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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019

Mods, rockers, ravers and skinheads: Dublin’s street style captured on film

A new book gives a fascinating insight into the evolution of Dublin street style over the years – from mods to rockers, teddy boys to ravers, they’re all captured on photo here.

Sixties style
Sixties style

WHERE WERE YOU over the past five decades?

Maybe you were strutting your stuff on O’Connell St in Dublin, showing off your new flares and feathered fringe.

Or perhaps you and your goth mates were dousing yourselves in hairspray before a big night out.

Wherever you were, there was probably at least one of your friends there with a camera, snapping away.

Every family has their treasured photo albums, and now one Dublin man has delved into hundreds of them to put together the definitive book on Dublin street style and youth culture from 1950 – 2000.

Garry O’Neill, a former sound engineer, came up with the idea for Where Were You? his soon-to-be-released limited edition hardback book, more than a decade ago.

“I’ve always had an interest in youth culture and old Dublin photography from around the city,” he told “And back in the late 1990s when I was working in an arts centre, I toyed around with doing a book of memories of people’s youth culture. But I had to put it on the long finger and a couple of years later I reactivated the idea.”

After years of research and collecting old photos, he has compiled a huge resource that gives a fascinating overview of Dublin’s evolving youth culture, through which it is also possible to track the city’s many changes.

O’Neill initially wanted to write a book, and completed a number of interviews. This evolved into a photography book, with plans for the book of interviews as well a documentary, produced by Still Films (The Pyjama Girls, His and Hers), to be released in the future.

Finding the photographs was a long but ultimately satisfying process:

I knew there were certain photos in newspapers and archives. And I collected and asked around. I knew a lot of guys and girls who were into different scenes over the years. Close to the second year a friend came on board as a graphic designer – I didn’t know how I was going to put it all together. We did up a flyer and we circulated it for six months to a year. That caught a lot of people who hadn’t heard of that originally. It snowballed over a year and a half.

O’Neill grew up with brothers and sisters who were into music and involved in different scenes. “Being into music since I was young, it was a great thing to be able to observe and see, especially when you knew people who were into different scenes.”

The more the whole project developed into not just being about the obvious – like the mods, or punks – it became about teen life in general. It took in all the smaller scenes, like breakdancing, goths… Little things that happened in the 60s, like beatniks. It covers a wide variety of areas. The fact that it is based solely in Dublin means you can actually see the changes in Dublin through the years.

O’Neill noticed that “a lot of the tribes or gangs – skin heads, mods, teds – by the early 90s seemed to have disappeared altogether”.

“There were small revivals in scenes but nothing to the extent of the 80s,” he observed, questioning whether it was due to the upturn in economy or if people “basically were growing up, having kids and moving on”.

There didn’t seem to be that emergence of young people going into tribes or gangs. Especially around 2000, I noticed a lot of the kids dressing alternative but it was all the same. High street shops selling the clothes. Kids all hung around together in the same place in Temple Bar. If this was 10 years ago, it would be 20 of those types or 50 of those types there.

Most of the photographs were taken by the youths themselves, eager to catch on film their social lives, new clothes, friendships and personalities.

In a lot of cases there was usually one or two in a group that would have carried a camera and documented their scene. The further back you got the harder it got to find photos that show different styles. It was a lot of detective work. Not a lot of people had cameras back in the 60s and 7os.

One group of young teenage boys featured in the book would save up their pocket money to get their films developed, and would even make copies so that each could have a photograph of their own.

Another important source for O’Neill was the work of street photographers:

A big area which was great for material was the street photographers on O’Connell St. For decades they took people’s photos going down the street. It was mostly head-to-toe pictures so there was always a chance you’d be surprised by something here or there.

One of his favourite photographs is of a group of girls on a beach in either Bray or Sandymount in 1965. “It’s a lovely sunny day – it could be in California – and there are a lot of them sitting around a record player with a load of records. It was a great pic to find.”

O’Neill used to help raise €7,000 for the project, half of which went to the forthcoming documentary film, and half towards the book.

“The book cost nearly €11,000 for the amount we got done, which was 1300 copies. Luckily enough we were able to hook up with Fuji Ireland who sponsored the rest of the cost.”

There has been a huge reaction to the book so far:

I had a feeling that there would be a lot of interest generated in it because a lot of what’s in it has never been covered before to that extent. There’s been articles on certain youth cultures in magaaines or newspapers, but actually putting them together in a book over a long period of time hasn’t been done.

Where Were You? will be officially launched on Thursday 24 November and will be available in selected bookshops including The Winding Stair from 25 November. The book, which is a limited edition, can be pre-ordered at the official website. If there is a large demand, there will be a second edition run in softback after Christmas.

Mods, rockers, ravers and skinheads: Dublin’s street style captured on film
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  • Where were you?

    1950s ladies style
  • Where were you?

    O'Connell Street in the 1960s
  • Where were you?

    Some more sixties style
  • Where were you?

    Some dapper gents pictured in 1973
  • Where were you?

    O'Connell Street, 1981
  • Where were you?

    Grafton Street, 1987
  • Where were you?

    Stylish pair in 1985
  • Where were you?


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