photographic index

ba digital photography london south bank university

Jessica Kril

alexa_portrait_72_jpeg.jpgclara_portrait_72_jpeg.jpgdiana_portrait_72_jpeg.jpg

Title: More Than Meets The Eye
Artist: Jessica Kril
Type: Inkjet photographic print
Date: 2007
Description: Girls who belong to subcultures that are not as visually obvious as others, photographed in Schwarmstedt and Dueshorn (Germany) . Images completed May 2007. Completed in May 2007. Made in response to Anita Corbin’s photographic series ‘Visible Girls’, girls subculture box held at the London South Bank University, London. A series of three images.
Subject: girls, subcultures
Measurements: 29.7 cm x 42 cm
Location: London South Bank University Digital Photography Dept
ID Number: PI-RGSB-JK0001-JK003
Licensing: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales, Jessica Kril, c/o London South Bank University, Digital Photography Course, UK

“More Than Meets the Eye”

Anita Corbin’s production “Visible Girls” (1981) was part of a photographic archive belonging to “Camerawork”, a London-based photographer’s gallery that operated from 1975 to 1998. Our assessment as a course was to digitise Anita’s work in preparation of uploading it to an online archive and become familiar with the topic to eventually recreate it to our own understanding. The aim of this project was not only to become familiar with females in the contemporary youth cultures of the 1980s but also to grasp the concept of archiving work and be able to contextualise and relate to it after more than 26 years since its creation. Anita’s work was created at a time of political campaigns when people became increasingly more interested in photography to convey their ideas. The aim of “Camerawork” was not only to make photography accessible to different urban groups but also to document inner processes; in this case the motivation of the girls to be part of these subcultures and the indexical relationship of the photographs to their self-chosen appearances.

The photographic series “Visible Girls”was stored in a box titled “Girls’ Subcultures” and it is also essential to understand Anita’s interest in visual appearances – “informal uniforms” – in relation to her previous project “Women in Uniforms”. The political subcontext of these images is also a key point: not only the visual description of the girls’ subcultures but also the interviews Anita held with some of the girls at their homes are essential to comprehend the project. By doing so, Anita did not only focus on the girls’ specific sub-cultures but also “appearances, group attachment, friends, magazines, the women’s movement, school/work/family” (Corbin, 1981), thus creating an in-depth characterisation of young women in the 1980s. For her project Anita decided to portray several types of girls from “rockabillies, mods, rude-girls and skinheads” to more loosely defined groups like “punk, futurist, soul-funk, soul, rasta and women around the women’s liberation movement”.

Seeing Anita’s work as as an archive is also an example of photography acting as a historic document: the physical appearance of her images being printed out and laminated is a very strong contrast to the modern age of digital photography and image manipulation. Being hard copies, the archive is very physical in its being whereas nowadays it is increasingly more common to archive and store images in digital format and to put them online: either on online photo-management and -sharing sites like for example Flickr.com or on personal blogs and webpages. It was a task to transfer Anita’s work to the digital format and still being aware of it’s context including the interviews. In the end, it was found that the most adequate approach to Anita’s work was not only to upload her images onto a Flickr-account which was created for this purpose but also to include her written introduction of her work and, most importantly, link back to a blog specifically created for this project: not only did it provide an introduction to Anita’s work, it also supplied the digitised audio-file of interviews with the girls and links to contemporary takes towards youth culture.

In order to be fully able to re-interpret Anita’s project in our own way, it was important to do some research on youth and underground cultures. When I started this project I had no concrete idea about subcultures apart from the obvious ones like goths, punks, emos, alternative/indie rockers and comparable groups of music influenced youth cultures. As all of these sub-cultures were easily identified I decided to start my research from that point. I wanted to look for strong portrayals of ‘non-mainstream’ women and immediately came across the work of Philip Warner, who under the pseudonym ‘Lithium picnic’ had shot numerous sets for the alternative soft porn community site “Suicide Girls” (http://www.SuicideGirls.com) until their fall out in November 2006.

Having known Warner’s work for some time prior to this project I already knew that he was focussing on models with tattoos, piercings or temporary modifications such as dyed hair or dreadlocks: women – or rather ‘girls’ as they are referred to on the SuicideGirls homepage – with obvious visual claims to their subculture being.
The term ‘suicide girl’ was coined by the author Chuck Palahniuk (Palahniuk, C. (2000) Survivor. New York: W. W. Norton & Company): SuicideGirls-founder Selena Mooney used it to describe the “social suicide” of girls who, by not adapting archetypes, “projected confidence and individualism, whose staunch refusal to conform equated to social suicide.”. Nevertheless, during this part of the research, my initial idea of how to portray strong and individual women changed: despite liking some of the pictures for their artistic and aesthetic merit, I found that the aspects of sub-cultures were lacking in subtlety and that due to the erotic nature of the pictures the strong theme of sexuality distracted a lot from the girls being different than non-alternative ones. My concept for my project underwent a complete change: I decided to portray girls who were ‘different’ but not very obviously so and in so doing I would set a contrast against the Suicide Girls and, more importantly, Anita’s “Visible Girls” collection.

