Gavin Watson


Photographer Gavin Watson, famous for his documentation of the skinhead and Rave subcultures (and music photography) will be speaking at the YOUTH CLUB x Doomed Gallery: First Tuesdays Photographer Talks on 5th April. All the info is HERE.

Hey Gavin, so what have you got planned for your talk at Youth Club – what will you be touching on?
Normally I just do it off the cuff because I never expect anyone to fucking turn up! This time I’m going to take it in a certain direction because I usually end up talking about anthropology instead of photography, it tends to get into being a societal talk about the history and movements of people and culture. I’m a bit like, “hold up a minute, I got kicked out of school at 15, what the fuck am I talking about this for?” There’s a photographic story there that very rarely gets told because the power of the images take over from the fact I was really interested in photography and is the great love of my life. I rarely talk about my photographic journey, we end up talking about Skinheads, the history of Skinheads, the history of rave and the culture around that. The reason these photographs exist is because I took them, and I took them because I love photography and knew how to work a camera. I had a moment of clarity the other day that all the Skinhead stuff is my mundane, personal work that I never expected anyone to see. My first real job as a photographer was working for a music paper called Sounds. I spent three or four years photographing all the bands of the mid-80s, from Morrissey to the Pogues, The Proclaimers, Siouxsie and the Banshees – the list goes on. And no one knows that I did it. I forget that I did it! I am a well-rounded photographer – I wasn’t in a bubble of just me and my mates on a Shane Meadows movie set! I was pursuing a career in photography and the Skinheads stuff was just part of the wallpaper of the time, of course two decades later it’s become something totally different. I’ve seen my mundane life become a golden era, it’s become romanticised.

What’s your favourite experience of shooting subcultures over the past 35 years?
That’s a funny question because I didn’t think I was photographing youth culture, I was just photographing my mates. I did that until I grew up and moved to London and from 25 onwards we all went our separate ways. All those experiences I would have had my camera on me but I can’t think of one in particular. The key is in the body language – they don’t care that I’m there. That’s got to be the pull of the photograph. It’s dawned on me that I’ve done something quite unique by accident! It’s quite tough to know what I think or feel about it – these talks are good for me as it gives me a bit more ownership to what I’ve done as I’m quite removed from it; it’s like somebody else did them, I’ve had to catch up with the work as I was 15 when I tool them!

Will we ever see ‘analogue’ subcultures like Skinheads again? Or has it gone online, are people too immersed in digital life?
No of course there won’t be – you’ve got to go back 40 years of pre-history. People don’t just appear from planet skinhead or punk! You’ve got a nation that had been at war, pretty much since its existence and National Service had only recently stopped, so it was a very military country. It’s no wonder gangs and hooligans rose up because of the history of the country – we were only 20-30 years out of a World War. You’ve got to take all that stuff into account as to why a culture builds to that. The Skinheads were an evolution, they evolved from the Teddy Boys or even further back! If you have an industrial working class environment you’ll get people that will want to express themselves to their betterment. 

Your books ‘Skins’ and ‘Raving 89′ are both excellent – do you have any more publications on the horizon?
Skins was really about navigating my teenage years and how we did it. I just took photographs of my friends. Because of what’s connected to the Skinhead culture, it seems to dangerous to people now. In terms of new stuff, I’ve been trying to get a music book out – I need it out for me because it shows that from the age of 19-23 I was photographing all these bands professionally. I’ve been trying to push that and I keep getting bits of interest and I’m meant to be working on a crowdfunding book next year, which will be a bit more general and featuring the good photos that I’ve taken and will be curating. I’m also meant to be doing a book with Plan B but the deal was I’d do it when he did his next album but he’s just pissed off! Cheers Ben! But I get it – he’s done so much before he was 30 it’s no wonder he went on sabbatical.


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