Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo explore adolescence and the culture of fandom by capturing one summer in the life of a modern teenager
Photographers Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo were fascinated by the teenage culture of fandom in Japan, particularly the phenomenon of “icon books” – photo collections dedicated to a particular pop culture icon, ranging from mainstream idols to deeply obscure figures. They were inspired to create their own icon book and, when they met teenager Edith Owen – an unknown model and aspiring photographer – they knew they'd met their muse.
Their project Peas is the culmination of spending a summer with Edith. Working with London-based stylist Yeon You, they captured images of Edith's real life and created their own book – a homage not only to icon books but to adolescence itself.
We meet Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo to discuss fandom, pop culture and teenagehood in the 21st century.
Can you tell us more about the Japanese ‘icon books’ that inspired this project?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: We travel a lot to Japan for work and are quite obsessed with all the Japanese coming-of-age pop culture, fan movements, and especially their idols/bands from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. During our trips, we discovered a lot of really cool and old bookshops where we found many icon books about these Japanese idols or bands like Momoe Yamaguchi, Akina Nakamori, Chisato Morikata, Pink Lady, Chiemi Manabe, Ryoko Hirosue (an idol from the 90s), Mariya Takeuchi, Tatsuro Yamashita, Happy End, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Pizzicato Five, Wink, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, to name a few. We got mesmerised by the layout, the pictures, the idea itself of dedicating a book to a pop culture icon/band/actor was so fascinating to us. That was the starting point of our project Peas: to make a book by reappropriating the codes of the Japanese icon books and apply them to an ‘ordinary’, non-celebrity, teenage girl.
You say when you met Edith you ‘instantly knew’ you’d met your muse. What were the qualities about her that captured your imagination?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: We met Edith for the first time during a fashion shooting with London based stylist Yeon You. Oh, it's hard to answer this question! It just ‘clicked’. That kind of feeling you have when you meet somebody for the first time but it's as if you'd known that person for long. That's what happened with Edith. She somehow reminds us of our own teenagehood. We instantly got captivated by her natural and timeless beauty, her personal style, all these little things that make her so unique. She is so ‘2020’ but she could be born in the 70s, 80s or 90s, she would remain the same. Her interest in pop culture, music, and fashion were also important as we wanted her to be involved in the creative process. Plus, I think we have the same tastes regarding pop culture, photography, and music. She wants to become a photographer and she already does really cool stuff! You should check her Instagram.
How did you manage to create such intimate images of Edith’s life?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: That was quite easy. Since the first shooting day, Edith exactly knew what we wanted/expected from her, and vice versa. There was no need to talk a lot. We just asked her to be ‘herself’. By spending time together and getting to know each other little by little, she let us step into her beautiful world. We don't like to direct our subjects too much. We prefer it when they forget about our presence. That's the best way to capture these ‘intimate images’.
What do you think Peas reveals about girlhood in the 21st century?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: We think girlhood is so 20th century! (Laughs) just kidding. We mean, we got the feeling that Edith has no limits or boundaries on what she wants to do or the image she wants to refect and the creativity she is gifted in. She seems not to really care about what people may think about her. We were fascinated by that, her self-confidence, so young. She seems so ‘free’. If you pay attention to the book, in some of the pics, she looks a bit more ‘boyish’ with a football t-shirt; on other pics, she's wearing more ‘girly’ outfits, like her vintage brown dress. It was so nice to see Yeon You, the stylist, and Edith playing with boy/girl codes. She looks so comfy with all of them. We like to think about teenagehood in the 21st this way: girl, boy or gender fluid... doesn't really matter as long as you do what you like without paying attention to people's thoughts or judgements. Just be you!
At first glance, it’s hard to locate Peas in time, many of the photographs could almost be from any decade in the last 50 years. Was it a conscious decision to create an ambiguousness about the era?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: That's not something we really do consciously but, in the end, it's true that most of our pics are quite ambiguous about the era. We love all the past decades from the last 50 years and we like playing with some of the characteristics of these decades. We sometimes feel a bit nostalgic about the pre-internet era. We always look for timeless images mixing with ‘real’ and ‘fake’ elements but we don't put effort into shooting that way, it comes out pretty naturally.
“We sometimes feel a bit nostalgic about the pre-internet era” – Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo
How do you think fandom has changed since the advent of social media?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: With social media, fans have new forms of engagement and dialogues with the artists. Whereas before, fans used to just attend a concert and collect photos from their favourite singers and actors and hang them on the walls of your bedroom, collect magazines... now you can directly interact with your favourite bands, pop idols. That's cool as long as you respect the artists. With the internet, the lines between being a musician or an artist/being famous might be blurred at some point. And fans on the internet tend to forget that behind their screens, there are real people. We like K-pop, keep up with the K-pop scene and are always so surprised by some of the K-pop fans’ comments on Youtube. They are sometimes really harsh with the artists, criticising the way they dance, the ‘fail moments’ during a choreography. We felt so sorry last year when Sulli from F(x) committed suicide due to cyberbullying.
In what ways did working on this project remind you of your own teenagehood?
Chus Antón and Grégory Clavijo: We always feel really comfortable shooting teenagers because spending time with them is a way to not forget our own teenagehood. Most of the teenagers we meet are eager to discover music, movies, photographs, culture from now and the past decades. They also show us new stuff. It's always mutual. We both remember teenagehood as one of the most important parts of our lives, this moment when you have “that sparkle” when you develop your own tastes in music, cinema, art, culture which will influence you for the rest of your life; when you become who you are. Looking back to the past is a good way to understand our present. And to be forever young!
Peas is available from here now