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Ewen Spencer
While You Were Sleeping 1998 - 2000
Release Date
March 18, 2022

Press Release

End of a century... In the late 1990s as a graduate from art school I began making pictures for my beloved Sleazenation magazine and in particular for the infamous listing pages to the rear of the magazine that were called “Savoir Vivre” (loosely translated as to know how to live!) The images were made in B&W and were immensely candid and full of characters that seems to be everywhere at that time. The images on the pages were essentially describing to those that liked to go clubbing what they actually looked like, what those in the provinces who desired the decadent lifestyle of the urban cool could eventually look like and for the international reader in the fashion capitals of Paris, Milan and Rome it kept them wondering what on earth was going on. London was at the epicentre of a cultural boom. Small clubs, parties and discos where a plenty in venues from North to South and I was in a minicab and night bus taking in 3-4 of an evening. My weekends were a write off and I slept most of Monday trying to recover...Here are the spoils for while my young son was sleeping I was involved in capturing a period in time that was filled with love, lust and messy authenticity, carefree and devoid of today’s global, big tech cynicism. Nothing here was perceived or played out. It was done with wide eyed hope and wonder and I’m not sure we can ever return to this place or at least not for a good while. As my world as a photographer has expanded throughout the capitals of Europe and across the Atlantic shooting campaigns and fashion editorials for V magazine, POP and Vogue Hommes I can look at these pictures with perhaps some greater objectivity. My son, now in his early 20s sits beside me and discusses those times and how they differ from today as he negotiates the beginning of his creative journey. These pictures aren’t about Teds, Skinheads, Northern Soul, Acid House or Jungle and Garage, they’re not about Nu Metal or South London blackout clubs...but they are all here alongside high street carpet clubs because here in the UK we know how to throw a party, we work hard and play hard, grace under pressure, street style into high fashion To quote Ray Davies I ask, ‘Where have all the good times gone’? I remain friends with many of the characters that were my colleagues at sleazenation at that time. Steve Beale and Justin Quirk were the irreverent editorial team eventually cherry picked by Emap and Conde Naste to become significant editors and creatives respectively. The Photo editor who gave me my break out of art school was Steve Lazarides who went on a few years later to represent and champion a graffiti artist called Banksy, The Magazines firebrand designer was for a while Scott King who immediately won awards for his controversial front covers and designs. I clearly remember meeting Wolfgang Tillmans at one of his exhibition openings in Herald Street in what must have been 1999. He raved about the pictures we had been making for the magazine and enjoyed the overall subversive sentiment. I was enthused and still am to this day. I’d suggest many of these collaborators to work alongside one another to help articulate and visualise this group of pictures into a book. Most of the images have never been seen before and I believe an international audience would be hungry for the authenticity found in an era that perhaps should have known better. I’m glad we didn’t .

Ewen Spencer graduated from the University of Brighton in1997 and began shooting for visually driven style magazines, such as Sleazenation and The Face, with an emphasis on youth culture. In 2000 he embarked upon a series of projects for The Face magazine documenting British adolescents as they were coming to terms with socializing, dating and sex at the beginning of the new century. What separates him from other social documentarians is a sense that he knows and likes his subjects, that they trust him enough to allow him entry into their world. The series developed into a personal project for Ewen and extended into the following year on a self motivated basis. In 2004 Teenagers was shortlisted for the Project Assistance award at Rencontres D’Arles curated that year by Martin Parr who tipped Ewen as ‘one to watch’. The work was shown as part of the main festival alongside other nominees. His proposal to the judges at Arles that year was to create a body of work that would eventually be released as the book Open Mic. The work took 3 years to complete, exploring the burgeoning Grime music scene, which was based predominantly in East London. ‘Open Mic’ went on to collect a D&AD graphite award in the photography category for 2006. Ewen has continued his interest in youth culture. In 2013 he began self-publishing a biannual photo-zine called Guapamente focusing on global youth subcultures visiting Naples, Marseille, Miami and London. 2013 also saw the publication by GOST of UKG. The project focused on the early days of the UK Garage music scene from 1998-2000. As Ewen has since observed; “Garage had all the attributions to any worthwhile UK subculture, clean living under difficult circumstances. Dressing up and living for the weekend.” UK Garage was exclusive at the time. Today it raises questions concerning style, music and an age when a multicultural, working class youth pre-dated social media. Mobile phones were a novelty but access to designer labels, expensive drinks and flights to Ayia Napa were on the menu. Following the publication of UKG, Dazed and Confused approached Ewen to direct a short documentary film exploring the UK Garage scene. The 8 minute short was picked up by Channel 4. Ewen was asked to turn the film into a 23 minute documentary for national television broadcast in March 2014, followed by a documentary about Grime, based on his Open Mic book, broadcast November 2014. After the success of these two short films Channel Four & i-D magazine commissioned Ewen to write, direct and narrate a four part documentary film series called “Street, Sound and Style” Broadcast in May 2015 the films chart the journey of youth style and music from 1980 through to today. In 2016 Ewen was invited by the Brighton Photo Biennial to exhibit as a featured artist, alongside Fabrica Gallery in Brighton Ewen was commissioned to make a new body of work that became Kick Over the Statues. A series of images Film and soundtrack considering Youth Style and Subculture in the contemporary. The exhibition was so well received in the UK that its run at Fabrica Gallery was extended and the exhibition was invited to exhibit in London in 2017. In 2017 Ewen’s pictures of UK Teenagers were collected into a monograph called ‘Young Love’ published by Stanley Barker. Since 2016 Ewen has made long form Photographic projects considering style and youth culture in collaboration with Arena HOMME+ magazine in London, Vogue Hommes in Paris and Interview and V Magazine in New York.


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