photographic index

ba digital photography london south bank university

Lee Slaymaker

Title: New Media Baby
Artist: Lee Slaymaker
Type: Inkjet Photographic Print
Date: May 2007
Description: An exploration of new media’s affect on contemporary subcultures, and a study in the rise of Pop Cosmopolitanism. Image completed April 2007. Made in response to Anita Corbin’s photographic series ‘Visible Girls’, Girls Subcultures box held at the London South Bank University, London. A series of 6 images.
Subject: girls, cosplay, pop cosmopolitanism, drag, subcultures, new media
Measurements: 29.7x41cm
Location: London South Bank University Digital Photography Dept
ID Number: PI-RGSB-LS001-LS006
Licensing: You have selected the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License, Lee Slaymaker c/o London South Bank University, Digital Photography Course, UK

Reinterpretation of Visible Girls: New Media Baby.

When I first saw the archive ‘Invisible Girls’, produced by Anita Corbin, I was immediately struck by how it created an image, not just of the girls, but also of the era they were raised in. For me the archive was as much about social attitudes at the time as it was about the girls themselves. For after all, the idea behind the project was that these girls felt they had no voice in their own society, and as such established who they were through the subcultures they belonged to. Their subculture was very much a part of their personality and represented not just who they were, but also the area they grew up in and the people who had influenced them. In the book ‘The language of youth cultures’ it is states that:

“Youth cultures are seen as the product or epitome of social change, or a barometer of future changes” (Widdicombe and Wooffitt, 1995: 7)

I am hoping to see whether this applies to modern day subcultures, as it seemingly did to the girls in Anita Corbin’s work. In the Visible Girls archive one theme that was particularly prevalent was the idea that music was a major factor in the development of subcultures. With this project I am going to show how the rise of new media has lead to a whole new developmental method for subcultures, whereby globalisation and technical convergence are becoming as essential to developing a social identity as music is. To do this I shall be focussing on one young woman, Alex Saunders, and how she is affected by the influences in her life and the media she consumes. Alex is a fashion student studying in London, as well as an avid digital painter, and as such draws on many sources for research purposes for her work.

Within his book ‘Fans, Bloggers and Gamers’, Henry Jenkins discusses how media can affect how people perceive themselves, as well as other cultures. He talks about the idea of ‘Pop Cosmopolitanism’ which he defines as:

“…the ways that transcultural flows of popular culture inspires new forms of global consciousness and cultural competency” (Jenkins, 2006: 156)

He states that due to international multiculturalism, and global convergence, many people are becoming aware of alternative media to that which is available to them in their country of origin, and through this consumption, and subsequent assimilation, of other cultures, people are looking for an escape from isolationism, a chance to “enter a sphere of cultural experience” (Jenkins, 2006: 155). He states that by doing so people are trying to “escape the gravitational pull of their local communities” (Jenkins, 2006: 155), they are trying to rebel. As was the case in the Invisible Girls archive, the pop cosmopolitanists are trying to break away from the norm and find some way of expressing their individuality. In a world where everyone now has a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions, thanks to the internet, people are looking to find some new way of expressing who they are. This is much the case with Alex who has, based upon influences and events in her life, several characters that she ‘acts out’ through both her clothes and manner, on a day to day basis. Each character represents a different aspect of her personality, and as such her characters are constantly changing, as time progresses some characters become obsolete and are seen less and less, whilst new ones are created to replace them. This is very similar to the Japanese craze of cosplay.

A trend that first started in Japan, cosplay (costume play) is the act of dressing up as your favourite anime, film, or games character. Participants will often make their own outfits based upon their favourite characters and then gather in social situations to show them off and pose for photo shoots, often quite famously in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, Japan.

“Imitating different characters on stage is no different from acting. And I like to entertain people that way. I also want to show people that cosplaying is not only a fun hobby, it’s a tool for mingling with others who have the same interests as me” Chloebs de Asis , Cosplayer (,39055810,39377640,00.htm)

Cosplay in itself is a form of subculture heavily influenced by new media, as people often produce their costumes based upon television characters. Players often join web forums to chat to others about their favourite characters or to find out about the latest meet. Whilst Alex’s portrayal of different characters is similar to this, it also differs in that the characters she portrays are not technically fictional. They are representations of her different moods and styles. Each character has a well defined background and individual style of clothing, so you are able to ascertain her mood on any one day by the character she chooses to portray. This could be seen as a heavily intricate form of theatrical exhibitionism; however it is very akin to the way that the girls in Corbin’s archive portrayed themselves. It is through the creation of original styles that subcultures are able to express themselves to the rest of society, helping to establish a sense of individuality amongst the faceless masses.

This idea of individuality expressed through costume has been around for as long as subcultures have existed, with groups separating themselves from the mainstream with informal uniforms. This was especially dominant in the era of punks, whereby punks used their clothing to not only express their individuality, but also their personality.

