold on to their heritage and how their identity comes from that. I’m also often interested in subcultures that have had the time to go through many phases and Skinheads have definitely had that. With its style rooted in the far right, the gay scene and also the anti-fascist scene, as well as its original first wave, influenced by predominantly black culture.

“So many young people’s lives now are mainly led through their social interactions online rather than in the ‘real world’.”

Phoblographer: The movement goes beyond what they wear. But because this is 2019, did you feel your subjects were just dressing up or did you sense they had a deep connection with the culture they were representing?

OH: For various members involved with this wave of the subculture, I got the sense it meant different things. For some, it was a subculture they have become part of, that came from firstly an interest in music and then style etc. For some, it was something that had been picked up via the influence of their parents and for others it was more political. In all cases I felt that the people who were part of this scene were very serious about it.

Phoblographer: Can you take us through a typical day of shooting the series. What was your approach in order to get the kind of photographs you wanted?

OH: Different locations and different situations led to different approaches. For example, a weekend spent staying in a bed and breakfast in Blackpool, with lots of drinking etc. It created a different mood for what was a shoot secondary and primarily was a social occasion. By the third day, those you are photographing are relaxed with you being present and don’t really notice you as much as they would on the first day. In other situations, you may have much less time than that and in these cases, it’s about being more involved with the individual you’re photographing, picking a location quickly and getting what you want out of that person through direction. Like any person, my mood changes with each day, sometimes I feel like being more involved and more directional and on others, I feel a bit more quiet.

Phoblographer: What was your strategy in terms of finding willing subjects to participate in the series?

OH: Often I use social media platforms and because I’ve shot previous projects on subcultures there is an example of what I’m after and people understand this. For example my series of Lowriding in New York – Contact was made via a forum I found on the internet and I was able to send them my work on the skinhead and mod scenes respectively. This gave them a quick visual reference to understand what I do and that I’m invested in this.

“…the influx of people who express their body image through Instagram on ‘gym’ and ‘body gain’ accounts is a subculture in itself and I find that fascinating.”

Phoblographer: From your experience, do you feel today’s generation is lacking in distinctive identities and subcultures compared to years gone by?

OH: I think we are at an interesting stage, with identity in a broader sense. So many young people’s lives now are mainly led through their social interactions online rather than in the “real world”. I don’t think today’s generation is lacking in distinctive identities, but perhaps they aren’t on the street as much as they used to be. I think as technology is advancing, so are the ways that people are expressing themselves and it is more accessible to find those with mutual experiences and interests in this way, meaning the “event” is perhaps starting to become redundant in some people’s eyes.

Phoblographer: Are there any movements born in the last 10 years that excite you from a photographic perspective?

OH: Yes definitely, leading on from the above answer a lot of these online groupings of people fascinate me. For example, the influx of people who express their body image through Instagram on “gym” and “body gain” accounts is a subculture in itself and I find that fascinating. Also, there are so many individuals who are monetizing their own self-image and then doing sponsored posts etc. I find that very interesting and wonder where it will all go. Eventually, I feel everyone’s story will be told and monetized through a brand at some point. I guess movements and subcultures have become more valuable in a lot of senses, but probably not for the better or right reasons.

Phoblographer: Finally, what’s your focus for the rest of 2019?

OH: My aim is to continue taking pictures and documenting the time we live in. I want to keep adding to my growing body of work which focuses on identity, subculture and often masculinity and what that means today.

You can see more of Owen’s work by visiting his website.