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Skins

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At the age of 14, Watson began photographing his brother, Neville, and his group of friends, who all grew up at the forefront of their local skinhead scene in High Wycombe. Watson’s work had no specific intention or motive behind it –“I’ve got tens of thousands of pictures that I took for no reason whatsoever”– other than simply tracing a period of pure friendship, era-defining style and real life. For Watson, the presence of skins in such communities defies the skewed perception of the subculture as a breeding ground for white nationalism. “It goes against the narrative so hard,” he explains. “It just goes to show that [being a] skinhead’s not about race, it’s about a working-classness, a comradery, and that is universal. That’s why, whenever there’s a strong working-class culture – regardless of religion – you’ll find people listening to ska music and you’ll find people dressed as skinheads.”

skinheads in the 1980s were young, pissed Photos: British skinheads in the 1980s were young, pissed

My pictures went unseen until years after when they were discovered in a box amongst thousands at a community darkroom facility which I used to make prints. They were selected for a book about youth culture. And that’s when it all started, my first book was published and I was part of a street style exhibition in the Victoria & Albert Museum. But I wasn’t prepared for any form of success, it all went over my head. Watson and his friends were part of a concentrated, local community of skins with its own particular identity. “The council estate over the road was sort of the boundary. Our town was tiny. Our minds were tiny as well,” he says. “The skinheads in Aylesbury would be very different from the skinheads 15 miles away. It was very insular until we went to gigs and then you’d meet up with people.” In Great Britain, the skinhead subculture became associated in the public eye with the membership of groups such as the National Front and the British Movement. By the 1990s, neo-Nazi skinhead movements existed across all of Europe and North America. Gavin Watson documented his friends as they came of age at the heart of a misunderstood community.” — i-DTheir style was an exaggerated version of the traditional unskilled laborer. One of the first scholars to research skinheads, sociologist Mike Brake, classified skinheads as a “traditional working-class delinquent subculture” and documented five traits that defined first-generation British skinheads: toughness and violence; football (soccer), ethnocentrism, Puritan work ethic; and a cynical worldview. Northern soul was a music and dance movement that grew out of the British mod scene in northern England in the late 1960s, largely inspired by the faster tempo and darker sounds of mid-60s American soul music. Records emerging from the Northern Soul scene became known as ‘stompers’ for their soulful vocals and heavy beats. Until a few years ago Gavin's images had been held within underground cult status, with his work being brought into the media by Shane Meadows after images from ‘Skins’ Gavin's first book were used as the inspiration and muse for the award winning film This is England.

Nicky Crane: The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi - BBC News Nicky Crane: The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi - BBC News

First published in 1994, Gavin Watson’s inimitable publication Skins is one of the most renowned documentations of British sub-culture to date. Beginning his career aged fourteen after impulsively purchasing a camera at Woolworth’s, Watson’s photographs have inspired films, exhibited globally and most importantly, been shared between the people who stood before his lens three decades ago as a reminder of their glory days. But alongside their shared musical references, the photographer does concede that the skins also “looked cool”. “It’s American 50s prep, really,” he explains. “Maybe not the boots, but the chinos, the tight trousers, the smart Levi’s and the Ben Sherman shirts. It’s very classic. It wasn’t made up by the skins, it came from Americana, really.” What makes Gavin’s photos so special is that when you look at them, there’s clearly trust from the subject towards the photographer, so it feels like you’re in the photo rather than just observing.”–Shane Meadows (Director of award-winning film This Is England). The second wave arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These skinheads differed from the first generation, in that they were not influenced as much by mod as they were by the growing punk and 2Tone Ska scenes in London. By the time Gavin Watson had left school at the age of 16, he had already amassed more than 10,000 photographs of his friends, taken at a council estate in High Wycombe, during the time the second generation of British skinheads were coming of age in the late 1970s and early 80s.What makes Gavin’s photos so special is that when you look at them, there’s clearly trust from the subject towards the photographer, so it feels like you’re in the photo rather than just observing.” –Shane Meadows (Director of award-winning film This Is England).

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