A look back at Iain McKell's candid investigation into skinhead culture in inner city London
In the summer of 1979, aged 22, Iain McKell quit his job in graphic design and began to take pictures of skinhead culture re-emerging in inner city London. Self-publishing the understated black and white photographs in Sub Culture, which Wild Life Press is republishing this month, the images reflect an eye attuned to those with an independent aesthetic and a rebellious attitude. "Here we go," one of the picture captions reads. "I don’t like society. But they don’t like us either. They blame us for being different but all we want is to survive. You just wait."
Following the success of Sub Culture, McKell continued to capture counter cultures world over – from a group of citizen crime wardens called the Guardian Angels in New York, to the psychedelic trance scene in Thailand, to New Age traveller gypsies in Britain. His immersion within these underground worlds exposed him to burgeoning music and fashion scenes, and he was among the first to photograph rising stars such as Boy George and Madonna – who he shot for her first ever magazine cover.
But whether documenting the frayed beauty he found at the fringes of society or shooting glossy campaigns for leading fashion magazines, McKell describes his work as a personal adventure. "My work is, in a way, social documentary, but it is always from a personal point of view and with a personal connection…." he has said. "I became interested in the romantic notion of photography as a series of self-exploratory portraits that take me to places both physically and metaphorically. Whether it is from the fetish scene or a gangster’s lingerie party, it’s about sharing that experience. I’m not a couch potato, I wanted to go out there and have my own adventures."