The British photographers compare and contrast their respective experiences documenting the mod scene of the 1980s and the garage, grime and pirate radio scenes of the 2000s
Launched June 2017, The Blend Sessions is a new podcast series from Chivas Regal blended Scotch whisky, which brings together creatives from different fields for inspiring cultural conversations. Each week, Teo van den Broeke sits down with two creative figures to discuss how collaboration and a blend of different skills and approaches has shaped their work.
Photographers Paul Hallam and Ewen Spencer are both key figures in capturing the history of British youth culture. Hallam was the man who documented London’s 1980s mods and their obsession with obscure music and sharp clothes. Two decades later, Spencer similarly captured the garage, grime and pirate radio scenes across London and, more recently, the unexpected vogue and ballroom culture emerging in Europe. Together, the two have successfully photographed exciting corners of modern British life in all its variety. Last year, the pair collaborated as publisher and author on Hallam’s book Odds & Sods. In the latest episode from The Blend Sessions, they discuss their interests and experiences as photographers.
Q: Is there a unifying thread that unites subcultures, cultural movements and scenes?
Ewen Spencer: It’s the invention of youth that is so appealing to me. You’re trying to define yourself, to look for entertainment so you make your own entertainment. It’s the idea of the creativity and the energy and anarchy that comes with that. It’s that idea of invention, it’s grace under pressure, it’s the idea that you haven’t got a lot but you want to make something of what you have. For me, it’s pure creativity. And it’s not learned; it’s something about you and your friends, your sexuality, your energy, your pursuit of an ideal, and that is what is fun and sexy.
Q: How do you deal with the voyeuristic aspect of photography? Your photographs are very intimate, you’re very close to the action, very much in it.
Paul Hallam: I didn’t take the photographs to be sitting here years later. I did it because I wanted to document the scene I was loving and, to be honest, back in those days there was no interest in photography. I started work in ’82 and to get black-and-white developed was a fiver. I was earning £25/30 a week so it was a big chunk of my wages. It was a really expensive thing to do. I might take a roll of film over a month because there weren’t that many club nights and there were pretty much the same people at every club. I wasn’t a photographer. I’ve got my decks there, I’ve got me there, I’ve got a whisky and coke, and I’ve got an Olympus Trip, so I take the pictures.
Q: Do you think that’s important now, particularly being a photographer as you are, to be capable of doing everything to be successful?
Ewen Spencer: No. I think because what I do is so finite, so particular, to then spread out elsewhere makes more sense because then you hit a wider audience. The audience is out there but it’s not your traditional photographic audience, it’s an audience involved in music, style, art, design – a myriad or interests. I consider myself first and foremost a photographer, and thats where I began, but I like to think I can do a bit more than that or appeal to a wider audience. The photography audience, to me, is a bit dry and academic, if you like so the idea that I can talk to a lot more people is much more appealing because then it draws people into it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.