SEEING WHAT WE FEEL:
THE EXPRESSION OF MUSIC SUBCULTURE THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
Anne Marsh wrote, “the subject is always trying to act out an image of the ideal self”. (Marsh 2003 cited in Devereux, Dillane and Power 143:3 ). Allowing people to portray themselves using music and fashion, for how they feel expresses them and becomes part of their identity. This can mean that it is easier to express what the member of the subculture want to say or how they feel but can also build a connection with people more easily. That can make them feel like they can relate with others or give them people to socialize with. As recalled by Malcolm McClaren “People would sit on the bus or hang around in coffee bars with an album on display to show everyone… what type of music they were into, that they were members of this secret society”. (Gorman 2006) Showing how important it is for people to become a part of subculture and create connections with others of the same interest.
Focusing on two bodies of work, one called The Osmond’s by Martin Parr and the other called The Disciples by James Mollison. This presentation will look to show the way in which both sets of fans are represented based on the subculture they are connected to and how the images are interpreted to feature their character. As David Bates suggests, “the work of photography should be the ‘unmasking’ of appearances not making myths through appearance” (Bate 2009) implying that the images express the individual’s identity in terms of the subculture they belong to. As the images capture the character of the person through their appearance, attitude and interests. Therefore, what you see is an indication of someone’s mind. Raising the questions “How is a visual image of someone formed from a style of music?” and “What does the image mean in terms of culture?”
WHAT IS SUBCULTURE?
Sarah Thompson best describes subculture as “ideologies… by which youth imagine their own and other social groups, [asserting] their distinctive character and [affirming] that they are not anonymous members of an undifferentiated mass”. (Thompson 1990 cited in Thornton 10:4). Showing that youth form their appearance based on characteristics that resemble their interests and implying they build a society from it. As Thornton said in terms of music, “the experience of musical authenticity is perceived as a cure for alienation. (because it offers [the] feeling of community”. (Thompson 1990 cited in Thornton 10:4). Giving the sense that the interest in music unites people who hold similarity in what they are influenced by.
From this the fashion portrays the interest and knowledge to others that surround them. This informs others that hold the same interests and similar appearance, that they are interested in the same music, turning the fashion into a uniform while also expressing their difference to anyone who isn’t a member of the group. However, at the same time they also strive to be different from the others in the subculture to create an identity, that becomes more about an expression of them selves compared to everyone else. As Thornton explained, [members of a subculture build] “the interaction of people’s perceptions of themselves with others’ view of them” to form a unique look that portrays them differently to the others in the subculture. (Gelder and Thornton 1997 cited in Hodkinson 9:20) That way the member is able to tell others this is who I am and how I feel. From this I am seen this way but I’m unique and not like everyone else.
In the 1970’s, the country was going through a time classed as “Thatcherism” (BBC History 2015) where a large amount of the countries industries were being closed down by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she wanted people to take control of their own lives, resulting in helping cripple the country more, from what was started by the previous government whose encouragement of over spending had caused a recession. Bringing into account the strength of the girl’s confidence to show strength of women, who had the most power at the time due to Margaret Thatcher being in charge while the girl rebels against society.
At the time Martin Parr created a project based on five female fans of The Osmond’s because he “was interested in the [ordinary] of life. He wanted to observe and record”…”people’s”…”values, attitudes and the trivia they possessed and discussed”. (Open College of Arts 2002). In these images Parr manages to read subculture into the subject of his work to show it’s dominance within society at the time. Through looking at the way the girls express themselves with fashion and memorabilia.
This image in particular connotes a female fan, dressed in an outfit that she’s designed herself to appear in Parr’s words as a “hippie”. (Magnum Photos 2014). Meaning that she is seen to be “rejecting convention”, (Cowley, Elliott and Knight 1997) so is seen as going against the majority of societies persuasion. Supported by her wearing a sunflower as stated by David Simonelli “Adult norms were opposed in”… “what was thought to be a strong individuality”, [that] “was usually found in thrift shops”… [when] “trying to achieve a “flower revolution”. (Simonelli 2012). Showing that who ever wear’s the flower is passively in rebellion against adult authority like with the punk scene.
