No one has captured British youth culture better than Ewen Spencer. The immersive photographer, whose most famous work includes the grime tome Open Mic, White Stripes tour reportage Three’s a Crowd and the recent UK garage documentary Brandy & Coke, is a club scene national hero.
He came of age himself shooting for iconic titles like The Face and Sleazenation and his most recent publications – in a series he’s called Guapamente, which may translate from Spanish to mean something like ‘courageously’, ‘very good’ or ‘sexy mind’ – takes the approach he learnt in the Albion cuts and applies it to wider Europe – first Naples and Marseille, and now Miami.
Ewen is launching Guapamente #3: Miami at Ditto Press on Thursday July 3, 7-9pm. We caught up with him to find out more.
How did you meet/gain the trust of the young people in the Miami series?
I had been to Miami a year or two previously to shoot an advertising campaign for a client and realised that there was a diverse and thriving youth culture over there. I always look for cities/places next to the sea. Ports, I suppose. Gaining people’s trust wasn’t too difficult. It’s maybe harder in the US than in Europe but as soon as people see your pictures from a previous publication then they are usually very happy to be involved. Sometimes folk don’t need any encouragement they just take part in what becomes an ‘event’ – me making the pictures and the subject just ignoring me and accepting that I’m going to be around them for a while.
What is it you’re looking for when you shoot with them? What kind of moments?
I’m looking for nuances, details. Something that may be particular to that group of people. Socks in slider sandals on the beach was a big look in Miami. Also cheap gold-looking watches, three-wheeler trikes, mobile sound systems on the beach, a ‘Saved by the Bell’ T-Shirt. All of these things are a moment in time, part of a wider culture communicating to other youths.
How different was Miami to your previous two Guapamentes, Naples and Marseille?
I’ve been keen to capture American culture in my personal work for a long time. I take commissions from American clients regularly but going to Miami was a great moment. The Neapolitan youth are hard to beat for their vitality and acceptance. The Marseille youth are moody and have a great attitude and pose. They Americans want to party but they also want to be seen to be partying or ‘turning up’!
You have been shooting youth culture for a long time. What keeps it interesting for you?
It never ends. It’s probably a bigger part of everybody’s life now as we all stay ‘younger’ longer. We live in a time of arrested development. We all experience youth and the idea of being a ‘teenager’ – that idea has been marketed and perpetuated through media, art and culture for a great many years now. Communicating what it means to be young is one way of describing modern life.
How has youth culture changed since the dawn of the internet do you think?
I think being young holds new pressures and complications because of the the way young people use the internet. It has accelerated young people’s ability to communicate. It’s completely changed the music industry and made fashion and music more accessible through a huge, and not always reliable, resource for researching what you are into. Myself and my contemporaries would have had to wait a month for The Face or i-D to come out to get an idea or what was being touted in terms of music or style. Now it’s daily.
Now everyone is documenting themselves, what is the role of the documentary photographer?
To understand and realise you are part of that world.
Who are your favourite photographers? Why?
I like British photographers Tom Wood and Graham Smith for staying real and honest. Their work is as much about themselves as it is about the people within the pictures. I enjoy some American photographers like Larry Fink, Joseph Szabo and William Klein. I’m also a huge fan of Taisuke Koyama, the contemporary Japanese photographer. I think I’d like a print one day.
What would be your dream project to shoot?
I think I’m doing that at the moment making the Guapamente series. I’m travelling around the world ostensibly casting young people and shooting them in their own environments. I’m documenting global youth culture bit by bit.