Having decided on this, I chose three girls from my home in Germany: Alexa, Clara and Diana. By doing so I also wanted to show that what for most people is at least seemingly a dull life in the countryside can hold surprises. I wanted to show girls which visually would not differ a lot or at all from others but had their own special whims and fancies and I also felt the need to include a shot of their homes to the final pieces to give people an idea of the everyday life these girls live. I met up with the girls at their homes and I took the pictures whilst talking to them about their hobbies, plans and goals for the future and their current life. I did not want them to pose in a particular way but rather to act naturally as this was supposed to add to the feeling of the pictures – a visualisation of normality on the outside which would again provide a contrast to Anita’s distinct concept of positioning her models and cropping her pictures in a certain way.

Clara, as an example, does Live Action Role Play (LARP). I have known her for more than eight years and could basically trace this hobby back to its roots. Actively participating in LARP is a time-consuming hobby and whereas Clara did not take it that far, it can also become a lifestyle of its own. She has created her own personal in-game character, an Orc and has also put together the complete costume, armour and make-up – including wig, fake teeth and latex ears – for her appearance. Clara belongs to a group, her ‘clan’, with whom she regularly visits conventions. These clan-people form a tightly-knit bond which is also retained outside of the conventions – they share the same taste in music (mostly medival, medival rock or metal), dress in a rock-fashioned style and, as it is quite common with a collective hobby, constantly refer to their LARP adventures, mostly in the first person. Seeing Clara at school nobody would actually think of her running though the woods with green facepaint, fake teeth and a leather armour at the weekend and yet it is an part of her personality and defines her as the person she is, especially directly after conventions her behaviour can be a bit awkward for people who don’t know her.

Clara is only one example of how one can personify a certain genre of sub-culture; it is up to the individual how far to take it. Coming from this point, it is also important to question if subcultures equal ways of life and if those are the same as so-called lifestyles. This is something that can especially be observed in music-influenced scenes like indie/alternative rock or gothic: some people only like the particular style of fashion belonging to a subculture and wear it without listening to the music or behaving the way somebody from this group should and thus de-contextualising their image – this is a notion which the purists in the respective subcultures sometimes looks down on as ‘posers’.

In contrast to Anita’s portrayal of subcultures from 1981 one can definitely say that times have changed: whereas with her pictures the viewer was still able to point out mods or rockabilly girls it has become increasingly more difficult in doing so with more contemporary shots of young people. For example, Anita’s models’ sense of dress can also be considered as political statements of women’s liberation and their right to choose what they want to do with their life – an understanding of women’s rights that has become completely natural today; any woman in contemporary British society has got the same rights as men do.
Fashion has become a melting pot for countless cultural influences and thus made it more difficult to define subcultures by their looks; an example of the more diverse society Britain has become. Furthermore, fashions change as well as subcultures who are embodied by wearing them: when I viewed Anita’s collection for the first time I did not have any idea which girls belonged to which subculture – from an unknowing point of view one might even say that the only things which made them visually different from normal girls today was the definite recognition of their fashion being from the 1980s.

Using the Visual Girls archive and my reference works as a basis, I still find it hard to define subcultures: a lot of them are based on music and have got certain archetypes which people try to embody and some of them are so ‘underground’ that I have not even got an idea they exist. Some subcultures have become increasingly more accepted by society through fashion movements but does that automatically make them mainstream? Do people who emulate a particular style of fashion automatically try to pose as a member of this particular subculture or do they wear it because they genuinely like the style?

In conclusion there are still many questions open and many more will turn up as society and subsequently subcultures are in a constant flow of development and yet one statement can be made: subcultures are not necessarily about a certain style of appearance although it may play a significant role in the perception of certain individuals. Nevertheless, it is the attitudes and the things people actually do which make them belong to a certain subculture: not every subculture is about visual provocation and people are often more than meets the eye.
Bibliography and reference list:

Corbin, A. (1981) Visible Girls. At: http://flickr.com/photos/photographicindex/sets/72157594538834312/

Texts:
Bennett, A. (2000) Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, identity and place. London: Macmillan. (chapter 1 sociology of youth culture pp 17-33)
Garber, J. (1976) Girls and Subcultures In: Hall, S. and Jefferson, T. (1976) Resistance through Rituals. London: Hutchinson.
Mooney, S. (2004) Suicide Girls. Los Angeles: Feral House.

Films:
Gummo (1997) [film] directed by Harmony Korine. New York: Fine Line Features.
Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) [film] directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Distribution: UGC (France) and Miramax (New York).
Velvet Goldmine (1998) [film] directed by Todd Haynes. New York: Miramax.

Weblinks:
Apnea (2007) Apneatic. [online] http://apneatic.com/ (accessed 16th May 2007)
Celebi, Akif Hakan (2007) Hakan Photography. [online] http://hakanphotography.com/ (accessed 16th May 2007)
SuicideGirls (2007) SuicideGirls > Suicide SG Pin Up Girls – Tattooed Girls Goth Punk Emo Alt Girls [online] http://suicidegirls.com/ (accessed 16th May 2007)
SuicideGirls FAQ (2007) Q and A With Missy Suicide.[online] http://suicidegirls.com/press/faq/ (accessed 16th May 2007)
Warner, P. (2007) Lithium Picnic [online] http://www.lithiumpicnic.com (accessed 16th May 2007)

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