While sporting images and writing that illustrate her love for The Osmond’s giving the impression that as Agnes Rocamora and Alfred O’Neill voiced “these images”… “showed ‘real’ fashion coming ‘from the streets”. (Rocamora and O’Neill 2008 cited in Bull 156: 24). Implying that the fashion of the time is centered on what people come up with them selves. While the person looks at the viewer through a direct gaze building a connection with the audience. As Susan Kismaric and Eva Respini says “creating the impression of everyday contemporary lifestyle being recorded [as]: ‘fashion as it lived’, (Kismaric and Respini 2004 cited in Bull 159: 3) telling us that the clothing expresses her opinions and interests.
On the other hand James Mollison has documented subculture through music fans, by creating the photobook project “The Disciples”. Giving the impression from the title, that has become common in society, that the fans are followers of a god known as “celebrity culture”. (The Guardian 2014). Where the use of technology and social media has bought people together, fans are able to be in contact with their desired celebrities everyday life more easily, encouraging the fan to become more like their favorite celebrity.
Due to this, Mollison “photographed fans outside different concerts. [As he was] fascinated by the different tribes of people that attended them, and how people emulate celebrity to form their identity”. (Amusing Planet 2011) Conveying that people are taking parts of there desired celebrities’ style to help portray them selves.
In each image Mollison portrayed the fans that had the most extravagant image or who appeared to look more like the musician they were there to see on the night. Here the fans are all shown to be wearing black clothing and excessive makeup associated with the Goth subculture forming their appearance to be mixed in with the performing band, Marilyn Manson.
Out of a vast range of images taken outside the gigs with a portable studio, select amounts were montaged together into rows of eight to ten people forming a queue, depicting the reason why they were there that night. This bought in the idea that the people are part of a clique who have the same interests and style of identity. [Beginning to show] “How the concerts became events for people to come together with surrogate ‘families’, a chance to relive their youth or try and be part of a scene that happened before they were born”. (Amusing Planet 2011). Saying that the reason for subculture is to bring together people who hold a resemblance in their style, to help them make connections with like-minded people.
At the same time, the removal of the surroundings make it that the viewer is drawn to the style and fashion before looking to the people’s faces. Where you get a direct gaze from the people connoting a sense of confidence and identity “to represent people from a variety of communities. Thus, fashion and music share the potential for expression of the self and the community of which one originates”. (Miller 2011). Allowing people to portray an identity that they feel represents them and that will express how they feel more clearly within society.
Martin Parr’s “The Osmond’s” and James Mollison’s “The Disciples” don’t hold many similarities. However, both portraiture projects focus on the clothing being worn and what the person-photographed interests are shown as being. As Thornton explained “Subcultral capitals fuel rebellion against, or rather escape from, the trappings of parental class”. (Thornton 1995). This brings in the sense of subculture and the fans wanting to express themselves through their favorite artists rather than follow what they are being told to do.
While the two projects hold many more differences. The main one being that the two projects were created for different reasons, Parr’s having the idea of subculture read into his images where as Mollison’s is focused on understanding subculture. However, with Parr’s imagery you get more information from the image being a part of subculture due to the surroundings being included. Telling the viewer this is what these girls wear daily, but except for the pictures used as accessories. The clothing suggests that the girl’s could be a fan of any artist around at the time. Where as with Mollison’s the context in the image is removed due to the white background so you don’t know whether the people dress like it regularly or if it is just something they wear for the concerts. It is though, clear that the people are fans of Marilyn Manson as they form their identity to turn them into him. Enforcing Chris Rojek’s point that celebrities are seen as “godlike people who exist in a realm above the rest of us”. (Rojek 2001 cited in Bull 172:8). Meaning that the celebrities are what subcultures look to as leaders who live above the rest of us, so the subcultures aspire to be like them through turning themselves into their chosen celebrity.
