Young People's Geographies

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The YPG Interview 2

Would you say you integrated with the youths or were you always an outsider? How / Why?

I would say I integrated successfully with the youths and if I wanted to I could carry on doing so. They spoke to me as any other person within their large group, sometimes asking me if I had seen certain people or if I could pass messages on. I was successful because I came every week and they knew I was going to stick around. I had also become very good friends with some of the popular youths so it kind of snowballed from there in my favour. At first a lot of the youths thought I worked for the local paper and would keep their distance from me, but when they saw the more popular youths being friendly with me and having their pictures taken, they slowly approached me and joined in.

The Blue Banana retail chain in Swansea provides most of the clothing for youths, some designs are sourced directly from Japan.

The Blue Banana retail chain in Swansea provides most of the clothing for youths, some designs are sourced directly from Japan.

What have you learned about young people?

I've learned that young people are ignored when it comes to what they want as a group. There is a desire to keep them segregated from the rest of society and a feeling that they shouldn't be in certain places, they always have to be somewhere else. It's strange because when you're an adult, there are a variety of places where you can meet your friends such as pubs or coffee shops – even older people have bingo halls! All these places are made accessible because they are in the town centre. Youths are told repeatedly to go to parks or skate ramps (if they exist) which are away from the centre. Those are not always attractive options for young people, so maybe our ideas towards urban planning need a rethink. Money always seems to be an issue for local councils and nothing ever seems to happen to make things better for youths.

Young people create their own fashions. Any one of them could start a new craze, taking it across the country. I remember seeing a girl wearing a Nintendo controller as a necklace which (as an 80s child) I thought was pretty cool! I'd only ever used one for playing games whereas she had turned it into a fashion accessory. Her friend was also using a cassette which she decorated as a necklace. They were re-using everyday objects for other purposes, and ones which were well on the way to becoming obsolete. Free-running is another response to that idea, the drab boring inner city environments forced them to rethink the urban spaces they lived in. Now free-running is a growing sport which anybody has access to. Years ago if you didn't have goal posts you made them out of coats, this is an extension of that kind of behaviour.

Nobody should underestimate the awareness youths have of themselves, many understand how they can be viewed negatively because of the behaviour of others.

Nobody should underestimate the awareness youths have of themselves, many understand how they can be viewed negatively because of the behaviour of others.

Youths are not given enough credit. In some ways they are very aware of the world they live in, how people talk about them in the media, and they can react to it very badly. In Swansea a local paper ran a story about youths having underage sex on the beach after locals in the apartments opposite had complained to the newspaper about it. As far as I was aware no youths were actually having sex - kissing maybe, but I've been to the beach on occasion and those things don't happen. When the story was in the paper nobody had thought to ask the young people, it was only from the point of view of the adults. It upset a lot of the youths because they knew people would react negatively towards them if they went to the beach or the Police would be suspicious of such activities and clamp down on them being there in the future.

On the day the newspaper printed that article I know some youths went home and were told off because their parents didn't want them on the beach anymore, even though those particular youths hadn't done anything. The article caused problems at home for the young people and ill thoughts towards those people living opposite the beach. A better solution would have been to approach the youths and ask them what was going on. They have no voice or say and where was the media impartiality anyway?

What have you learned about youth subcultures?

I've learned that youth subculture isn't really understood enough. It moves so fast today and we have adults and authorities still holding onto the idea of groups or 'gangs' of youths having leaders. It's almost laughable but it shows how out of touch adults are. Youth culture follows a socialist model I suppose where everybody is equal until you're popular but even then that doesn't really mean much, it's a very flat hierarchy.

Adults don't understand the complexities of all the variant subcultures, they can only go off what they see in the papers. Typically that means Chavs, Goths and Emos. Articles only ever reference these three stereotypes which are not representative or accurate but are used as though they are because they have to conform to how adults see them, not how children want to express themselves.

I'm not saying I knew about all these things either, it was a learning experience for me as well and I only found out about them from hanging out with the youths in Castle Square. When I rolled up with my camera, pad and pen, I didn't know about 'Scene Kids', 'Spice Boys' (very rare) or 'Plastics' - I had seen the latter but didn't know they had a name.

A 'Plastic'.

A 'Plastic'.

Do you think Castle Square accurately represents youth culture in other cities in the UK?

Yes, but up to a point. I went to Blackpool recently after finishing the project and while I was in the town centre, I saw the same dress codes and types of youths I had encountered in Swansea. They could have been transplanted from one place to another.

When I say up to a point, I mostly photographed white youths. I'm sure there are other groups not represented, but the ethnic mix just wasn't there in Swansea. While I tried to include them in the project, it will never be representative in that way, it was never as multicultural as I wanted it to be.

What were the highs and lows of the project?

The low points were having a bottle thrown at me and being repeatedly called a paedophile by a few of the individuals. It is disheartening to be called something like that, insults were thrown at me without much thought or care to their real meanings. Sometimes I really thought why am I doing this, why am I trying to show the positives of youth culture when I can be attacked so easily? I was even threatened once by somebody but because I knew so many of the youths, I guess he figured it wouldn't be wise to start a fight with me as I was popular. I could have reacted in a negative way and produced a piece of work that was also negative, showing only the bad things that I experienced - I had the images after all. But I didn't because it was the minority that was making me feel bad and why should the minority spoil it for others? It was always important to remember that they were only children which is something other people need to do as well.

How the youths were marketed to and their relationship with consumerism was going to be another avenue for this project and is something I would like to work on at a later date.

How the youths were marketed to and their relationship with consumerism was going to be another avenue for this project and is something I would like to work on at a later date.

The high points were the friends I made and the things I can continue to enjoy after I finished the project including the friendships, the photographic experience and my final grade which came from me being able to work on the subject week after week, constantly improving. I also learned so much about a topic I didn't know much about. But most importantly I have produced something positive I can show to other people.

Which is your favourite photograph and why?

If I had to pick one, then the portrait of Charlotte is probably my favourite. How I acquired it is odd and if I explain its existence, it would take something away from the photo. But when I showed people that image along with many others, it was elevated from the pile - sounds clichéd I know but it caused a lot of discussions at University. The posture, the person, her lips, the street lighting, even the colour of the street lighting. Never had an image been so analysed. I have differing versions of that portrait but I never show them to anybody. At the time I couldn't knowingly take such an image, it was just one of those happy mistakes or decisive moments that simply happen in photography. The style of my new project is because of that image of Charlotte.

Charlotte

Charlotte.

Thanks to Jonathan for talking to us and for permission to reproduce his photographs. You can download the full interview here.

Find out more about Jonathan's work on his websites:

jonathanjk.viewbook.com - a showcase of his three major projects, 'Castle', 'Home' and 'Car'

swanseacastlesquare.wordpress.com - the original Castle Square blog

All images © Jonathan JK Morris