photographic index

ba digital photography london south bank university

Thomas Evans


Title: Shooting The Youth

Artist: Thomas Evans

Type: Inkjet photographic print

Date: 2007

Description: Young women photographed submitting to the repressive nature of the photographic. 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 6 images.

Subject: girls, subcultures

Measurements: 29.7x42cm

Location: London South Bank University Digital Photography Dept

ID Number: PI-RGSB-TE001-TE006

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

‘Shooting The Youth’, (A Response To The Work Of Anita Corbin, ‘Visible Girls’)

For this brief I was required to produce a series of prints that reinterpreted the work of Anita Corbin (‘Visible Girls’) constituting the Camerawork archive box GS (Girls Sub-cultures). The notion of the archive is not a concept I have readily considered prior to beginning this project and has become a major feature of it in different forms ranging from the literal to the subjective. The end product is arguably a photographic archive in its own right, heavily influenced by Anita’s work alongside the historical connection between the photographic and the archival as well as major theoretical interpretations of youth culture published during the late twentieth century.

It was clear to me from the beginning that Anita’s ‘Visible Girls’ should be the foundation of my studies throughout the entire project simply due to the nature of the brief itself, and therefore began by assessing my initial reactions to the work. I find it important to state my enjoyment of the photographs in the archive; they were instantly appealing in their distinctive representation of the girls and the importance they placed on being part of a sub-culture. I enjoy her ability to make the past appear tangible and (ironically) almost contemporary, and at the same time felt disappointment that the majority of my generation (myself included) have never had the opportunity to react to repression in quite such an involved form. This was depicted by the artist’s decision to employ pairs rather than individual sitters, the sense of social grouping becoming intensely personal while at the same time appearing highly superficial; while there is a true sense of the genuine to Anita’s images, there is also the notion of the manufactured, the girls appearing almost as theatrical donning a guise to simply fit with the sub-cultures they adhere to. To me the archive as a whole was less concerned with ‘sub-culture’ and more about the attitudes of young women living in the political climate of the early 1980s, reacting to a society that not only repressed but also kept their existence relatively silent in comparison to their male counterparts. Anita describes being part of such a sub-culture “a whole way of life” (Corbin, 1981), which led me to explore the current ways of life for the youth of my own age at the present time if indeed they existed in the same manner at all. The artist’s decision to focus solely on female youth culture also intrigued me, a culture she describes as being “largely ignored” or “simply male appendages” (Corbin, 1981), and prompted me to explore the visibility of contemporary youth cultures.

I began my research into the notion of ‘youth culture’ by attempting to identify other similar archives contemporary to that of ‘Visible Girls’, in order to further contextualise Anita’s images. I was particularly interested in those cultures strongly oriented around the male youth to directly contrast with the GS box, and discovered photographer Gavin Watson’s candid images portraying life as a skinhead which drew interesting comparisons. Again, group mentality is clearly of great importance to the individuals concerned, and appeared to support the themes established within Anita’s work that I have already discussed. This aspect demonstrating the youth finding security through group membership and ritual participation intrigued me, and appeared to directly contrast with the youths of contemporary British society arguably more fragmented exhibiting remarkably different ritualistic strategies. Not only did the content of Anita’s images interest me, the concept of the archive itself was a relatively new concept and so began to read Allan Sekula’s ‘The Body And The Archive’ (Cambridge, 1992) in order to gain more contextual knowledge of photographic archiving. Through this text, the earliest forms of photographically recording physiognomic practice as a means of criminal profiling struck me as having interesting parallels to Anita’s work. The pioneer of these techniques Alphonse Bertillon extensively photographed the face of the criminal and its features, exercising his anthropometric theories that appear entirely inappropriate with our contemporary scientific knowledge yet immediately linked to the notion of objectifying the sitter explored in Anita’s work. This process of creating meaningful connections between appearance and personality featured in the work of both Anita and Bertillon introduced the importance of ‘looking’ to the project, highlighting the importance of not only the act but also the role of the individual engaged within it.

