Friday, 27 February 2009

Gavin Watson

Photographer Gavin Watson returns to a turbulent youth of skins and violence.

Gavin Watson’s first book Skins remains the definitive visual record of the skinhead movement. It was used by director Shane Meadows to help him secure a deal for This is England; a film which Gavin admits had him in tears, evoking mixed emotions and memories of his troubled youth as a skinhead in High Wycombe, where he photographed his friends.

“I wasn’t thinking: ‘I’m photographing skinheads’,” Watson says as he discusses his latest publication, Skins and Punks. “I was thinking: ‘I’m photographing my mates.’ It’s only now in retrospect that I realise it wasn’t as mundane as I thought it was.”

Skins and Punks is a far more personal and moving collection of images than anything Watson has previously produced. Unflinching at times, it nonetheless portrays images of misspent youth with sympathy and understanding.

“It’s humanitarian,” he explains. “When you open the book, you see human beings, not the clothes that they’re wearing.”

While some photos illustrate the fun and innocence of youth, others are a window into the world of frustration and emotional pain of growing up on a violent council estate. One of the subjects Gavin captured, for example, was his friend Stuart, who killed his wife and sister in law before finally committing suicide himself.

“He was a fucking wild dog but I liked Stuart,” Watson reminisces. “Although he was damaged, he was intelligent and funny. When I found out about the murders, I knew I came from that violence; I’d come from that route and that’s where it ended.”

Growing up starved of culture and artistic guidance, and being too insecure to enjoy other photographers’ work which he saw as: “a message to say I would never make it”, comics became a source of inspiration.

“I was mainly into 2000 AD, Conan and Judge Dredd,” he explains. “It was that bold, stark lighting I think I liked. It must have been subconscious, because I didn’t set out to do it.”

After a difficult period of self-reflection, Gavin has quit drinking and now works in contemporary music photography. He also has plans to release another book, in collaboration with his brother, this time documenting the birth of the nineties rave-scene, as well as a film depicting the humour of the skinhead lifestyle.

Having acquired his approach to photography through personal relationships with his subjects, Watson’s style is virtually inimitable, whilst also being highly influential “I always tell college kids, if you can’t make your own environment epic, then you’re not gonna find anything else out there!” The intimate atmosphere of the book is what sets it apart from similar collections “I just love the fact that these are all my friends and that they’ve been immortalised. That’s more important to me than anything else, really.”

published: Dazed and Confused Vol II #67 November 2008

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