Overall identity has become a prominent part of today’s society especially when it comes to expressing yourself. Where the idea of subculture has taken on extremes in which people appear more over time as their idols or in a style familiar to a subculture that they are a part of. Moreover, they tend to create a response from many that is mainly unpopular. Yet in both these projects, both photographers try to combat the stigma that is seen. Through Mollison looking to understand and explain what he finds in a simple and clear format that can be related to by the viewer. On the other hand Parr looks to show the participant as a person who uses their identity to express their opinion and support what they believe.
Bringing about the idea of a face behind the style to give more of a human characteristic to what is usually seen as i-D once suggested “every sub-culture breeds its own moral panic, every moral panic is stereotyped” (i-D 1990 cited in Thornton 134:31). Saying that a subculture gives an identity but is not really accepted by society as buyers of Mollison’s work explain after viewing the book “It is surprising and funny and mortifying. There are musical acts that I know and others that I have never heard of and their fans are all fascinating”… “this is thought provoking” Effie (Amazon 2015) as another recounts “the photos as shown need no words”. Old Timer (Chief) (Amazon 2015). Even though “the name of the bands that the fans are from [are] at the bottom of each page”…”most of the time, you don’t even need to read the name to know what band is being represented”. l.Schneider (Amazon 2015). Reiterating that the people are displaying the artist or band’s style so much that what you see when looking at the person is the music.
Presented in this video
For my presentation I did my talk on subculture and the way it or rather the people involved in it are misunderstood. So instead to display what is meant by the ideal of subculture according to the people. In this case the ones being photographed so that the meaning of subculture to the fans that create the behavior are understood and not just doubted through voices such as the medias. This was due to my interest in music and wanting to look at a project through a theme unknown to me so to try something new.
When doing the research I felt comfortable as I don’t mind doing research however throughout my projects I am usually drawn to using the internet as it is more easily accessible than travelling to the library so I decided I’d also focus on using more books and journals though out. My main problem when doing my research though was that my idea was not clear in that I had five idea’s which most linked to subculture but I wasn’t aware of the meaning of subculture at the time. Therefore, I wasted a lot of time jumping back and forth between my ideas.
When it came to my script I was uncomfortable with writing it as I always find the option to be confusing, as I know what I want to say but putting it into words in an analytical format is something I find difficult to do. In this case I still found it hard to do even though I had all my research and knew the artists work well. This combined with the idea of presenting caused me extra nerves that got worse towards the end as the time drew closer and I doubted more and more if I was doing my script correctly.
However, the feedback when presenting or talking it through with different people especially when talking to lecturers or mentors relaxed me a bit. As I have up till now mainly ran my idea past a group of friends unless I’ve had an apt as part of the lesson. Yet up till the time I presented I still had bad nerves with feeling stressed over whether my script was correct and the idea of presenting being daunting to me.
In the end though once I had got my idea sorted to just be the one option research wise everything fitted well together even in terms of the script. Moreover, when presenting in the gallery I felt more relaxed as compared to presenting in the library the week before. Due to this I felt more confident in my work and even with a lack of confidence when presenting or speaking in a large crowd usually, managed to be overcome within the final presentation. My only issue other than the fact I talk quickly any how was that I got distracted by the sun a few times and due to how bright it was I repeated a line once. However, this is not something that couldn’t be helped so I am happy with how my presentation went.
After completing the module though, if I was to change anything about the way I worked other than already knowing now that it wouldn’t be as daunting as I imagined it to be. It would have to be the way in which I organised my ideas so to run them through more quickly to narrow it down to one idea straight away. Due to feeling the time of looking at different options caused me more stress and led to me not working on my script as much as I planned to. As for with changing my length of time presenting I would still get nervous if I had longer or shorter amounts of time yet I feel with doing presentations more since start of third year, I am able to move past the set back more easily.
From the research and plan to focus this year mainly based on a music outcome I have managed to come up with my idea for fmp based on culture and memories that remain for music events. Due to a comment made during a piece of my research for my symposium. Linking my idea for the two modules together and already giving me the understanding of the scene around, in the different decades. Due to this a lot of my research or my symposium in general has formed a lot of research towards my fmp so for me to carry my symposium on in a way of being more comfortable to me.