If you've spent five minutes walking through the streets of Soho you might have been struck by its cultural richness and multi-layered history. From the few remainders of the sex shops from the '70s, the countless restaurants, pubs and bars, the film company offices dating back to the beginning of the past century, and the buzzing gay scene of Old Compton Street, to the string of independent boutiques, fashion stores and music shops around Carnaby Street, Soho is a microcosm of London's diversity and energy.
Honing in on one of the capital’s best-loved boroughs, 'What Soho Wore', a new exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery by London-based photographer and writer Nina Manandhar
, dives into Soho’s fashion and creative industries, inviting the general public to add to an ever-expanding archive of Soho’s iconic style culture.
Featuring scans of old photographs, Polaroids and digital imagery, the new online archive will explore the relationship between personal identity and British style, culminating in an event on the 18th of September on the Gallery’s Eranda floor, where participants will be invited to share and discuss their experiences.
Manandhar launched What-we-wore.com
in 2012 to take familiar subcultures such as Mods, Rockers, Junglists and Grime Kids and re-contextualise them by putting the style tribes side by side in order to highlight the evolution from the 1950s to the 2000s. Continually inspired by the dynamism and vibrancy of city life, Manandhar's latest project casts the net far and wide, inviting photo submissions via www.what-we-wore.com/submit
or by emailing email@example.com with the subject line SOHO. Submissions can also be shared via Instagram by tagging photos with the hashtag #whatsohowore.
Click ahead for preview images from 'What Soho Wore' and read our interview with Manandhar below.
As Britain moves away from Europe following the EU referendum result, it's an interesting time to have an exhibition that celebrates Soho, one of London's most diverse and historical boroughs. What drew you to Soho? Are you scared for the future of London and the UK?
Nina: Soho has historically been super rich in terms of the thriving communities that have co-existed side by side. That’s what city life should be about. As someone who grew up in London it played a part in my youth, from teen gigs at The Astoria to open mic nights at Deal Real to Trash at The End.
It’s not so apparent now, but it has had a significant place in club land and music cultures, with independent music shops on Berwick street, boutiques and clubs in and around Carnaby Street, and of course it’s been a cultural centre for the gay community. The seedy side of Soho has its romance too.
It’s changing rapidly and soon this may all disappear. I thought now was an important time to get in there and celebrate and document its history. The Photographer's Gallery is pretty much in the midst of all this.
Yes, I’m pretty scared for London, it feels like the city is being hollowed out from the centre, culturally. I won’t leave my hometown ‘cause I’ve nowhere else to go. London is a haven for me. But I also think we need to engage with the rest of the country, especially post Brexit bleakness.
As someone who documents people's style, how do you feel about social media, in particular Instagram and #ootd posts?
I have to say I’ve never done an #ootd post myself. I find them a bit dry. Maybe in years to come they will be more interesting to me! I think it’s because they seem to be more about the specifics of each item of clothing rather than the scenes and people themselves.
Although I am very interested in the specifics of style, I’m more interested in using my 'What We Wore' project as a talking point for broader conversations about how what we wear connects to who we are. Nonetheless, they are still documents of people using style as a way to express who they are. Pre-internet, people’s first point of connection was the street; now it’s Instagram. It’s through micro hashtags that groups today band together and fall apart.
What is your favourite submission so far or highlight from the exhibition?
The Soho submission process has really only just begun, but so far I love this image from Pippa Brooks, former singer in the group Posh, and founder of the Shopgirl boutique. It’s very iconic Soho – Paul Raymond was actually her landlord. In Pippa’s words: “At that time, Soho was much more about sex and kebabs.”
Bill Cunningham, the grandfather of street style photography passed away last week. Were you influenced by him at all? Which photographers and creatives have made an impact on you most?
Bill Cunningham was a G. What I liked about his images was the boldness. He was one of the originals. Street style feels a bit played out compared to where it was 10 years ago. I also look up to Jason Evans, Liz Johnson Artur and Jeremy Deller.
How would you describe your own style?
I’m not sure these days, it’s evolving. Shepherd's Bush Market with a bit of Liberty shopping when I can afford it. I’m happiest in a pair of pink Clarks wallabees.
Where's your favourite place or city to capture people's style?
London is never short of characters. Edgware Road on a Saturday is a nice place to go to witness London's modern mix. Further afield, I have been to Lagos and Dakar in the past couple of years and have really enjoyed capturing the emerging youthful movements and scenes.
In all my projects, I love combining the work, archiving and shooting, so hope to continue this way of working. You get a bit of a deeper take on things. I have had a custom mobile archive unit built for the show, maybe after Soho I can hit up Sacramento, Soweto, or South End on Sea. For me archives and photography are most exciting when they are about activating things through connecting with people and communities.
'What Soho Wore' runs at the Photographer's Gallery from 15th July - 25th September 2016. For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk/what-soho-wore-2