Ewen Spencer on finding his niche – and sticking with it

We speak to the prolific documentarian of British subcultures about keeping his work relevant while examining youth culture through a more commercial lens

Ewen Spencer is reflecting on the stark differences between documenting young people today compared to when he started out in the 90s. “People make their own photographs of themselves now, and that in itself has had an impact on how people behave, so when people go out they’re probably more aware of how they are perceived,” he tells CR. “People will go out almost for the sole purpose of being seen somewhere on social media. In a way, that perception has changed everything in terms of youth culture.”

Now over two decades into his career, Spencer has been instrumental in creating the visual language around a number of British subcultures over the years – whether through editorial commissions for the likes of the Face and i-D or ad campaigns for youth-focused brands including Nike and Apple. While his personal fascination with youth culture dates back to when he was growing up in Newcastle in the 70s and 80s, and the moment he was introduced to Northern Soul in particular, becoming one of its most recognised imagemakers wasn’t something he considered as a career option until later on.

From Ewen Spencer’s book UKG, published in 2013