photographic index

ba digital photography london south bank university

Paul Lincoln

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Title: …
Artist: Paul Lincoln
Type: Inkjet photographic print
Date: 2007
Description: …, London. Completed May 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 3 images.
Subject: …, subcultures
Measurements: …x…
Location: London South Bank University Digital Photography Dept
ID Number: PI-RGSB-PL0001-PL003
Licensing: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales, Paul Lincoln c/o London South Bank University, Digital Photography Course, UK

In 1981, Anita Corbin documented the world of “Girl’s Subcultures” that at the time was relatively unseen. She took photographs of pairs of friends who were visibly part of a subculture. These photographs were put together forming an archive – a snapshot of 1980’s life that would be exhibited and studied. This archive forms the basis of our study of photographic archives.

The photographic archive forms an integral part of contemporary practice, just as it has done for decades. A collection of photographs becomes something in its own right, with a wider context being applied. For example, Corbin’s photographic archive shows the aesthetic of various subcultures through lighting and composition. With the photos displayed side-by-side, the archive begins to show more than this. It shows a period of time in British history and the relatively undocumented nature of these ‘girls’ in London. Corbin chose to photograph girls as, in her eyes, they were virtually ‘invisible’ to the population. That is to say that there were very few photographs of girls, and even fewer of those belonging to subcultures with men in mainstream culture being the subjects of most photographic work. Corbin’s technique was to travel round London, usually on her own, armed with her camera and flash gun. She visited many locations that were popular with girls belonging to youth subcultures such as ‘goth’, ‘mods’ ‘rockers’ etc. These included cinemas, fast-food restaurants, clubs and many bathrooms! The idea behind this documentary style of photography was to find subjects in their ‘natural environment’. By doing this, Corbin was able to take photographs that faithfully portrayed the subjects. In all her photographs, Corbin uses a simple set-up of camera and bounce flash. This gives continuity to the photographs and re-enforces the link between them all when they are displayed in an archive.

I decided to study one subculture in detail – the chavettes. This subculture interests me for similar reasons that Corbin first undertook the Visible Girls project. The chavettes are often seen but rarely photographed. Almost a subculture within a subculture, the girls are most likely to be portrayed on a camera phone for the benefit of friends, not in high resolution – studied objectively like a rare species.

My research into chavette subculture was undertaken predominantly on the Internet. On this fast-moving medium I was able to find the latest information that is not easily found elsewhere. There are many websites devoted to people’s opinions on chavs, but few on chavettes. Most references were derogatory and merely descriptive, not analytical. The term ‘chav’ is well used in the UK but ‘chavette’ is a relatively new term; a spin-off from ‘chav’. This also makes information on the subculture harder to find.

Wikipedia has this definition of chavettes:

“The label is typically, though not exclusively, applied to teenagers and young adults of white working-class or lower-middle class origin. Chav is used for both sexes, where a male chav is sometimes referred to as a chavster and a female as a chavette.”
Wikipedia (2007) Chav [online] Available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav (accessed 16th May 2007)

Like most UK citizens I had come into contact with this subculture many times before. In many areas it is the dominant youth subculture, even though the slang terms given differ between the regions, for example ‘Neds’ in Glasgow and ‘Trendies’ in the Westcountry. Making themselves noticeable in public places is how most people will encounter chavs and chavettes. Regarding style, again Wikipedia defines the chavettes well:

“The defining features of the stereotype include clothing in the Burberry pattern (notably a now-discontinued baseball cap) and from a variety of other casual and sportswear brands. Tracksuits, hoodies, sweatpants and baseball caps are particularly associated with this stereotype. Response to the term has ranged from amusement to criticism that it is a new manifestation of classism. The term has also been associated with delinquency, the ‘ASBO Generation’, ‘Hoodie culture’ and ‘yob culture’”.
Wikipedia (2007) Chavette [online] Available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chavette (accessed 16th May 2007)

The term ‘chav’ and ‘chavette’ are often used as derogatory terms, comparable to ‘white trash’ in America. I was interested to investigate how these two chavettes spent their time, and what made them part of this subculture beyond wearing the associated clothes. By shadowing them for a day, I was able to echo Corbin’s style of photography and capture important moments that epitomise the subculture.

