This Museum Wants to Preserve Youth Culture with Your Photos

We find out the story behind Britain's first dedicated Museum of Youth Culture, running online now and due to open a physical space in 2023.

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13 May 2019, 8:15am

Teenagers in High Wycombe, 1980s by Gavin Watson (All photos courtesy of YOUTH CLUB)

Wild how you can grow up a few hundred miles from someone, on this relatively small island, yet have completely different childhood and teen experiences. One person’s "jerk chicken for school dinners on a Tuesday" is another’s slightly soggy cheese and tomato sandwich and ready salted crisps in a tupperware. One's weekend Spice Girls Buffalo trainers and thigh-high socks are another's trackie bottoms and expertly scuffed-up Reebok Classics.

When you look back on photos of yourself as a kid – grainy ones, if you’re old enough to have grown up before the crisp, cameraphone era – you’ll probably clock all the mini-trends that shaped you and your friends’ obsessions. In their own way, all of those pieces of your upbringing, from clothes to gig ticket stubs to photos of everyone but your enemies stunting, become artefacts.

And so a new archival project wants to accurately document as much of these various strands of youth culture as possible, from teddy boys to early 00s grime OGs to kids who are still growing up. Not-for-profit organisation YOUTH CLUB have teamed up with The Photocopy Club to create Britain's first dedicated Museum of Youth Culture. It's aiming to be as comprehensive as it sounds on the tin: a museum the UK's never really seen before, using photos submitted by the public along with archived photos from fashion and lifestyle magazine, Sleazenation, whose co-founder, Jon Swinstead is now YOUTH CLUB's director.

So look, the museum isn't due to officially open until 2023 (they've got to collect all the great imagery and memorabilia first). But until then, they'll be setting up an online museum, launched this year. As it grows, YOUTH CLUB and The Photocopy Club will be showcasing large scale Xerox photocopy prints at various exhibition and club nights. The next one hits east London this Thursday the 16th of May, so ahead of that, we caught up with Jamie Brett, who heads up YOUTH CLUB's creative projects. Over Skype he told us about why, on a fundamental level, preserving youth culture is so important and how you don't have to be someone who grew up in a well-documented ~subculture~ to take part.

Hip-hop fans in London, 1980s by Normski

VICE: Hi Jamie. How did the idea of the Museum of Youth Culture come about?
Jamie Brett: Over the years, we’ve noticed that lots of museums, like the Museum of London and the V&A for example, have collections of youth culture. We understand that those places are trying to represent that material in the best way that they can, but in bigger institutions they aren’t necessarily represented in a way that people who were part of those movements would want it to be.

How do you make sure everyone is represented properly?
We have 400-plus photographers who all are passionate and still usually part of those scenes, whether it’s a revival or they’re now part of an emerging club movement. Those people have a voice through our organisation, and we make sure we don’t tell a story in a way that hasn’t come straight from the person who photographed it.

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The 59 Club, London, 1960s
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Kids at Roller Rink, London, 2000s by Rebecca Lewis

Why is preserving youth culture so important?
I think there’s definitely a need for authentic youth culture stories, but we also feel that youth culture in society doesn't get as much significance or spotlight in the way that it should do, because things like club closures. Now it’s difficult for young people to go out in the way that they used to. All of this has a knock-on effect on things like fashion, design and just the way that people see themselves; the way people see how they're able to express themselves. We’re trying to fight back against a homogenised society and the way that we do that is by looking at the past. It’s quite a nice message for young people to discover.

Are you solely looking for photograph submissions?
Photographs are definitely our core thing because we started off as an image library. But at the moment we’re expanding into other things – of course a museum needs to have physical things as well. So that means photographs, flyers and we even have clothing now too, with a skinhead bank that’s just been donated to us. It’s been an interesting start; we even have ticket stubs of iconic gigs that have shaped certain scenes.

What's the deal with how you're taking submissions? Are they open to anyone, as long as they spent their youth in Britain?
We want to start building up a picture of what everybody in the UK looked like when they were growing up. The previous public image of what we do has been about subculture. We’ve taken a little bit of a step back and realised that those people are great and obviously they’ve got amazing and quite eccentric stories to tell, but we’re not trying to open a museum of subculture – it is a museum of youth culture. So even if they’re not part of a subculture, we still want those images.

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Criminal Justice Act Protest, London, 1994 by Matthew Smith
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Notting Hill Carnival, 1980s by Peter Anderson

Tell me about the club night.
There will be sub-cultural DJs going through different youth culture movements. We’ll also have a space where people can bring their images to be scanned. The nice thing about that is that we’re open to any image: anyone can come up, whether their picture was taken yesterday or in the 50s. The idea is that you can come along and if you want to be part of a museum, come along and bring your images. I think that’s a strange but nice offering. I think there's often a long lead time and bureaucratic process to let people be a part of museums, but we’re just saying pop into our exhibition and hand us your stuff and we’ll represent it in the best way we can.

If you're unable to go to this event, is there another way to submit your photographs to the museum?
You can scan them in themselves and send them to us. It’s easier if you’re remote or not in London. We do try and put on popups where we scan pictures wherever we can. The only one we have lined up is the one next week, but people can also keep in touch with us through social media to find out when our next scanning event is. We’ve done a few in all sorts of different places; pubs and cafes, and one in a local club. It’s interesting because you can kind of target the kind of work that you need for the archive by where you set one up.

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Nu Metal Girl, Ozzfest, 2001 by Rebecca Lewis

"Join the Club" is a one night exhibition and club night launching on Thursday the 16th of May from 7PM to 1AM, at the LN-CC store (18-24 Shacklewell Lane, London E8 2EZ). You can submit your own photographs here.

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