Society’s obsession with teen culture is a fairly recent development. In fact, the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood was once almost non-existent and the adolescent stage of life was skipped due to societal obligations like war, work and family. In the aftermath of two World Wars and the Great Depression, however, came a huge generational gap between parents and their children, who no longer aspired to settle down just yet. A revolution ensued, and young people across the world began to do their own thing, bringing about new fashions, music and opinions. From the early beginnings of the movement right up until today, here are five photographers recording the establishment of youth culture.
1960s: Michael Rougier
In 1964, Michael Rougier travelled to Tokyo on assignment for Life Magazine and photographed the wilder, never-before-seen side of Japanese youth. Interested by the disenfranchised young people rebelling against the strict traditional values of their society, Rougier documented the runaways, pill-poppers and motor-cycle kids – oft labelled the “lost generation” – desperately seeking to be part of something. With many of the youngsters expressing apathy and resentment towards their parents for what they viewed as a “senseless war”, familial ties were split and Japan’s youth joined the ranks of the phenomenon already prominent among American and European baby boomers. Forming miniature societies with rules of their own, Rougier’s photographs record the beginnings of teenage culture in Japanese society.
1970s: Jack Garofalo
Devastated by an onslaught of race riots, heroin epidemics and the assassinations of Malcolm X as well as Martin Luther King Jr, the predominantly African American neighbourhood of Harlem was in turmoil by the turn of the decade. In response to mounting crime rates and the lack of education in the neighbourhood, the Harlemites that could afford to left in their hundreds. The depletion of the society didn’t stop Jack Garofalo, however, who was commissioned to spend six weeks during the summer of 1970 photographing the residents for Paris Match Magazine. Perfectly capturing the beauty beneath the gritty and dangerous, Garofalo’s stark portraits of Harlem’s remaining inhabitants portray a strong sense of spirit within the community. The series ended up as the cover story for the French magazine – honouring the proud and vibrant citizens who stayed put to protect and contribute to Harlem’s cultural legacy.
1980s: Gavin Watson
Documenting his own life, his friends and the general scene, Gavin Watson’s photographs depict a truer side to Skinhead gangs than what the media portrayed in 1980s England. Concentrating on his hometown of High Wycombe, Watson understood early on that the subculture he found himself immersed in was an important element of youth culture, and felt compelled to record the torrents of kids trying to find themselves in an adult world. Candidly documenting the radical emergence of the raw new youth, Watson’s energetic photographs capture moments in history that can never be re-lived.
1990s: Ewen Spencer
Ewen Spencer grew up during the Northern Soul age of the ’80s, and began to notice the upcoming garage scene as it crept into the music of his favourite nightclubs. Describing himself as a true “soul boy”, Spencer found himself transitioning into the emerging garage scene quite easily, noticing similarities between his beloved soul nights and these UKG parties. “It had that almost mod aesthetic of dressing sharp, neat haircuts, and living for the night”, Spencer remembers. Collecting a massive portfolio, Spencer shot mainly at the notorious London club The Colosseum for a night entitled “Twice As Nice, the End”. More decadent than the sweaty rave scene which was also popular in the ’90s, clubs like these were overrun with dapper lads sporting Moschino trousers and YSL button-downs, and girls with immaculate hair and nails clutching champagne flutes. While the effort in dress succeeded the other subcultures at the time, these kids knew the best way to look good was to dance, and the energy and passion for the music is palpable in Spencer’s photographs.
2000s: Gosha Rubchinskiy
Predominantly a fashion designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy’s film making and photography has played a huge role in creating an image of youth culture in a country which, prior to the 1990s, didn’t really exist. His diverse approach to documenting this culture has arguably defined the aesthetic for today’s post-Soviet youth, and has given a voice to the disaffected youth. With a number of photo books under his belt, Rubchinskiy encapsulates the idea of a new Russia, and pays homage to his happy childhood memories of the previously thriving Crimean peninsula. Juxtaposing Soviet relics, graffitied concrete and industrial flats with skateboarding, shaven-haired smoking teenagers, the photographer captures the emerging youth during the breakdown of an empire and highlights the kids as the generation of hope and the future of Russia.