The day took us to three towns, two parks a supermarket and one kebab shop. Taking the photographs proved difficult at first. The girls moved quickly and, not wanting to influence events, I had asked them to ignore me unless I asked them to look. I tried taking shots from many angles but found close-ups to be the most revealing.
By the end of the day I had several hundred photographs to choose from. I wanted my photographs to have a feel similar to that of movie stills. In this way they would appear to narrate a story that depicts the day in the life of chavettes. Whilst the closely cropped images I have chosen don’t have so much of a background to contextualise the images, I feel there is more gained from the expressions of the girls than is lost through this style.
I knew the girls before the photoshoot so they were quite happy for me to document them. In fact one of the obstacles I had to overcome was the girls being perhaps too eager to be photographed. They would pose whenever I lined up a shot, ruining the natural feel to the scene. I therefore had to find a balance between posed and snapshot. If the girls were overly conscious of the camera, the images proved unrevealing as they took on expressions that weren’t always conducive to my project. However if the girls paid no attention to the camera it was nearly impossible to get them both in a close-up shot. Therefore I would let scenes unfold and ask for them to look my way after I had completely set up the shot and was ready to take the photo. In this way I was able to achieve my aim of getting ‘natural’ looking shots in locations that members of this subculture congregate.

By talking with the girls whilst driving to new locations (from park to town, town to kebab shop etc) I was able to understand better what the subculture means to them. Interestingly they quote similar things to the girls Corbin interviewed as part of her project. For the chavettes, image is hugely important. The right clothing, jewellery and make-up are essential to be respected and recognised as a ‘proper’ member of the subculture. Music is a close second in importance, with ‘drum & bass’ and ‘R&B’ being the favourites to listen to. The chavettes don’t actually seem to ‘do’ particularly much with their time. This proved to be surprisingly hard to photograph. Whilst we weren’t doing all that much, this meant that there were few opportunities for the girls to display traits that I wanted to photograph.

For the exhibition I chose to display just three prints. Following two girls round for the day had left me with many images, but many of them were similar in emotion and/or content. I wanted to create images that summed up the personality of the girls as well as depicting the subculture. After asking people’s opinions, most felt that showing more images led to the viewer feeling that the emotion was repeated in photographs. I did not want my images to be a complete catalogue of emotion of the chavettes, so I chose three that I feel sum up the day and the subculture.

I am pleased with my final images as they accurately represent the subculture I set out to document. The colours of the photographs are deliberately vivid with relatively harsh lighting. I wanted to mirror the brashness that these girls often exhibit to the world. I appreciate the photographs are hardly flattering for the girls but they do show the characteristics of their personalities truly, whereas softly lit portraits would have showed nothing of what it really means to be in their environment.
I chose to print them at size A3 so that viewers would move in closely to take full interest in the content rather than look at a larger size print from a distance.

If I were to do the project again I would follow the girls for many days so that I could get a better idea of their subculture. This would allow me to portray even more faithfully the girls. I would also like to continue this project to build up my own collection of images that show the chavettes in the early 21st Century. I feel that in twenty-five years time such an archive would prove very interesting to photographers, just as Corbin’s work has been to us.

One Response

  1. Leana Ransom says:

    This project i feel is really inspiring. The cropping of the image really brings their faces forward, and we see the chavs facial expressions. I think we really see how they just chill in public places and are quite happy with that. Having fun wherever it takes them, it doesn’t need to be money consuming. Although the photos are cropped, the viewer still gets a great view and feeling of their surroundings. It has a great sense of what is around them and how they live. The photographs i feel showthe sub-culture of chavettes spot on. I also really like the lighting of the second one. A kebab shop, which is seen to be very popular to the working class, a take away and quite common, as a background, really makes the scene of normality of hanging out just crucial. Then the two park pictures really just make it into a sequence of chavs. Spot on

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