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Micklefield

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    High Wycombe (photographed)

  • Date:

    1981 (photographed)
    2011 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Watson, Gavin, born 1965 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gelatin silver print

  • Credit Line:

    Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  • Museum number:

    E.362-2011

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case SP, shelf 2

Born in London in 1965, photographer Gavin Watson grew up on a council estate in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He bought a Hanimex camera from Woolworths in his early teens and began to take photographs of his younger brother Neville and their group of skinhead friends. The images have become an important visual record of the skinhead subculture, often challenging the racial stereotypes surrounding it.

The ‘Wycombe Skins’ adopted the closely shaved hairstyles, Harrington jackets, rolled up Levi’s jeans and Doc Marten boots that skinheads were known for across Britain. The reappearance of the distinctive style in the late 1970s and early 1980s revived the skinhead youth culture of the 1960s, which originally emerged as a working class take on popular fashion and music of the period. Early skinheads shared an interest in the Jamaican music styles of reggae, ska, soul and rocksteady, while the skinhead revival surrounded the new ‘two tone’ ska music of bands like Madness and The Specials.

Skinheads were influenced by Jamaican rude boys; another subcultural group which introduced Jamaican music to Britain. Despite the mixed cultural heritage of skinhead style, it became increasingly associated with the extreme right wing politics of groups like the National Front in the 1970s. Taken when Watson was sixteen years old, this photograph documents the racially inclusive nature of skinhead life in High Wycombe. In an attempt to look beyond the racial politics, Watson has since suggested that his photographs might help people to, ‘see skinheads for what they mostly were. Just kids learning about themselves, getting dressed up and having a laugh.’

The V&A acquired two photographs by Gavin Watson as part of the Staying Power project. Photographs by Syd Shelton which document resistance to racial boundaries in rock music, largely through the organisation Rock Against Racism, were also acquired as part of the project. Staying Power is a five year partnership between the V&A and Black Cultural Archives. The project aims to explore black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s through photographs acquired by the V&A and oral histories conducted by Black Cultural Archives.

Physical description

A black and white photograph of four young boys in a field behind a row of houses. A young black boy stands looking down at an item he is holding in the central foreground of the image; he appears out of focus. Two young white boys either side of him have skinhead haircuts and, along with a young black boy in the background, they all look out to the right of the frame.

Place of Origin

High Wycombe (photographed)

Date

1981 (photographed)
2011 (printed)

Artist/maker

Watson, Gavin, born 1965 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Gelatin silver print

Dimensions

Height: 592 mm image size, Width: 400 mm image size, Height: 609 mm paper size, Width: 501 mm paper size, Height: 743 mm mount size, Width: 542 mm mount size

Object history note

The V&A acquired this photograph as part of the Staying Power project. Staying Power is a five year partnership between the V&A and Black Cultural Archives. The project aims to explore black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s through photographs acquired by the V&A and oral histories conducted by Black Cultural Archives.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Gavin Watson, 'Micklefield', gelatin silver print, High Wycombe, 1981, printed in 2011

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Watson, G. SKINS & PUNKS (Brooklyn: Vice Books, 2008), illustrated, pg. 37

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Gelatin silver process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Youth; Houses; Boys; Grass; Hairstyles

Categories

African Diaspora; Photographs; Children & Childhood

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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