The Museum of Youth Culture recently announced the opening of Grown Up in Britain: 100 Years of Teenage Kicks at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry. Marking its first ever major show, and its first foray outside of London, the exhibition looks at the “everyday experiences and cultural impact” of Britain's youth, from the roaring 1920s through to the present day.
In 2018, the museum’s team realised it had amassed a significant collection of youth culture photographs, documenting important movements such as the teddy boys and girls, mods, punks, and ravers – but it also knew there was still much more to discover about the country’s young people. Around this time, the museum also opened up its archives to the public and began receiving a range of submissions on the subject.
“As an emerging museum with a lineage as a photographic archive, one of the most startling things to emerge from our Grown Up in Britain submission campaign has been physical objects, flyers and ticket stubs handed to us in person through pop-ups, scanning socials in pubs, and even in jiffy bags through the post. The objects can almost tell the history of youth culture alone without the need for literary or verbal commentary,” says Lisa Der Weduwe, the exhibition’s curator.
Among this mix of personal items and vintage ephemera is a fascinating collection of holiday photos that show Britain’s teenagers enjoying some downtime at home and abroad. On display in the images, which stretch over the decades, are cheeky smiles, playful poses, and flamboyant clothing that we typically associate with adolescence.
The fashion, in particular, hints at the eras in which these photos may have been snapped. In one, a spiky-haired punk sporting an equally spiky bracelet reads quietly on the beach, suggesting it was captured some time in the 70s; while in another, the beaded necklace and heavily-gelled hair of a boy standing with what appears to be his younger siblings or friends points to a date in the 90s.
Though the styles change drastically throughout, what does persist are the expressive displays for the camera, and it’s this unrefined energy more than anything else that seems to define these young people. “Opening up the archives to the public, we've learnt so many things about growing up and teenage rebellion that we previously thought was reserved for the 1950s onwards,” Lisa tells us. “Miserable teenagers ignoring their parents on the beach, women on WW1 motorbikes in full on Flapper gear, customised biker jackets akin to a modern day school backpack – the birth of the teenager stretches back beyond what the textbooks say.”
Grown Up in Britain: 100 Years of Teenage Kicks is on show at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum from 1 July 2022 – 12 February 2023.
The Museum of Youth Culture – Grown Up in Britain: 100 Years of Teenage Kicks
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.