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Making It Up As We Go Along: Social Issues

Celebrating Dazed & Confused's 20 year anniversary, the exhibition at Somerset House and new book looks back at those part of the creative institution

“In 1990 the world was changing, and it was changing fast. It was a moment that was full of promise – with the Cold War finally drawing to a close and apartheid swiftly crumbling but it was also one heavy with the threat of a sinister New World Order, with oil fields blazing in Kuwait and McDonalds opening its first outlet in Moscow…” 

From the moment Dazed & Confused released its very first issue, the magazine sought to commission social reportage on multifarious topics, from uncovering the dark underworld of London’s sex apartments, to promoting awareness for the continuing AIDs epidemic. 

By featuring the bizarre and grotesque, the tragic and catastrophic, danger zones and landscapes stricken by war, the attempts to eradicate society’s preconceptions about disability and the welcome fashion stories dispelling modes of ageist press propaganda, the magazine’s social reportage has never shied away from unmasking the truth and following the path to alternative representation. Dazed & Confused had an unflinching commitment to bringing an angle or viewpoint to society that would simply never be published anywhere else.

In our 20-year anniversary book, Making It Up As We Go Along, the pages come to life with the re-visiting of past social and political events that have peppered the last two decades. Photographer Jack Webb was integral to Dazed’s early reportage, with his stark coverage on marginalised youth culture in Sarajevo and his images of autistic children at school providing a high caliber that set the mark for future reporters. Phil Poynter, speaks about the moment when he commissioned Webb, “I’m particularly proud of publishing the work of Jack Webb. Jack came to me after going to see everyone else and being turned away. I literally opened this box of his work and one picture after another was amazing – social documentary of a standard that I hadn’t ever seen before. It was truly, truly magical – there was the autism story, there was one on a guy who had obsessive compulsive disorder… He was clearly an amazing talent and he didn’t have a voice. Dazed was a vehicle for that voice.”

Jumping from Attitudes, Arts, Aids and Aspiration in South Africa to New Years Eve in Eastern Bloc via extreme left-wing group The Baader Meinhof in Germany, the social reportage chapter ends most poignantly with the Nick Knight shoot, One in Ten: a series of images of women who have undergone mastectomies. The prints are presented in a subtly erotic and confident manner, quietly challenging society’s view as to what can be deemed beautiful and confronting the spoon-fed image of feminine perfection by the world’s mainstream media. ­­At the Dazed & Confused exhibition that accompanies the book, the feature is presented visually on screen in a continuous loop of hauntingly beautiful shots that flicker, glow and fade into the black background.

The recent ‘money issue’ is also featured in the book, which had artists Jake and Dinos Chapman creating artwork to support students protesting against the rise in university fees. Alongside this we can see June 2011’s Global Activism Issue, which detailed the struggle Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had for freedom after his own government detained him. This determination to continuously cover political and social issues today is regularly displayed with the magazine producing specially commissioned works that hit the mark and tell the facts.

'Making It Up As We Go Along' is at the Somerset House until January 29, 2012. More info on the exhibition HERE and find out about the Dazed book HERE