In developing the links between Bertillon’s criminal profiling and Anita’s exploration of relationships between the sitters, their clothing and specific sub-cultural groups, I discovered Dick Hebdige’s ’Hiding In The Light: Youth Surveillance And Display’ (London, 1988) to be of particular interest. Contemplating the manner in which youth cultures are represented in the media, two opposing interpretations suggested that youth as naive consumers and also as troublesome groups of individuals somehow justified a certain level of surveillance. Hebdige also manages to relate back to Victorian photographic practice contemporary to the work of Bertillon, explaining how youths were seen as either “respectable” or “criminal” (p21, 1988), a suggestion that is arguably universal and timeless when placed in context with Hebdige’s theories. Regarding these observations it became clear that although theory relating to physiognomy has changed dramatically during the twentieth century the notion of surveillance is still very prevalent in society, with the onset of new technologies such as the Internet and camera based surveillance systems placing us in more danger than ever of succumbing to the possibility of being observed twenty-four hours a day. Relating to the theory that youths are often seen as potential offenders that warrant close scrutiny, surveillance seemed to be a key theme worth elaborating on for the final project. It also appeared that through sites like MySpace and Flickr many young people were providing the means for them to be surveyed by making their own personal lives public by uploading every facet of them onto the Internet in what could be viewed as the ultimate global archive, while simultaneously being arguably the greatest tool for their repression and surveillance. This act of providing the means for their own repression is no doubt fascinating, and could potentially provide the basis for a project in its own right.

By identifying the repression of contemporary youth through various means of surveillance, it was my hope to develop a project that featured a direct visual link to the physiognomic practice of Bertillon without simply duplicating it. A key issue I had to resolve was whether photography is a repressive act or an act of expression in contemporary society (particularly concerning youth culture), either of which could be easily argued with particular reference to social networking sites as I have discussed. In my opinion the act of surveillance is mainly repressive, causing individuals to act in specific manners with the knowledge that they are being watched. Roland Barthes comments about the relationship between the photographer, the camera and the sitter in Camera Lucida (London, 1984) and states that with the knowledge of being before a camera’s lens “I transform myself in advance into an object” (p10, 1984), that is to say people act before the camera and become something else altogether. In considering surveillance itself to my mind it is almost a fetishistic act allowing the photographer to reduce the sitter to their most vulnerable state, forcing their submission to the will of the photographer, an aspect I was keen to reproduce. I therefore established the concept of photographing photography itself, creating scenes reminiscent of Bertillon’s profiling but also demonstrating the enforcement of repression and submission in equal measures. In accordance with the brief’s request to directly respond to Anita’s archive, I decided to stay with the female youth as my primary model, and have photographed young women I currently live with who share the same living space yet originate from different countries. The final images feature partially unseen hands clutching cameras and directing them at the faces of repressed youth, blank and expressionless before the eye of the lens. I have decided to name the project ‘Shooting The Youth’, referring not only to the contemporary youths featured in the project but also to the threatening nature of surveillance likening the role of the camera in British society today being similar to that of a loaded firearm. While Anita’s models were socially and politically motivated to create sub-cultures with the aim of becoming as visible as possible, I would argue that contemporary girls are certainly more repressed than those represented in ‘Visible Girls’.

Through researching social theories and historical accounts regarding youth culture, the repressive qualities of the photographic and gender politics through recent decades I have been able to develop a project that has more depth than may at first meet the eye. I believe that my response to Anita’s ‘Visible Girls’ archive has brought the concept of female youth culture up to date and may in future pose as the basis for another project should the relevant social climates shift significantly as they have been proven to in the course of this project.

Reference List

Barthes, R. ‘Camera Lucida’ (1984). London: Fontana

Corbin, A. ’Visible Girls’ (1981)

Hebdige, D. ‘Hiding In The Light: On Images And Things’ (1988). London: Routledge (pp17-36, Chapt. 1 ’Youth Surveillance And Display’)

Sekula, A. ‘The Body And The Archive’ (1992) IN Bolton, R. ‘The Contest Of Meaning: Critical Histories Of Photography’. Cambridge: MIT Press (Flickr – accessed 17/05/07) (MySpace – accessed 17/05/07) (Gavin Watson – accessed 17/05/07)

One Response

  1. Pawel says:

    All this session gives me very strong emotions. When I look on this picture I feel fear.
    They have got very simple composition but everything works really well. On this images I see people but not with the camera which is next to their head but with gun. In this time we hear everywhere about terrorists and for me this pictures are symbolic of this.

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