Ill Manor's photographer Gavin Watson speaks to us about his youth, Plan B, Skins & Punks, why he hates using a flash and documenting the deterioration of his heroin addict friend...
There are those that hope that their work and life symbolizes a certain unapologetic directness, then there are those that hope that their work is simply good – that it leads them to the paths of greatness, of course whilst they nod politely and with mediocre sheepishness at everything around them, and then there are those whose pursuit of power traps them within their own unethical pursuits and they are set forever, trapped within their own longing for acceptance.
Ignore those people in our life time, and you clearly see those, the ones that are unafraid, bold and unapologetic, to live their life clearly – the ones that drive and steer the direction in which our lives can be opened – by showing a pulsating new undiscovered way of thinking – or a life we could not see and yet was in front of us.
Who have been these unafraid drivers and where are they now? At a time when we need them as heavily as we do.
Within my travels to work and move towards bringing together only those with a refreshed way of viewing our world, as we live through political, cultural and social unrest, together with fearless and unapologetic thinking – I met such a person, Photographer Gavin Watson - made iconic through the lives he captured during the height of the 70s and 80’s Skins / Punks and Rave generations (Concluded in the Skins & Punk Book 2008) – A person who clearly represents how powerful the documentation of life can be and a gift with the lens that can only be described as a positive weapon - for his work is so immeasurably direct and with beauty – I can only ask, what exactly have the rest of you all been doing out there?
MK: Are the punk photos really representing your memories and the time of your youth?
GW: My youth has been crystalized into those images; they don’t represent the nuances, there is so much more that happened. I’ve given my memories to the world, with more detail than most people, we were full of joy and youth, but it wasn’t a good time.
At one stage I was 27-years-old taking pictures of my friend Lee, who was in a grim situation – he was a heroin addict. I remember taking the photos of him and looking back at them with tears streaming down my face. It’s as Ed (Skrein) said in his interview with you, people are products of their environment.
You’re viewed as a documentary photographer but how do you describe your work?
I was never a documentary photographer. I was just photographing my mates, it wasn’t deliberate, other people give me that label.
Have you, or how have you been trying to move away from that work (Skins & Punks 2008)?
It became a double edged sword, I had no understanding of what I had done when I was taking those pictures at 15,16 and 17 years old. From 1979 onwards, the bulk of the historical Skins & Punks era was from the 1979 to 1981period.
I’m not a different photographer from the one I was at 15, I’m a natural, I have a raw organic way of taking pictures. My methods have not changed.
Has your technique changed?
I’m not inspired by anyone else. I’m inspired by what’s in front of me. I have old cameras that I’ve bought for a few pounds, old Olympus 10s. When I do large campaigns I’ll work with a great post production editor; I’m just interested in taking the photos, not anything else. It’s all about the story, the subjects. I rarely use flash, I hate using flash actually. I will still use film because I know it will be safe, it’s a back up because you can lose 5 years of work using digital, in an instant.
The first two Farrah campaigns were on film. Vice magazine insist on Film, but the high end advertising campaigns are on digital. The business side I’ve always avoided .
“[The Skins & Punks era] became a double edged sword, I had no understanding of what I had done…”
Why did you actively avoid it?
It was mainly because I didn’t think of photography in that way. The High End photography has only happened in the past four years. I didn’t realise I was or had been doing amazing work. My dad helped me to realise that if I didn’t do something with my work someone else would.
I have a great respect for those that have an innate sense of confidence about their work. Now I know my work is great. I’ve had letters from kids in council estates telling me my work has changed their life and it’s your generation that I hear this from, from people like you, Ben (Drew) and Ed (Skrein). You are telling me how the work has inspired you, you’ve taken inspiration from my work, you are all now representing your generation in the same way I did for mine.
What’s interesting for you now?
Being involved in Ben Drew’s project has been interesting. Also I don’t want to go to photograph other places to photograph other people’s misery. Advertising or Magazines will ask me to go to Brazil to photograph children in Brazil – But I don’t want to photograph that – I’ve spent my life trying to get out of where I was from. So no I do not want to photograph more misery. I dealt with that during the Skins & Punks era.
What aspect of Ben Drew’s (Plan B) work do you like?
His uniqueness; I’m attracted to people like that, I don’t do anything I don’t like doing.
What’s inspires you?
That’s a good question, It’s being around creative people, meeting people like Gary Newman who was a great influence on my life; being around Ben Drew and Ed Skrein. I always wanted to go to Jamaica and Pakistan to exhibit, in these places that are not expected.
What would you like to work on now?
Your documentary/Film, to talk about what you’re talking about in the film. I want to find the working class photographers and their work, that hasn’t been seen and create a documentary and a book. We need to move away from the current or existing elitist views about photography or visual art, told by people on the South Bank Show etc that continue representing only specific parts of society.
I have done 4 Doc Martin Campaigns in the past 2 years; I’ve a good continuous relationship with Farrah so far we’ve done 4 campaigns together.
Which photographers from previous generations i.e. pre 2001 do you admire?
Ansel Adams and Kash; I met Kash and gave him my Skins & Punks book before he died. Also Harold Pinter, it was humbling to find my picture above his type writer, he was an uncompromising man and contemporary photographer Morgan Silk; I admire game changers, he was my role model he inspired me. We came from opposite ends of photography.
I don’t care about how things come across, I’m Gavin Watson, I treat every single body the same. There was no Plan B for me, I wasn’t ever going to compromise my work. My mate Johnny Ray said to me ‘’ You know you’re trouble Watson, is you think you’re a fucking genius’’ This was because he knew I was living in my head not doing anything with my work; so when I finished the Skins & Punks book, with Terry Richardson stating ‘’Genius’’ about the book; I went to Johnny’s office and dropped it on his desk and said ‘’Someone else agrees with me’’ We couldn’t stop laughing.
I have an Art Book I have written, with only 1000 being pressed, it’s part biography, memories of the Skins period. A Music Photography Book with ArtRocker from my work in the 80’s and a mixture of new music photography from Ben Drew’s/Plan B’s work and possibly a photography led book with Ben Drew, a behind the scenes of his work and more. Also progressing with more fashion photography. Ad agencies are insane by the way.
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