Party with all the seaside spirit your black little heart can muster this Halloween season, with David Severn's Whitby Goth Weekend photograph book launch at Nottingham Contemporary's Ottar Cafebar on Thursday 1 November, from 7pm. In the meantime, check out some of the photos featured in the book, and have a read of our chat with David himsen...
Tell us a bit about how you first got into photography...
I’ve always been a creative person but art was not my strongest subject in school. I was terrible at anything crafty that involved sitting still and concentrating on drawing, cutting and glueing. When I was a teenager, I was bought a small digital camera as a birthday present one year and became obsessed with photography. I loved that it gave me the freedom to go out into the world and be expressive by choosing what I pointed the camera at and how I framed it. Later, I discovered the work of British documentary photographers like Chris Killip and Paul Reas, and was inspired to photograph the ex-mining communities I grew up with in North Nottinghamshire.
What was the inspiration behind your recent Whitby Goth Weekend series?
I was initially interested in photographing Goths because it is a subculture I associate with suburban working class towns like my hometown of Mansfield - I was a Goth myself as a teenager - and I am fascinated in how heavy metal and gothic music takes inspiration from the sounds of heavy industry. My Father and Grandfather were coal miners and my previous work has documented life within former mining communities of the Midlands. My motivation to photograph Whitby Goth Weekend stems from all of these things.
What medium do you prefer - film or digital?
Much of my personal work is shot on medium format film but I wouldn’t necessarily say I prefer one over the other. What’s more important is choosing the right medium for what you’re photographing and how you want to use the camera. Film lends itself to a slower, meditative way of working while digital has the obvious advantage in capturing things quickly and in low lighting scenarios. I always consider these things when deciding whether to use film or digital.
Who is making a difference in Nottingham’s photography scene?
The Photo Parlour has done wonders for Nottingham’s photography scene in recent years. It’s great to see so many photographers talking to each other and sharing ideas. Photography can be a fairly lonely occupation and location based work means lots of photographers don’t often require studio space, so miss out on the sense of community that comes with being part of an artist studio group like Primary or Backlit, for instance. Dan, who runs The Photo Parlour, is really approachable and has created a place where photographers in the city can hang out and get inspired.
How did you pick up an interest in Whitby’s goth scene?
Firstly, I was keen to make a series of photographs in Whitby because of its great seafaring history, which is bound up in mythology and storytelling. The spectacle and sense of theatre the Goth Weekend offered was too much to resist! I wanted to portray the Gothic invasion of a traditional seaside town, capturing the Goths among the gaiety and simple pleasures of the English seaside. The photographs show the sartorially elegant Goths eating fish and chips, playing in the sea, buying sticks of rock and taking snapshots of each other outside the quaint shop fronts and vernacular signage of the Whitby streets.
Do you try and suggest a story behind your photographs?
As a documentary photographer, I’m interested in how photographs work together to suggest a narrative or evoke a feeling. I say “suggest” because I believe photography can only describe something, never explain it. The viewer will always have their own interpretation and images often have distinct connotations to different people. I love making work that plays with this subtlety inherent to photography and always enjoy the puzzle of editing and sequencing a series of pictures.
Were they keen to be photographed?
Most of them were, yes! Although I was careful to be extra courteous as Whitby Goth Weekend attracts so many photographers and unfortunately not all of them are respectful. It would be a shame if the event was overrun with photographers. It needs to be about the Goths. Next time I go, I am dressing up and leaving my camera behind.
You have a lot going on at the minute! What upcoming events can we keep an eye out for?
Yes! It’s been an exciting year. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease last year and had to take a year out to recover from major surgery. It’s nice to be working on my projects again. Currently I have a new portrait series of British Coal Miners of African Caribbean heritage showing at New Art Exchange. The photographs focus on miners from Gedling Colliery, which was known as “The Pit of Nations” due to the diverse nationalities of its workforce.
In early 2019, Newstead Abbey will be exhibiting portraits I’ve been making of young people from Newstead Village, an ex-mining community which borders Byron’s ancestral home. The project has been a real collaboration, with the young people making the decisions about where and how they would like to be photographed. Few visitors to Newstead Abbey realise the estate borders a former coal mine and the village that was built to house its workers. I’m interested in how the ancient priory wall serves as a dividing line between two contrasting but equally significant tales of Nottinghamshire’s history. On the one side, an eccentric aristocratic bachelor pad and on the other, a thoroughly working class village.
Anything else you’d like to tell the devoted readers of LeftLion?
To any Goths or Emo Kids who used to hang out in slab square during the mid-2000’s: This one’s for you!
David Severn's Whitby Goth Weekend photobook launch takes place at Nottingham Contemporary's Ottar Cafebar on Thursday 1 November, 7pm. There will be signed copies of the book to buy, as well as a pop-up tintype photography studio run by Jim Grainger and spooky DJ sets by Joff Casciani (Truth and Lies) and LeftLion contributor Wayne Burrows - Read more on the Facebook event.