Photographer Jon Mortimer recalls the origins of his fascination with Mod culture and its outsider heroes ahead of his new exhibition in Berlin
My love affair with Mod culture began when I was at school and I saw Quadrophenia for the first time.
I’d never really belonged to any youth culture – even if I did think I was a Rude Boy for about a week – and though I was never a Mod myself, the music, the style and the attitude of disaffected suburban youth really appealed to me.
A few characters I discovered in my teens made me think I wasn’t alone: Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Jimmy in Quadrophenia. I’ve gone on to find others that have widened my love of the scene, the unnamed protagonist in Colin MacInnes’ novel Absolute Beginners being a fine example of this. A teenage photographer in the late 1950s, the book’s protagonist – unnamed in MacInnes’ book, but subsequently named Colin in Julien Temple’s cult film adaptation of the same name – was not a Mod, but certainly a character from the origins of the movement, the 1950s Jazz scene.
The Mod movement has echoed through future incarnations of Skineads, suedeheads and football casuals as the very definition of the working class has changed through the decades and subsequent politics. The working class lad who survives the working week and lives for the weekend, but who’s swapped the terraces for the dance floor. “Clean living under difficult circumstances” as the Mods put it. Not dressed up in political camouflage, just following a way of life. It seemed to me an interesting rebellion, to dress up in slick suits and comb your hair, but it worked because it was inescapably wrapped up in the pride of a working class still searching for new identities in the modern world.
Mod culture is one of the last real survivors of youth cultures, and I can see this revival growing and becoming stronger. And I still don’t belong to it, but I am glad it is there.