Way back in the early 2000s, photographer Ewen Spencer found himself on something of a teen love tour, commissioned by the sadly long defunct British fashion bible The Face to shine a flashbulb on pockets of youth culture across the UK.
The resulting images are now some of Ewen’s most celebrated: a nostalgia-drenched headfirst dive into the sweaty, sticky underworld of saliva swapping and heartbreak behind every teenage night out.
As Ewen prepares to re-release the images with a new book Young Love, published by Stanley Barker Press, we caught up with the photographer to find out why young love lasts a lifetime.
Where and when were the images found in the pages of Young Love taken? How did you find yourself in those club spaces in the first place?
This set of pictures were taken around 2000/01. I was working with The Face magazine on a series of articles discussing British youth at the turn of the century. I would travel to different areas of the country were the demographic would differ slightly and work with different groups of youths. This was time before iPhones so people were generally congregating in the street or at bars, discos, gigs – that type of thing – to see one another.
The images printed in the pages of Young Love have become some of your best known. What’s the reason behind their enduring success?
I have generally focused on quite niche sub cultures in Britain. In this instance, the subject was much more universal. We will all traverse through these kind of moments at some time in our lives or most will have already at some point have enjoyed a moment of love or lust or have been scorned perhaps… it’s a familiar place to many.
Do you think the experience of being a teenager in love has changed much between then and now?
I think people are probably more political about the exchange of love. It probably seemed a little more carefree during the period I have photographed and before. It also depends where you are in the UK. Class still plays a big part.
Why did you decide to return to these images at this particular moment in time?
They have always been there for me and are referenced quite a lot by creatives within advertising, for example, and also photography students, filmmakers and the like often ask about these moments. The pictures have been exhibited all over the world throughout the past 15 years at various galleries and museums and have taken me along with them which has been an incredible experience. The publisher Stanley Barker was very keen to see this work extended and they made a very solid edit of the pictures. If you consider the people in these pictures were around 18 at the time they are all probably starting families and considering what it was to be young and in love.
How do you feel when you look back at the work now?
I feel it’s autobiographical. I grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne and courtship was a huge part of the weekend. It looked very similar to these pictures for me… It’s how I imagine episodes of my own youth and that of my close friends. You have to live it to then see it sometimes.
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