Owen Harvey’s curiosity for masculinity, identity and heritage has lead from photographing the Mods and the Skinheads subculture all over United Kingdom to capturing the rising phenomenon of the low-riding world in the East Coast of America. With a strong affinity towards storytelling, his body of works primarily focuses on portraitures, often capturing the passion and enthusiasm of his subjects.
I found that subcultures held a lot of these attributes in different ways and it reflected some of the things that I grew up around myself. I didn't start these projects with a specific intention, but more with an excitement and a curiosity to learn more.
Based in Homerton in East London, Owen graduated from Newport's University of South Wales documentary photography course. two liner abt his past works. At the moment he is working on a project titled, "All Change" a collaboration with 12 other photographers documenting the peripheries of London at the end of each underground line. "This is a year long project and will be a celebration of diversity in London." he says. Owen has works across a multitude of platform - from commission works for Wall Street Journal to Fred Perry, Sony Music and even on digital magazines such as Dazed and Confused and i-D amongst many others. But it is his personal projects that takes the limelight. His free spirited and raw captures of the mod and skinhead subculture in his two recent projects, "Mod UK" and"Skinhead and Suedes"have been widely recognized and exhibited in multiple photo exhibitions around the world. Armed with a curiosity to capture the energy of his subjects, Owen has spent countless nights and mornings hanging out and photographing his subjects. For Mod UK, his photographic project has taken him into the fashionable world of London, Brighton, Margate, Liverpool and more. He has had works exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Divan Gallery in Germany.
Hello Owen, can you share with us a little bit about yourself?
My name's Owen, I'm a photographer based in London with an interest in subculture and youth. I grew up in Watford, England and from an early age had a real interest in music and through that love was introduced to photography.
How did you get into photography?
My first answer leads on to this actually, I guess my first introductory to professional photography in which I engaged with was from the artwork of albums that I liked. My dad, who was a big influence on my musical taste introduced me to bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and The Who. I remember seeing the booklet from The Who's - Quadrophenia and something in those images really resonated with me. Those images were essentially a fictional documentary piece about a young man finding his place in the world, fed by excess, emotion, masculinity and unstable relationships. They were taken by a photographer Ethan Russell. Those image were a real learning curve for me, that a picture could be more than a singular image and through storytelling they could build emotion and make someone feel something. This was when my interest in photography grew.
What was your first body of work and how did it reflect who you are as a photographer at the point of time?
The first body of work I produced was about a man called Barry, who had suffered from manic depression almost all of his life, he had been in and out of care homes as a child and never really had the support from the government that he needed in order to get by. His flat had become a place in which younger men had began to sell drugs from and I was taking pictures during this time, but really trying to talk about the bigger picture at how vulnerable individuals often with mental health issues were slipping through the net and not receiving adequate support. I guess at the time it reflected that I was ambitious, a little naive and I was of course and still am always learning.
Do you approach photography differently when shooting something more intimate as opposed to projects that are commission.
I try to approach commercial and personal work exactly the same way. Sometimes there are more restraints with commercial work, due to timings, budgets and other similar limitations, but overall I am as passionate about both.
Okay, you’re off for a gig. What’s your gear like? What’s in your camera bag?
If I'm shooting personal work, there's often a medium format Bronica SQ-Ai in my bag, along with a Nikon F80 for 35mm. Both inexpensive cameras, but do the job you need them to. For commercial work I've recently been using a Canon 5Dmk4 and often use Profoto lights, whilst when shooting with film I often use a Metz hammerhead flash.
Are they any photographers whose work has had an impact on the way you approach photography?
I look at photography every day and this changes over time, but some of the photographers who have made a long lasting impression on me, are Trent Parke, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Roger Ballen, Larry Clark, the list goes on.
