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Street Flash
Photography Will Wright

The street style mag putting London’s subcultures back into the spotlight

In an era of TikTok trends and URL fashion, Street Flash is documenting what’s happening to people’s clothes in real life

If fashion is a language  – a jumble of hieroglyphs to signal meaning in everyday life – then street style photographers are its chroniclers. The value of looking at clothing in this way is that you realise there is no singular, legitimate mode of expression: lots of people are stylish so long as you understand the grammar they’re working with. In the 1970s, American artist Hal Fischer began to document popular looks in the San Francisco area, decoding the ways in which gay men would telegraph their sexual preferences by the handkerchiefs they’d wear around the waist. This language, understood only by its insiders, was an essential mode of expression when homosexuality was still criminalised.

The ASOS bowling shirts beloved by the gay men of today fulfil a similar function, as do Vejas or Salomon trainers for the heterosexual community… shoes that communicate someone’s allegiance toat eating small plates in Balham or eating small plates in London Fields. As an aesthetic standard for people who work in creative-adjacent industries, those particular looks are unlikely to attract the attention of street style photographers who typically gravitate towards magpie fashion freaks that buck mainstream dress codes. This is particularly true for Will Wright, the creative behind Street Flash and Zero Cool. “I tend to steer clear of areas populated by too many self-consciously ‘cool’ people,” he says. “Passion and eccentricity are much harder to find and way more fun to shoot.” 

Schooled on 00s style-bibles like FRUiTS, Sleazenation, and STREET, Wright surveys young people in London “who are engaged in really unique relationships with their clothing” like archive Diesel-fanatics, cyber goths, Ketamine Chic-ers, or designers like Benny Andallo. “It’s about capturing people who have a heightened sense of connectivity with what they're wearing. I love street style because it's real. It lends context to the illusory fantasy of fashion.” Shot with a sparse, unvarnished attitude, the whole thing is reminiscent of the kind of photography that surfaced on early Tumblr – back when people schlepped to Brick Lane for fill-a-bag thrift sales rather than prohibition cocktails. It was a period in time marked by a fascination with analogue culture (old magazines, typewriters, vinyls) that plenty of people are returning to today, albeit via digital cameras and wired headphones. 

When most of the conversations surrounding fashion today ride on whatever’s happening online, it can be hard to take the temperature of what’s actually happening to people’s clothes IRL. “That's where I think street style can still be super relevant, in providing a more static documentation,” Wright says. “It’s something we can revisit over time to get a snapshot of what the world looked like two months/ years/ decades ago, outside of the constantly shifting realm of social media.” Like Fischer, who Wright seems to have accidentally channelled in his diagrammatic annotations – “the similarity is so uncanny it's actually caught me off guard!” – a renewed cultural appetite in street style is testament to how well this kind of media holds its value over time. “Perhaps more so even than constructed, editorial images do,” he says.   

Like all the best street style photographers (Bill Cunningham, Hans Eijkelboom, Shoichi Aoki) Wright talks about fashion as if he were an anthropologist. It’s a culture-first bent that can be mapped across his Zero Cool instagram page, which identifies the commonalities between simultaneous movements that were happening in different countries during a particular year – like electroclash, military ravers, and something called jurassic chic. These kinds of countercultural tribes are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish today, with the internet flattening multiple aesthetics into a mad hodgepodge – grunge, for example, now looks like goth, emo, punk, nu metal. “It’s mind-blowing,” Wright says. “Access to the past gives people the opportunity to recontextualise and divorce trends from their original messaging.” 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. “What we see on the street is a hybrid of subcultures and trends – movements that are coherent enough to leave a cultural impression, but lack the all-consuming lifestyle demands and oppositional requirements of subcultures past.” In this way, the fashion language of today straddles both a “hyper-aware, networked environment and a more localised, secret society-style one.” In his attempt to chronicle all of these dialects, 2023 will see the inaugural Street Flash “mag/zine”, and a new project wherein Wright will reconnect with and reshoot the people featured in all those iconic street style magazines of the 90s and 00s. “I want to build my own archive,” he says. “Interacting with people is a lot more fulfilling than scanning old magazines in your room!”