Art | England’s Dreaming
If you haven’t heard of Ewen Spencer, you have probably heard of Skins. If you have seen Skins, you have seen Ewen Spencer’s work, albeit indirectly. He is the photographer that made his claim to fame for his shots of the Skins cast in 2007. His exhibition England’s Dreaming, an exploration of Youth and Subculture, is currently being showcased at the Leeds Whitecloth Gallery.
Upon entering the gallery my first impression was that these pictures that had collected an obscene amount of ‘likes’ on Facebook and had spontaneously and inexplicably erupted from that virtual reality to plaster themselves in high-definition along the walls in all their glory. The subject matter is the wild scenes of parties and raves, and ranges from the awkward ‘wtf?’ to the downright humorous ‘lol’ moments. They’re very loud images, they don’t speak, they shout. Observe the strong reactions from the crowd: The bearded man walking towards the bar mutters “Utter b******s”, whilst to his right a group of girls giggle with delight over another photo. It seems that everyone, whether positive or negative, has drawn something of personal interest from these photographs.
I got a chance to speak to Ewen himself to explore the relationship between the man and his art and the creative instincts that drive him.
Does the title England’s Dreaming imply youthful idealism, or a sense of detachment and denial?
Well it’s a lyric from a Sex Pistols song, and Punk being a major subculture, I wanted to make a comparison between that and todays. But you’re right, there’s an ambiguity to it – whether or not it’s a pleasant dream or a bad dream. But as with viewing any work, its subjective isn’t it, and its up to the viewer to make their mind up on it.
Are your subjects blind to your presence, or are they self-consciously aware? How authentic is the behaviour of the people you portray?
In the main, I take pictures of spontaneous moments of people that I’ve never met. But there are times when I take pictures of people that I’ve spent a long time with, and they tend to forget that I’m there – and that’s the moment I’m looking for: when people are relaxed and just don’t give a s**t . Nothing’s posed; they’re honest photographs.
Are there any moments that you’ve missed, and wished for the world you hadn’t?
Yeah, of course. There have been moments when I’ve been caught up in the moment, enjoying it too much maybe. But other times I felt it wasn’t really an appropriate time to take a picture, you know, when violence breaks out. I’ve never wanted to portray negative experiences, but always aim for the positive. I don’t want to shoot through barbed wire. It’s a positive time, isn’t it, being young? It’s a right of passage.
So is it worth seeing? Well, if you’re looking for an experience that is artfully playful, light-hearted and bold – then the simple answer is, yes.