all the young punks: the eternal style of subculture

From Margate to Blackpool, Owen Harvey has traveled the country documenting the world of modern-day Mods and Skinheads.

by Giulia Mutti
12 April 2016, 2:35pm

In an age when social media has made everything instantly discoverable and accessible, it's easy for youth cultures to get played out -- especially when gentrification pushes them even further to the fringes. This doesn't mean subculture has disappeared or become something of a bygone era preserved only in museum exhibitions; subcultures still exist, still endure. While some might be pushing in new directions, there are those keeping the torch burning for the new age. Photogenic, hedonistic, and non-conforming, Mods and Skinheads never disappeared.

A sort of Derek Ridgers of the Millennial generation, London-based photographer Owen Harvey has made it his mission to document these thriving scenes today, capturing subcultures in London, Brighton, Blackpool, Liverpool, Margate. Despite looking as different as night and day, Mods and Skins find common ground in their visually dynamic portrayal of group belonging. To coincide with his show at the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery this month, we caught up with Owen to discuss subculture and creative influences.

What drew you to the subject of subculture and what are your general interests as a photographer?
It was a natural progression, as I used to be in a band and music is such a strong part of subculture. I always liked Mods and Skinheads as [these tribes] had a lot of great attributes -- pride, community, style, music and heritage. I've always been interested in the idea of human behavior and identity.

How did you get connected to your subjects?
I knew someone from school who was into the Mod scene and I thought it was interesting. I went down and got hooked instantly. The first time you go to a Mod night it's an amazing experience even to witness as an outsider; people are dancing -- really properly dancing -- till 6am.

The Skinhead work was a little different, as I was originally asked to photograph a Skinhead event for Fred Perry. I spent the first day drinking with them and getting to know a small group of them, they've become my friends now. The inspiration kept coming through the people I was photographing. They all had a strong sense of energy that attracted me. Energy is contagious, whether it is channeled through dancing, clothing, or a positive mentality.

The Skinhead movement tends to be associated with some negative things. What was your experience like?
I haven't found any challenges personally, they have been some of the friendliest and most open people I've met. Sometimes I'll get people making uneducated statements about the people in my images, but it usually leads to a positive outcome when they learn about the heritage of the subculture.

What are you most interested in capturing in your portraits?
The faces, tailoring, and style of those involved in the scene; I hope [the photographs] reflect the character of these individuals.

Your Skinheads portraits are quite intimate.
I have spent time in closer environments with some of the Skinheads, staying the weekend, sharing a room, etc. Perhaps that's why some of the images come across as more intimate, but that's just down to the way the project has evolved.

Where did you find your best subjects?
London, Brighton, Blackpool, Liverpool, Margate and other places around England. I'd say some of the smartest Mods are often in London; the Skinhead scene is more spread out, so it's difficult to say.

What are you hoping to achieve with your work?
I hope to document both subcultures thoroughly. I feel it's important to document these subcultures now; modern culture is changing quickly and more young people live their lives through technology. There's no specific message as such, but the images are a celebration and I'd hope that's evident.


Text Giulia Mutti
Photography Owen Harvey

Owen Harvey