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Subcultures: BA Photography alumna, Olivia Rose, examines the significance of subcultures in online archive

Written by Jesse Tilley
Published date 18 November 2019

As part of the year long research project 'Subcultures: Then and Now', BA (Hons) Photography alumna and celebrity photographer, Olivia Rose, has curated an online collective expressing the narrative of subcultures and their relevance and existence today Subcultures: Now (PDF 4MB). We caught up with Olivia to hear more about the archive and her personal approach to subcultures.

Hi Olivia, can you give us an insight into the purpose of the archive?

There’s a certain irony to the fact that in 1994, the curators of the ‘Streetstyle: From sidewalk to catwalk’ exhibition at the V&A, chose to coin the word ‘Streetstyle’ as the most sellable way to promote what was in essence, a deeply fascinating and avant-garde look into sub-cultural style.

25 years on, finding the individual with style is still possible, but finding the group they belong to (whether music-centric, politically charged or otherwise) seems to have been lost along the way. With the rise and rise of the internet generation, a wealth of information at ones fingertips and the ability to be part of any club at the click of a button, sub-cultures seem to have all but disappeared. People are simply no longer attached to a way of life that informs their look.

Fashion is now so disposable, so inextricably linked to a consumerist society and the deluge of selfies that make up insta-culture, that it’s possible to be a mod on Monday, a new-age hippy on Tuesday and a surfer at the weekend - perhaps the reasons behind the dress are as vapid as - I can therefore I will - but has all meaning for why or what we adorn ourselves with been lost?

We live in a digital and meta style generation, one that I have coined ‘Slashie-style’ where people are far more likely to label themselves as grunge/punk or hip-hop/teddy boy: those who mix it up to create new style. Perhaps in 2019 we can’t judge a person from the their look as whole and have to dig a little bit deeper to find humanity and meaning.

Is it within the details or accessories? The hidden and private adornments? Have sub-cultural styles been passed down from other generations? Are the most precious items not even worn? Perhaps they are kept safe, to commemorate those who have passed, kept as memories or only brought out on special occasions.

The question I would like to pose to the slashie-style generation is: what is the one adornment you couldn’t live without?

What have you enjoyed the most about working on this?

What I've found the most fascinating is how my subjects identify themselves - as I've delved deeper into the project I have found that the future of sub-cultural style may not be apparent to us until we have hindsight, at the moment with the advances of social media and an extreme lack of privacy for many people, I think we are becoming less inclined to be part of a cultural group style and more inclined to be an individual, with our own labels and categories. My subjects have all allowed me in to their back stories and family lives, which seem so crucial to how style is passed down, diluted and reconstructed to form future style categories.

What does grime look like in 2019?

Grime in 2019 essentially looks the same way that it always did but with seasoning! The grime artists have greater access to and power over the brands they have always allied with, so they are now having a part in advancing the styles of certain items that have always and will always make up the grime wardrobe - trainers or creps, tracksuits, jewellery and chains are becoming bigger and more expensive.

Do you think that subcultures will still exist in years to come?

I think we are moving further away from the idea of identification by labels and groups and into an era of extreme individualism. It's almost a rejection of the categories that have in some ways, been to blame for harmful stereotyping and a lack of depth when it came to identification of a person as a whole. There's a beautiful almost "piss taking" occurring, where more and more people are using the labels and turning them on their heads to create themselves new categories of adornment that might mean nothing to an outsider, but mean everything to the wearer.