2014, the year of... the young british photographer

As a young person starting out in the creative industries, there’s never been a trickier time to go your own way. All over the world retinas are awash with other people’s pictures, other people’s pouts and other people’s ideas. When i-D first hit the...

by Sean Baker
Dec 15 2014, 10:10am

Photography Harley Weir

When it comes to cutting your own path in the creative industries confidence is key. For us Millennials, the first truly screen-based generation, the Photoshop filter gallery offers an easy path to creating a 'unique' image. A nip with the clone tool, a tuck with the fill bucket, a sepia hue to soften the skin and hey presto you have pixel-perfection 2.0. Despite all this technology at our fingertips, this year London has given rise to a class of whippersnappers, equipped with little more than a roll of film and a bucket-load of passion, once again celebrating the role of film. Young British photographers Harley Weir, Oliver Hadlee Pearch and Dexter Navy are forgoing the trappings of the digital age, leaving the airbrush on the shelf and using their cameras to capture a sense of reality, in all its glory. Whether shooting pals in their Notting Hill backyard, road-tripping around the US or filming music videos in the Scottish Highlands each one is amassing a portfolio of work that offers an unbridled, passion-charged view of the 21st century, imbued with a youthful freshness that feels exciting to watch develop. 

First stumbling through i-D's doors in 2011, Dexter Navy has Tumblr'd his way to tie-ins with the fashion and music industries' most exciting suppliers. Whether making videos for the likes of A$AP Rocky and Rainy Milo, flying around the world shooting his pals for Billionaire Boys Club campaigns or filling East London galleries with his work, Dexter always has his trusty compact camera by his side. But how did he get started? "I started putting a couple of pictures up on Tumblr and then I had all these people hitting me up!" he recalls. "Once I'd got 10,000 reblogs on one picture, it made me hungry to get my stuff all over the Internet."

Whilst his stage is the Internet, and his audience is a generation of digital natives, the cast that play out the action are his pals and Dexter's craft is in capturing their reality. "I like the idea of people experiencing a moment through my pictures and feeling like they were there for it," he explains. "This one kid on Tumblr described my photography as a 'Professional Kodak moment', and I love that." Whilst the musicians and movie stars that form the focus of his work tend to be much-hyped stars on the rise, Dexter tries to offer a different, more respectful insight than paparazzi crotch-shots and fly-on-the-wall TV series: "For me, it's always important that the subject likes the picture. I don't want anything to ever look fake or unnatural. The camera I use is very unobtrusive, it's the size of your iPhone but it takes amazing pictures. Shooting on film makes me concentrate and I'm always waiting for that moment."

Just like with many of his peers, it's the Internet where his success has struck. Where subculture once thrived in cities, now fanatical followings can flourish virtually. Whether it's the gritted teeth of an international rap star that catches eyes on Instagram or the digits of Tumblr-tapping tattoo obsessives, the combined population of social media users is bigger than any country in the world. If you're big on the worldwide web, you're big everywhere. That being said, London's gold-paved streets offer the best studio on the planet. Young photographers starting out today benefit from existing in an unconstrained creative community. Cutting their teeth, working with homegrown titles like Beat, Hot and Cool and Baron Magazine, whether shooting songstresses in their day-to-day get-up or teaming with stylists and calling in clothes fresh off the runway, every look snapped is a lesson learnt. And as they graduate onto magazines like i-D, still their aesthetic evolution continues with the readers sat front-row on their coming-of-age drama, watching each issue as they craft their visual identity.

This is certainly true for West London photographer, Oliver Hadlee Pearch. Making his i-D debut earlier this year, Ollie's infectious charm works its way from the sets that he shoots on to the photos he prints. "Everything around me is a reference," Ollie says. "My family, my friends, they can be my muses. It doesn't have to be a huge model who lives in New York, that I'll never see again. It can be my mum! If you want to be a photographer, your life becomes your work. Mark Lebon taught me that. Every aspect of his life, even his house, was literally built around his work." He continues: "I was working on a big shoot in Paris recently and for all the producers, art directors, and lights added, if you take it all away it's just you, the model and the feeling. I'm not saying I don't love the fashion stuff, but working with only a model reminds me how important the feeling is."

Harley Weir is the young, female photographer who's beautiful and sensual images have seen her shooting for the likes of Stella McCartney and Céline, as well as becoming an i-D regular. Using models who aren't models, suggestive props and extreme close-ups, her shoots with i-D Senior Fashion Editor Julia Sarr-Jamois have been some of our sexiest, fun and striking stories of this year. In an industry where the majority of fashion photographers are men, Harley's youth and gender have made her a unique voice of her generation. 

With eBay offering a host of point-and-shoot film cameras and the Internet awash with 'how-tos', how do young photographers like Ollie, Dexter and Harley make sure their voice is heard? "It's about having the confidence to search for a voice," Ollie says. "Taking a picture because it feels right and your instinct tells you to." Does he keep abreast of what his peers are doing? "Of course, you have to be conscious of what's going on around you but you can't become obsessed by it. In a world where there are so many references, you can't crowd your pictures with thousands and thousands of ideas. It's about having a freshness."

Fundamentally, it's a question of longevity. With the world more media hungry than ever before, and thumbs refreshing screens at a far more rapid rate than even the most seasoned magazine page flicker, is it realistic to expect people's interest in young talents' work to last? Ollie says yes, particularly when it comes to shooting for i-D. "i-D was so important to me as a kid, I want a teenager in Sheffield to open an issue, look at a picture I've done and be inspired. And then when he or she goes to fashion school in five years time I want it to be because she remembers that issue."

Naturally, the next challenge for these photographers is translating honest images into honest cash. In the heady days of the 90s, when no one knew how to spell austerity let alone take pictures of it, photographers made their money on big budget, brand-funded shoots. "The fact that there's not the money there once was is actually nice," Ollie confesses. "You can see this amazing Steven Meisel image, but you could never recreate it because there's not the budget. So it naturally tailors you to start with something smaller."

Much has been said about Generation Y falling between the cracks, suffering in the austere shadows of our parents or resigning ourselves to a reclusive life of microchips and virtual worlds, but we're here to pipe out a different tune.

i-D's class of 2014 is just the tip of the new wave of talent washing through the fashion industry. Each of them share an unwavering confidence in their perspective and want to have their voices heard. Remember, it's our world too and we want to have a little pride in it. After all life's not worth a damn 'till you can say, "I am, what I am"!


Text Sean Baker
Photography Harley Weir
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois

Harley Weir
oliver hadlee pearch