His latest body of work, Ground Clearance is an ongoing long term project documenting the low-riding subculture in America’s east coast. The motto of low-riding, “Low and Slow” embodies the subculture that has grown in popularity ever since the post war prosperity of the 50s. In mid-to-late 1940s, young Latin Americans would redesign their cars, lowering blocks, cutting spring coils and dropping spindles, so that their car would drop lower than their rims. This phenomena started in Los Angeles, California and by redesigning their cars with intricate designs and hydraulic jacks, low-riding expresses the young Chichano American's sentiment and rebellion to not be “anglicized”. Since the 21st century, Low-riding has been popularized in the West Coast hip hop scene and G-Funk Culture. Lowriders are often featured in the music videos of 1990s hip hop superstars such as Snoop Dog, Warren G and Dr Dre.
"Due to my interest in the Hip Hop scene growing up. I also felt it was an interesting time to photograph a heavily Latino populated subculture in New York, at a time in which Trump was coming in to power."
Can you share with us about Ground Clearance and the idea behind it?
Ground Clearance was really a project at first just about discovery for me. I grew up listening to a lot of Hip Hop as a young teenager, being shown artists such as N.W.A. Cypress Hill, Wu Tang Clan, NAS, etc from my older brother. Through this I learnt about Low-riding and grew more interested in the community and heritage around this. I decided to go over to America in 2016 and traveled back and forth numerous times through to 2017 to document the East Coast scene. As I continued to make the pictures, I was drawn to the ones that had a cinematic quality to them and realised that this was due to all of my previous visual references being through cinema and music videos. I liked the idea that the images offered more questions than answers.
What was the process going there like and meeting the lowriders?
I actually reached out initially by email to one of the Low-riding groups. After explaining my interests as a photographer, sending over previous work I'd done and asking if I could come to photograph them, I got a short two word answer to my email saying "Yes, sure" with a phone number included. I decided that was enough to fly over to New York and a month later I was waiting in New York to meet them. The first night about 12 cars pulled up and one told me to jump in the car, I did and we cruised around Manhattan until 3am. Following this, we'd go cruising on Fridays and with the time in between this, I'd meet up with them individually to get to know them further and take portraits in areas usually on the outskirts of NYC.
Top 3 songs that has had an influence on your photography journey.
N.W.A - Boyz in The Hood. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg - Nuthin' But A G Thang. Eazy E - Real Muthaphuckkin G's
From 2016-2017,Owen Harvey traveled to America multiple times and spent months photographing and hanging out with some of the most formidable Low-riding crews. His first point of contact was the Lunatic Lowriders, a New York City low-riding crew. His first experience includes cruising the lighted nights of New York City with 12 other cars, a sneak peek to many more night-less cruising. Ground Clearance is a result of this - a documentation of identity and cultural pride of the young Latin man and women keeping the "Slow and Low" subculture going.
Most memorable experience thus far for Ground Clearance?
Probably the first night of cruising! The whole thing felt very surreal. The Fish Fry BBQ was also great too, lots of different clubs coming together, it's all about family, pride and dedication.
Which of these photographs in Ground Clearance is your favourite?
I think one of my favourite photos is Craig-O at night time. I like it because it holds a really cinematic feeling and raises more questions than gives answers. It makes the viewer question: Why is he waiting in the car park? Who is he waiting for? I feel the lighting adds to the mood and due to it feeling like a still from a movie, for me it reflects the potential fantasy aspect of subculture.
This project took a few years to photograph - do you feel that this is an important aspect especially when photographing subject matters that have a long standing history and influence in American Culture?
I feel like there are no real rules in regards to how long a project may take. For me, it was more of a case of practicality and the time it took to establish relationships with various members of the different low-riding groups. Usually, I find a lot of the projects are a learning curve and as time passes, I gain a better understanding of what interests me within the subject that I'm focusing on.
At which point did you decide that “this was it”?
I don't think I have come to a point yet in which I think "this is it" as such. I'd love to also go to photograph the West Coast scene at some point and I think all of these projects add to a bigger umbrella of work that I'm making, which will continue to be made for years to come.
Photography by Owen Harvey
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