At the Subculture Archive in Carnaby Street, London, we caught up with photographer Owen Harvey. With the paint barely dry on the gallery walls, and the last black and white print only just hung we adjourned to a nearby café for tea.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 27 years old, I grew up in Watford, Hertfordshire, and I’ve been taking photographs for about 7 years now.
How did you become a photographer?
I had previously been playing in a rock band, did a few tours, played some festivals. It had got to a point where I wanted to do something different. I decided to go to college in part to avoid a routine “9 to 5” job. Photography seemed like a good option and though I didn’t know much about it I met some photographers who got me really excited. I knew I was hooked when my passion for it grew equal to my love of music.
You previously exhibited at the Punk London Group Show, had a solo show with your photos of Skinheads & Suedeheads, now Mod. Why are Youth Cultures such an attractive subject for you?
I get quite obsessive about things. As a kid I would play guitar for 6 or 7 hours a day but it wasn’t enough just to learn the tunes, I wanted to know as much as possible about the groups that made them. That lead me to delve deeper into things like politics and class, and to think about how these movements fitted in. These people have an energy, be it the clothes or the music, and I’m an excessive person so I appreciate that. Plus I’m just interested in people. I’m a nosey person. Photography is a passport into other people’s lives.
For this Mod UK show you chose to work entirely in Black & White. What is the reason for that?
This has been a long-term project, five years so far and it might go on five more. It’s got a special place in my heart. I’ve got very close to some of the subjects and they invest so much time and effort into their style. They understand the heritage, the roots in Fifties Jazz and Italian styling. I wanted these images to be timeless.
Have you reached any conclusions as to why people align themselves with Youth Cultures?
In the case of Mod I think it is looking like you own the world when your bank balance doesn’t necessarily reflect it. Understanding the value and the tradition of what you have.
Why do you think the Mod style in particular has endured?
Some of the young people I photograph now don’t consider themselves part of a revival. They spend so much time searching for the exact cloth or the exact haircut but they feel the whole point of Modernism is to adapt to the here and now. Plus the music, the nights, the people – modern fashion takes regularly cues from it. Mod is a fully formed style rather than just a passing fashion and that’s why it stands the test of time.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished photographing the Low Riders in America. It’s a subculture with big Mexican / Latino heritage so it seems very relevant at this time.
Owen Harvey: Mod UK is at The Subculture Archives, 3 Carnaby Street, London W1F 9QG, and runs until Thursday September 3rd.
If you can’t make it there you can find more of Owen’s work at www.owen-harvey.com