Jason Evans, working under the pseudonym ‘Travis’, was one of a number of photographers whose work first appeared in the new fashion and lifestyle magazines that emerged in the 1990s. These publications worked to blur the boundaries between art, fashion and life, and championed a new sort of realism in fashion photography, where photographers drew inspiration from street and youth culture, capturing the authentic, ordinary and everyday.
This photograph, taken as part of Evans’s first fashion shoot, is from the series Strictly, which was originally published in 1991 in London-based i-D magazine. Each work in the series depicts a young black man standing on a suburban street. Shown full-length, and directly facing the viewer, Evan’s models wear impassive expressions and strike neutral poses. Evans was interested in the nineteenth-century notion of the dandy at the time of making these images, and saw the men as exemplifying contemporary flaneurs. As is common in contemporary commercial photography, Evans worked with a stylist, Simon Foxton (born 1961), in producing the series of images. Commonly used in editorial work, stylists contribute to the staging of photo shoots, arranging the clothing and props and acting as scouts for locations and models, and as such are influential to the look of an image. The clothing worn by the models in Evans’s images is an eclectic mix of separates – in the main, urban sportswear combined with elements of classic British tailoring – and is idiosyncratic rather than obviously fashionable. “The syntax of the clothes was completely upside down,” Evans said of the work. “It was a new vision of Britain. We were trying to break down stereotypes.” (Evans quoted in Val Williams, Look at Me: Fashion and Photography 1960 to the Present, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London, 1998, p.113)
The photographs in Strictly combine the staginess of a fashion shoot with the cool neutrality of the documentary. They are at home in their suburban street environment. The low viewpoint gives the men a commanding quality; we literally look up to them. While the work is firmly in the format of editorial fashion photography – even in the gallery space the artist suggests the images might be shown in pairs, echoing a magazine layout – the images fit easily in other contexts. Like the work of other photographers of this generation, for example Wolfgang Tillmans (born 1968), Evans’s work weakens the distinctions that had previously existed between commercial photography and high art. These images have the appearance of portraiture, and might be seen as an exploration of identity politics, particularly race and sexuality, or as a documentary photo-essay on aspects of London’s multiculturalism. Evans saw the work as more than simply documenting new developments in street culture. Instead, he was interested in the possibilities of using the format of fashion photography to explore social issues, not only by framing a set of codes or a semiotics of sub-cultural style, but also presenting them in an ambiguous context.
Val Williams, Look at Me: Fashion and Photography 1960 to the Present, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London, 1998, pp111-113, 123, series reproduced pp.68-69 in colour, reproduced p. 113 (detail)
Iwona Blazwick (ed), Century City, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London, 2001, reproduced p.74 in colour (detail)