“They skirt around the voyeurism issue, flirt with masculine curiosity, but refuse to submit to its masterful gaze. These girls turned being looked at into an aggressive act.” (Hebdige, 1988: 28-29)

D Hebdige talks in his essay ‘Hiding in the light’, about how being viewed in society is both objectifying and empowering. By standing out from the norm punks were inviting people’s curiosity, and as such their objectifications as they struggled to understand, and yet at the same time those who were viewed were also being empowered. By being watched or photographed the punks were in control, the centre of attention. They were able to portray their ‘message’, which was encoded in the way they dressed and as such were able to distinguish themselves as individuals. In the Visible Girls archive you can see that the girls are feeling empowered by being offered the chance to show both their subculture and the reasons why they feel so strongly about it. Alex portrays herself not just through her physical appearance, but by also using online forums, blogs, and art profiles to display art pieces that she has created, depicting her characters and her inspirations. This allows people from across the globe to comment on her work, and at the same time puts her image out there in the public domain, therefore drawing attention to both herself and her work. Through the use of these forums Alex is also able to further develop her artistic style, and search for more inspiration to incorporate into her own work or into her characters as she sees fit. It is often the case that research Alex does for her fashion projects will find its way into being incorporated into her style and as such her characters are in a constant state of flux.

It is this idea of “hiding in the light” (Hebdige, 1988: 35) that I wanted to incorporate into my photographic project, not just in the sense of wanting to portray Alex, but also in that I wanted to portray the settings and objects that inspire her. This is why, in my project, there are two photographs for each character: one portraying the characters style, the other portraying the characters personality in the setting of Alex’s bedroom, where she is surrounded by the objects that fascinate and inspire her (as many of the objects that do so, she buys). This idea of duo-representation stemmed from the book ‘Youth, Culture, and Photography’, whereby it is discussing representation in images within a studio setting.

“This can be done by going beyond the snapshot into constructing shots in the studio. Perhaps this process, the demand for greater control over the expressive techniques which will be put at their disposal, will lead them to seeing more outgoing uses for their photography.” (Dewdney and Lister, 1988: 107)

This made me think that by taking Alex into the studio I may be able to show a different side to her then I would be able to show through using documentary style techniques alone. The studio shots were deliberately set up to look like fashion shots therefore concentrating more on the style of each character, the physical presence, then the personality of the characters themselves. In juxtaposition the bedroom shots were used to help develop personality, and I tried to achieve this through the use of angle, pose, and composition in order to help give the viewer some contextualisation. Here the costumes were meant to take a secondary role, helping to link back to the studio shots and create continuity, but nevertheless it was the emotions portrayed that took precedence in these shots.

Overall in this project I feel that I have managed to show that, through the use of new media, Alex has been able to establish a unique identity based within the subculture of Pop Cosmopolitanists. Through her use of international media such as anime movies, forums, and art profile sites she has been inspired by cosplay and Japanese culture, and as such gone about constructing an identity which is unique to her, but one that still follows the formula of the subcultures portrayed in the Visible Girls archive. Exhibitionism is just as important as ever, for it helps her to express her individuality, and the feeling of community, of talking to those similar to her whether it is face to face or over the internet, is still as crucial as ever in the development of her subculture. It is through the use of the internet that this has been made possible; it has allowed Alex to branch out and assimilate other cultures into her personality, allowed her to experience things she might not have otherwise. As such I feel that I have been able to show that new media is just as important in the modern age as music was to the girls in Corbin’s project. As the internet becomes more integral to our lives I foresee that this will become an accepted norm and as such perhaps we are not just moving towards a technical convergence, but a social one as well.

WORD COUNT: 1728 (not including referencing)


‘Cosplay’, Wikipedia, ‘’

Alarilla, J ‘Cosplay away!’ Babelmachine 25 May 2006 ‘,39055810,39377640,00.htm’

Dewdney, A and Lister, M (1988) ‘Youth, Culture, and Photography’ London: Macmillan Education

Widdicombe, S and Wooffitt, R (1995) ‘The Language of Youth Subcultures’ United Kingdom: T J Press

Jenkins, H (2006) ‘Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers’ New York: New York University Press

Hebdige, D. (1988) ‘Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things’ London: Routledge pp 17-36 (chapt 1: youth surveillance and display)

2 Responses

  1. Semeli says:

    Well it was difficult for me to find in which project I would like to comment,but finally I decided that i find that project the most interesting. Being daily influenced by the Media a young person (especially a woman) can pass from different styles, to different subcultures easily and without noticing. I believe is extremely interesting to see that a young person can be so much dependent from what the Media promote and changing minds and styles is something so natural like changing your socks 😛
    I liked the fact that the pictures are divided in two styles. In the one style there is a very busy background with many every day props,and in the other the background is plain like a studio background. I think that in the busy pics,the busy background is adding character to the image and giving to it a more personal feeling.

  2. leroy says:

    you should show more skin. I also noticed your legs were closed. try opening them wide. some skimpy outfit revealing all would enhance media.

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