Celebrating the Mod Culture
Music photographer Dean Chalkley about Northern Soul
Known for his portraiture and music photography Dean Chalkley created a film about Young Souls which can currently be seen on 125 Magazine or in the exhibition at PYMCA's London gallery. With this work Dean celebrates the mod (short for 'Modernist') music: This today's Northern Soul scene is a British phenomenon which goes back to the 60s (Northern Soul is appreciated by many mods however it is really its own culture too). There is much to tell…
Dean, since when have you and the Mod culture been in love?
Well, I got into the Mod Culture just after the Mod revival of 1979, I was 11 years old and living in Southend-on-Sea in Essex. There was a growing interest in the culture but when the film Quadrophenia came out the whole thing erupted there was a gigantic explosion of Mod activity, it became once again a really big subculture.
And you started to become cool like the older boys?
Exactly, I was just starting senior school and was influenced by the olderboys. With no internet you had to go and find all the information by yourself. Every small snippet of information was converted, pictures of what to wear were useful if you could find them, it was not an exact science and there was a bit of interpretation.
What did you find?
One significant place I developed my love for that sort of music and cultivated my interest in Mod way of life was the Carmel Record Shop in Westcliff-on-Sea. The shop is still there and the same quite, lovely guy still runs it, Paul Despy. He was very inspiring to me and taught me a lot about music. He’s not a musician but he knows about music, a musicologist you could say. By exposing me and my mates to his wealth of knowledge he helped cultivate our interest and unveiled music we’d never heard before.
Mod Music is a broad term and really only refers to music that the Mods (or Modernists) like, it can be Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Latin, Boogaloo and even more new wave music. It is a very broad but somehow defined taste. Sometimes the music forms merge and crossover into one area, if you wanted to be scientific it might look like a like a Venn diagram.
Do the scenes mix as well?
It depends, lots of subcultures have their own very exact ways, the people in it have similar Ingredients, like the fashion sense, attitude, sort of music they are into etc. So within each subculture there is a passion and in many ways a rigidity that is unwavering and focused on purely it’s own world. But also there is often a crossover and many of the scenes have evolved through differents directions.
Is an exhibition like this a challenge for you?
It requires a lot of time and dedication and actually costs a lot of money to create, there was no outside funding for it, neither the stills nor the film. It was also very time consuming not only to make the physical things (photographic/film) but also the legal side of the project. I used very rare music in the film and spent three and a half months finding musicpublishers and gaining the clearance to use the eight tracks that appear in the film.
What does money mean for you?
I don’t have large financial ambitions; to own two houses and four cars is not in my mind at all. I suppose I’m quite idealistic, I am realistic too though but I think this sort of project is what it’s all about. Of course the consequence I’m never gonna be mega rich financially but I think I will be able to look back at the work I’ve done and smile.
What's important in your job as a photographer?
In order to function you do need to build an environment around you that enables you to function. For example If you do a degree and come to London you must consider your ‘support system’, your lifestyle and what is important to you, you have to achieve a balance to function and keep functioning. You have to navigate your way through life but also through your work so you enable yourself to do pretty much what you want other wise you could be pulled down a dead-end street. Like for me it would be very easy to end up being rail roaded and end up photographing tea pots or something like that all day and eventually hating photography.
But tea pots can fund idealistic work...
Some people do day to day work and then once a year go and do something they want to do, they think this is the ideal situation. It is not. I know it is most often the practical solution and sometimes the only way to survive so I’m not really knocking it but it is not the ideal goal, I think you should try as much as possible to make everything add up, to be part of the whole in the past someone said to me that this was the way to do it and I reacted badly to this statement. In a way its like making a creative person one of those cigarette smoking laboratory dogs who is locked up all day with the prospect of half an hours freedom to run round the park before being consigned to more cigarette smoking in its cage. I want to be the dog that runs round the park all day… It is not just an existence!
What about your celebrity photography, isn’t that kind of idealistic too?
Yes I guess it can be, you as a photographer have the power to try look behind the mask as well as amplify the persona. It’s not all about the flattery. Before a shoot I do my certain preparations and then go into the situation with no further plans, allowing the situation to develop in an organic manner. Photography allows you to dip in people’s lives and experiences, which is fascinating and thrilling. It’s actually why I got into photography in the first place I think. To be honest its fantastic job.
Open up your receptors.
It’s a third-eye-business you have to be acutely aware of what is around you. You are the filter between the situation and the creative output. And I think that by always following your gut feeling you will forge your way into the future. Oh, and don’t be frightened about not pleasing all the people all the time. Your photography can be like a nice bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese: the ingredients are the subject, your viewpoint and circumstance and what is produced its really tasty. But remember some people don’t like spaghetti, that’s tough luck for them isn’t it. I love it (as long as it’s made with lamb mince, I don’t eat beef)!
photos: 'courtesy of dean chalkley' | CAM | Swantje Diepenhorst