Garry O’Neill – Where Were You?


Posted 10 months ago in Arts & Culture Features

Ahead of the 10th anniversary of its publication, we chat to Garry O’Neill from the Where Were You? project on youth culture and street style.

 

Can you tell us the origins of Where Were You?

It grew out of a love of Dublin history, in particular the area of youth culture/subcultures, something I felt had gone undocumented in any proper or half decent way. That interest developed from a young age through family, friends, schoolmates etc.

Shamo & Cindy

The history of subcultures, from Dick Hebdige’s Subculture to photography books like Chris Steel-Perkins The Teds, Nick Knight’s Skinhead, Janette Beckman’s Made In The UK, Jamel ShabazzBack In The Days and the work of Derek Ridgers and Gavin Watson were hugely influential. It’s as much a homage to Dublin as it is to youth culture/subcultures.

 

How time-consuming and painstaking was it to undertake? What did it reveal to you? Was there anything you felt you missed out on or wished you had more of, in hindsight?

It was a hobby initially, collecting material in my spare time over six/seven years. Then I committed to it full-time for a further two/three years. The deeper I dug, the more my interest and determination to produce something grew, so I’d say I was firmly entrenched in that DIY rabbit hole for close to ten years.

Original Poster

It was never slow; I was sourcing material every day with some weeks been quite hectic. It revealed that despite high emigration and unemployment over the decades, there has always been a rich vein of youth culture in the city from the early 1950s onwards.

With a lot of people, it was evident that they processed an undeniable passion for their subculture of choice, something that rarely diminished with age. I think I got pretty much everything I wanted, maybe not as much of some material that I would have liked, but I felt I covered everything that I wanted.

 

Did the reaction to it exceed your expectations? Did surprises emerge from its publication? 

Yes, although I was aware of a large interest in it, predominantly from the people, scenes etc, that it focused on, I think the fact it was as much a Dublin social history book than an ode to the subcultures therein, it garnered a broader response and interest.

Sean Gilmartin

The main surprise was the huge demand for it, with continues to this day.

 

Do you ever consider the danger of rose-tinting nostalgia or do you see the project as more of a documentation of time, people, scenes and tribes?

No, It was always a project of documentation.

Tony O’Shea, Grafton Street, 1987

Some folks like the nostalgia of it, which is fair enough. I fondly remember those days from the 1970s-90s, I’m not nostalgic for them, forward ever backward never.

 

Ten years on, where does it go next?

I never stopped collecting and unearthing material, from photographers to archives to the general public, and as a result, I’ve recently set about compiling a series of decade specific follow-up books, containing a more in-depth focus of each decade.

Eddie Phelan 1962

The first of which will be Where Were You – 1980s which will be followed by Where Were You – 1970s etc, and if all goes to plan, then I’ll finish up with a countrywide edition.

And if the interest is there, I’m sure there’ll be more talks, exhibitions etc, to follow.

 

Where Were You? – an evening celebrating ten years of the classic youth culture book will take place in the Sugar Club on Thursday March 17th. Eric Moore (RTÉ Gold) hosts Hi Tone Books’ Garry O’Neill and Niall McCormack as they delve into stories behind the project and forthcoming publications, accompanied by visuals and special guests. Tickets €20.

Feature Image: Dave Clifford – Skinheads, South King Street

Like this? Read this … Brian McMahon of Brand New Retro talks to Garry O’Neil about Vox, a 400+ page opus featuring the complete collection of the revered 1980s Dublin fanzine.

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