Tom Sloan travels up and down the country’s coastline to capture the carefree essence of British youth
There are a few key elements that go into a photograph for London-based photographer Tom Sloan: “Freedom, adolescence and natural often unprovoked interactions all contribute to the stories I look for in a photo,” he says.
Inspired by his own childhood in Southampton, Sloan’s work offers up a confluence of social documentary, portrait, and at times fashion, sensibilities all guided by a central principle: to celebrate the unique youth culture of outer city Britain. While his subjects change, Sloan tries to present each image as honestly as possible: “I like the reactivity that goes in hand with shooting young people”, he reveals. “Unfortunately, as you get older you lose ‘something’, it suddenly (and sadly) starts to feel more natural to repress any sense of reactivity than it does to express it. I like to shoot kids living the life they want to live, in a space that is their own.” This need for purity with limited censorship is made evident throughout the photographer’s body of work whether that’s characterised by half-clad lads jumping carelessly from dual carriageways, couples getting off with each other or the odd cider-soaked scuffle, Sloan’s style is honest, raw and always intimate.
“I asked those two teenage boys on the bikes, ‘who is the strongest out of you two?’ to which they impulsively started to flex their muscles. That picture says a lot about the series, it’s about kids showing off in front of the camera” – Tom Sloan
His new series “What’s the Craic” falls in line with his self-initiated work, and is born from the same place, of an intrigue with young people and personality, this time combining portraiture with energetic landscape shots set along the coastlines of the UK. The series exemplifies the photographer’s deft knack for documenting British adolescence in a way that tells a vast narrative in a single frame, while avoiding the all too ubiquitous cliches of expressionless young people shot on 35mm point and shoot camera. Shot in Southampton, Sloan’s hometown, the images give way to a place that is both promise and political sleight. They show working class kids congregating on the parts of coastal land that they navigate with a sense of ownership.
There is a deliberate spontaneity and humanism to Sloans’ method. “Nothing is contrived,” he explains. “Part of it, to be honest, was about me quite simply accessing their space – be that a playground, a wasteland or a desolate part of the coast. Can I photograph this person? Can I get to know this guy? You know, I asked those two teenage boys on the bikes, ‘who is the strongest out of you two?’ to which they impulsively started to flex their muscles. That picture says a lot about the series, it’s about kids showing off in front of the camera.”
This element of bravado and showmanship in a space that is familiar, plays out across Sloan’s work, whether his subjects are cycling, smoking or swearing, all are living in the moment.