After ten years of hard work and research, garry o’neill has finally finished his long awaited photo book on the history of dublin youth subcultures. Entitled where were you?, The coffee-table book looks at fifty years of our city’s working class teenage fashion and music scenes. Jay carax caught up with him for an interview.
Originally, Garry had planned to write a book based on his and other peoples’ memories of youth culture in Dublin in the 1970s and 1980s. But he soon realised that it was very difficult trying to separate fact from fiction. He admits that “because there’s so many people attached to, or on the periphery of, certain scenes”, there’s always going to be different stories and different angles. Simply put, it would have taken him too long to dissect all the stories, “to pull out the rights from the wrongs and the ‘did’ from the ‘did nots’”.
Slightly discouraged and at a cross roads about what to do, Garry had a minor epiphany when sitting down and looking over the photographs from his own collection that would have been included with the recollections. “The more I looked at them, the more I thought that these photographs tell a better story that most of the interviews I did”. There and then, the concept of the project changed and Garry refocused. Garry’s plan from day one was produce something that would document an aspect of Dublin’s history “that has been overlooked, even neglected”. Focusing on the history of all youth subcultures from one city, Garry was undertaking a much more significant project than simply looking at the history of Mods or Punks in Dublin. He hopes that the book might encourage other people to put together similar books in their respective cities, whether it’s Cork, Belfast or anywhere else. Looking at the “bigger picture, I’d love to see a knock on affect and see other people do it in their cities and then somewhere along the line interlinking those archives”.
Over the last ten years, Garry has collected hundreds of photos from people all over the city – former punks, mods still keeping the torch lit, professional press photographers and just about anyone else you can think of. “I found over the years that with certain groups”, Garry explains, “you’d always find one or two people within a large group that would have been the one who wanted to keep photographs of all the gang. Usually it was the case that if you found him/her, you’d find the great collection.” As well as that, Garry strived to showcase ‘real’ photos depicting the scenes from the people involved themselves. He wanted to use “the non-professional, not 100% perfect photos” alongside ones that were, in order, to “tell the overall story and get the overall picture of what was happening in the city”.
Sometimes it proved more difficult to find photos from different music scenes. While finding pictures of late 1970s and early 1980s punks was easy (“It was visually outrageous, a new youth movement … that was definitely good material for magazines and newspapers”), the same could not be said for tracking down snaps of those involved in the 1960s Beat scene or the 1970s bootboy. The Beat scene was quite unusual in that it was generally only recognised for being an important Dublin scene years after its heyday and as such the media did not pick up on it as much as they did with other youth ‘movements’. “At the time in the city in the 1960s, there was plenty of people into it but it wouldn’t have got too much coverage but years later there’s recognition that there was a healthy Beat scene”. Tracking down photos of Bootboys proved hard too for the fact that it was quite an uncommon fashion style that only lasted a short time. The association at the time with violence also meant that men in their 50s and 60s now were not lining up to tell old stories or pass on photos.
Garry’s book will be an unbelievably important contribution to the history of music, fashion and youth culture in Dublin City. Let’s hope it sells well and gets the publicity it deserves. The book should be on the shelves by the second week of November.
Recommended Read: Teenage: The Creation Of Youth Culture. Jon Savage (2007, Viking Press)
John Savage traces the roots of western teen culture from its genus in the late 19th century through the first and second world wars.Equally uplifting and heart-breaking this carefully observed social history sympathetically highlights the strengths and weaknesses of youth. A riveting read you won’t be able to put it down.