photographic index

ba digital photography london south bank university

Natalie Cheung


 Street Ball As A Youth Culture
Artist: Natalie Cheung
Type: Inkjet Photographic Print

Date: 2007

Description: Images depicting street ball as a youth culture on a South London basketball court. Images 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 5 images.

Subject: Black youth, street ball.


Location: London South Bank University Digital Photography Dept

ID Number: PI-RGSB-NC0001-NC005

Licensing: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales, Natalie Cheung c/o London South Bank University, Digital Photography Course, UK

Street Ball as a Youth Culture

After working with Anita Corbin’s Girls Subculture archive, the next step for the project was to reinterpret this box and produce our own set of images in response to Anita’s work. The GS box was a unique set of pictures taken during the 1980’s, focusing completely on a girl’s sub- culture during the time. There was a distinct style in all the images, with two girls in each picture, dressed very similar to each other, and represented a particular subculture in the way they looked and dressed.

The difficulty in initially reinterpretating the GS box to today was trying to pinpoint what sub- cultures exist within our society today, or if any exist at all. It was also a difficult task identifying what made up a particular sub- culture, as the lines seemed to be so blurred and unclear. Traditional definitive ideas of sub- culture says that they are based on dress and appearance, music etc. however, it seems that the youth of today do not just mould into one definition of a particular sub culture, but instead take various parts from different sub- cultures to create their own ‘individual’ look. Many do not regard themselves as belonging to a sub- culture, and possibly end up doing so unconsciously.

For me, the idea of studying street ball as a youth culture stems from personal interests in basketball as a sport, and also an interest in the sociology of ethnicity; especially the various topics on racism, stereotypes and the portrayal of afro- Caribbean people within the media and society today.

Firstly, it seems logical to understand and define what street ball is, and how it is different to basketball. Street ball is defined as an urban form of basketball, usually played in outdoor courts in the playgrounds and parks etc. It does not consist of vigorous training schedules like basketball does; however, the rules remain almost identical to the rules of professional basketball. There is a higher emphasis on one-on-one offence/ defence in street ball, and the aim is often on who can perform the flashiest dunks, and moves on the court.

It is undeniable that street ball is becoming more apparent as a youth/ sub- culture here in London, and the U.K., and it has originated from across the Atlantic from America. It is much easier to see the way in which basketball has influenced and impacted the States. Various literatures have been written to explore the strong connection between basketball and popular culture in America, examining its social and cultural impact on American society. The popularity of basketball is very clear and moreover, the amount of money that is in the NBA (National Basketball Association) is huge. Statistics by Badenhausen, K. (2004) show that 14 out of 50 of the worlds highest paid athletes are basketball players, a higher number than any other sport on that list.

There is reason for my deliberate focus on young black men and street ball in this project, and it is very much a social study as well as a photographic one. The presence of afro- Caribbean men in basketball is evident in the States, with statistics by Reed, T. (2007) showing that 75% of NBA players are black, 21% white, and 3% Latino. Another significant point to make is that 13 of the worlds highest paid basketball players are of afro- Caribbean descent, and one being Chinese. Street ball in the U.K. being rooted in the popular culture of basketball and street ball in America has definitely carried over the same attributes and traits to the U.K., i.e. with the majority of street ball players of afro- Caribbean descent. There is little research with regards to ethnicity and basketball in Britain; however, it is visible on speculating the urban basketball courts of London, and the U.K., and even on websites such as that dedicates itself completely to street ball, and Nike sponsored, which is an annual basketball competition in the U.K.

There has been much recent bad press on black communities especially in London, with issues relating to gun crime, gang culture, black on black killings etc., and there have been different ways in which Government, the Metropolitan Police and communities have united together to put a stop to this. Various events including the “Shoot A Ball, Not A Gun” campaign have taken place in London to promote basketball not only as a sport, but also as an alternative for youths, rather than joining gangs and getting involved with crime.

The series of 5 images for this project is not only aimed at presenting street ball as a youth culture bridged from America, but also showing the positive side of young black men and that many of them are not involved with gun crime and gangs, as is often stereotyped. It was deliberate of me to take the images both on and off the court, this relating to street ball as physically being a sport, and the social aspect of street ball off court. The images were not posed or fixed in any way at all, the idea was to document the players in their natural surroundings, playing the sport that they love to play. I really wanted to capture the essence of their passion for basketball, and just to be able to document the game and the social aspect realistically. Linking in with street ball as a culture rooted from America, the notion was to try and present the images very glamorised as the NBA is in America, so the filter was added using Photoshop to give that aesthetic.

The problem with such images is the idea of ‘myth’ as Hall, S. (1997) clearly explains in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices- “how do you read the picture?” Hall, S. (1997) asks. He refers explicitly to the example of Ben Johnson and the incident of the drug taking to enhance his performance in the Olympics, however, the theory can very much link into my images. The idea here is that there are two stories to that one image: the first being the triumphant moment of Ben Johnson winning the race, then the second being the drug incident. For my images, there is the “literal, denotative level of meaning” Hall, that they are just innocent pictures of black youth playing the sport that they love most, and just having a good time with each other. Then there is a more “thematic” meaning that relates to the wider issue of black youths getting involved with gun crime and gangs, so here is a ‘gang’ of young black youths looking suspicious and bound to get in trouble with the law. So, there are two ideas here, the positive one, that was meant to be there, and a seemingly inevitable negative one that was never supposed to be there, but birthed because of the various issues surrounding society in the present time, creating an underlying message.

The influence on street ball in the U.K. as a culture in terms of dress and appearance from the States has been astounding. Not only is street ball about the flashiest dunks, crossovers and ball handles, but there is also a priority on looking good in terms of your apparel and footwear. Certain brands dominate the appearance of the player, these being Air Jordan, Nike, Adidas, And1 etc. Of course, many NBA stars are signed to these brands for advertising reasons, endorsement of products etc. so the player will want to support their team and favourite NBA players by wearing their products e.g. LeBron James for Nike and Tracy McGrady for Adidas. Basketball apparel and footwear has turned into a lifestyle choice in terms of choice of clothing for many people. Nike are celebrating 25 years of their most popular trainer- Air Force 1’s, and it so happens that these are basketball shoes. The distinct style of the baggy and extra large jersey tops and shorts is a style that has often been linked to hip- hop and rap music.

This is very much an Americanised look that many players adopt, however, it is important to bear in mind that many street ball players in the U.K. choose not to dress completely in this way because they do not want to be seen as trying to be “American” so try and adopt their own, unique style as it were. Many street ballers try to avoid the glamour of the NBA and American basketball, and their genuine passion for the game means that they are not fussy about what they are wearing as long as they can play in it. Peer pressure can be present in sub- cultures like these, in conforming to wearing certain brands, trash talking on the court etc.

I feel that I have successfully achieved what I had set out to do in this project. It seems to be much more than just a photographic study on youth culture, and I believe that the images are a visual portrayal of the various social issues that I have raised in this essay. I believe that street ball is very much a youth culture that exists in the U.K. today, regardless of the lack of academic research etc. and will continue to grow. It’s American roots are evident, but this shouldn’t be see as a negative point, if it is a way for our youths to escape the deadly grasps of gun crime and gang culture. If black youths are lacking in male role models because of the lack of father figures in the home, then looking up to NBA stars is not such a bad prospect when you are comparing it to gun crime and gangs.


Badenhausen, K. (2004) ‘The Best Paid Athletes’ [online] available from: [Accessed on 17th May 2007]

Hall, S. (1997) ‘The Spectacle of the Other’ in Hall, S. (Ed.) Representation: Cultural Representations and Cultural Practices. London: The Open University.

Reed, T. (2007) ‘Study: NBA Has Most Diverse Workforce’ [online] available from: [Accessed on 17th May 2007]

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