May I Introduce: Ari Verslvis
“...Honestly, some people are completely ignorant of the fact that their identity pertains to a group. I’m not talking about subcultures like punk or hip hop, but rather “non-intellectual” groups. They don’t have the slightest idea that there are many people like them in the world. When I show them the photos, they’re like, “Wow, you found a bunch of people who look like me!” And we could have found many more, thousands of others. People who are part of a subculture, on the other hand, are usually more conscious of what they do, they know the vocabulary of their language. The point is that fashion is a language: poetic, full of protest or whatever else.”
Much like a modern era August Sander, Ari Verslvis is doing something others have yet to do. With a very time-consuming campaign, nobody has taken Sander’s work to a level quite like Verslvis has with his Exactitudes campaign. Verslvis and profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek travel major European cities to search out individuals who have in common a distinguishable subculture, all while asking themselves the question: “Does absolute individuality really exist?" The objective of the campaign is to break down into groups the “megastructure” of how people see society, and then to further shrink these groups into essential details with an attempt to shed light onto structured social identity.
June 25, 2017
Labels: On track, May I introduce
Auntie Never Ever: Auntie Never Ever is friendly and direct like, spick and span, and full of household wisdom that doesn't come from books. My grandma use to say, "If I don't go, I'll stay.”
Gabbers: Techno-mates in Italian candy-colored shell suits. Old, clean terror. Addicts to hardcore; 180 BPM in ecstasy.
It all started from the request of a Dutch telecoms company for Verslvis to photograph Dutch youth. Verslvis’s first stop was Rotterdam, Netherlands. Rotterdam, being one of the largest ports in the world, is a mecca for individuality and a multi-cultural community of people. Little did Verslvis know that this would be the starting point of his multiple decade-long obsession.
During his first night in Rotterdam, Verslvis went out to a techno club and began taking photos of the club-goers. It began with just two photos. Verslvis noticed that although different people were shot in each photo, the two photos were almost indistinguishable from one another. Verslvis then took even more photos and realized that many of the subjects he was photographing all looked the same...
Flygirls: Shopping girls flipping the script from ivory to ebony style. Flashy adulthood from a multi-culty society.
Gimmies: You want? Gimmie good price. You want? You want? Gimmie best price. You want? Watch out, don't be fooled by the spiel of the deep, dark salesman selling African cliches and Asian ripoffs.
Gameboys: Mini and manic computer wizards entranced by Luigi, Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong.
“The Gabbers. It's the first series of the whole project and just so fascinating to me. It was the first real Dutch youth culture, and it happened to be kids who listened to hardcore, aggressive techno and chose to wear candy-colored neon tracksuits, which was amazing. Rotterdam went from having zero record companies to suddenly having 2000, all selling gabber, and this was before the internet so it was all very local and organic. Also, it really changed the way we looked at street fashion in the Netherlands–it made us reassess what could be done…,” Verslvis tells Vice in an interview about his campaign.
“Gabber” is Rotterdam slang term for “dude” or “friend” or even “guy.” I.e. “Aye Gabber! You’re too fucked up, you can’t come in here tonight!” Verslvis sort of revolutionized the stereotype because although the term has been in Dutch media for a while, nobody could really fit a proper face to the name until Verslvis’s brilliant photo series. Verslvis also went far enough to help gender the term “Gabber” as male while also photographing the more feminine “Gabberbitch.”
Gabberbitches; Speed Sluts: White trash; comfortable camping chic. Skip the top when it gets hot. Fly the Dutch flag with hair and shoe styling.
Neighbors: The middle of the road, next door Xenia growing vegetables and fixing odd jobs. He's your dependable handyman.
Black Widows: Whore-working widows working day-to-day, entirely dependent on themselves.
Students: Sporty, color-blocking high schoolers riding oversized, heavy-duty bicycles to grow into.
Dreads: Androgynous, lonely planet, veggies. "Dread-lock hairdo holiday": a social event. Infatuated by spiritual Djembe, e-sounds, and sinsemilla.
Continuing on with the campaign, instead of taking snap shots of people on the streets, Verslvis had the idea to invite subjects to his studio and asked them specifically to arrive in the same outfit they wore when receiving the invite. Shooting photos of duplicate subjects in his studio made apparent that these people are not just wearing a costume, but that they’re part of a larger culture. This realization is what made Verslvis want to create a larger message and entire campaign to help show the public that identity is not based on clothing alone. With Exactitudes, Verslvis wants to show that everyone communicates in their own way; everyone wants to be heard and seen in some way, and many times this calling is through a person’s image.
In his photographing technique, Verslvis chooses 20 or 30 portraits of one certain silhouette, but only uses twelve to represent one subculture. His photos capture the culture’s demeanor, message to the public, natural body language, and sometimes even an implied upbringing of the individuals within the culture.
Boubou Logo: With powerful feminine presence, these ladies unite. Guaranteed real Dutch wax prints with fake Fendi highlights and dirty Dior sophistication.
Tektonik: Derivative subculture from Parisian suburbia. Driven and bonded by breakdances inspired clashes. Tacky, techtonic, killer dances. Make their own movies with trademarked, fly-flapping arms and shuffling feet. Youtube is the battleground, the family garage is the dance floor.
Ghoullies: Romantic, sun-fearing, time travelers from the Dark Ages to the CyberZone. Gothic, erotic witches, wandering with non-macho, grufty grommet lover-boys.
Donna Decaffeinata: Privileged Milanese ladies called "Churidar." Cocoon & silent minx following the traditional rhythm of well-to-do living in cold, cobblestone Milan. Out-of-the-closet fur in an age where animal-rights fighters are outclassed by price fighters.
In the same interview with Vice, Verslvis comments on the difference between fashion and identity and how his photos and Uyttenbroek’s profiling deliberately work to distinguish the two from one another. “Well, fashion is a language. It can be a very delicate language, or one that you can shout out loud, and there's always an identity aspect connected to it. We try to find identities rather than trends but, of course, the first thing you see is fashion, clothing and apparel so we try to be very precise with what we portray, because styling is all in the details with these groups.”
Subcultures are not sediment in any sort of way and are constantly changing, which is why it’s difficult to “look for” subjects for the Exactitudes campaign. Rather than scoping out a particular subculture, Verslvis lets the familiar faces find him instead, “...only history can tell if this social group is really as relevant as you thought it was at the time. It's like that Susan Sontag quote about how, as a photograph gets older, it either becomes much more important, or it proves to not be important whatsoever.”
New School: "My Adidas and me, close as can be. We make a mean team, my Adidas and me." And this is a quote from RUN-D.M.C. Old School. 1996.
Babes: Exhibitionist, naughty next-door girls. Love to wear micro-bikinis to show off their silicone gems/birthday presents from their lovers.
Young Activists: Outdoor kids for green fleece animals. Political pubescents. Hard to tell if it's their choice or their parent's.
Mohawks: "Punk never dies."
Gentlemen: Satisfied, well-to-do guys. Loose and relaxed. Lazing about the sunny boulevards, reading the Jornal de Brazil.
The Exactitudes series compilation can be found online as well in a multi-edition published book. There’s a great possibility that some of Verslvis’s stereotypes may offend people, especially with his, as Dazed Digital calls it, “clipped, BBC world service accent” definition of each subculture. But as I listen to the different definitions, I cannot help myself from laughing as I sit behind my laptop screen making an oval shape with my mouth and looking off my balcony to see if any of my neighbors heard what I just heard. Although demeaning on so many levels, the commentary is brilliant and the definitions are so pinpointed that it actually surprises me that these subcultural definitions are not in a textbook somewhere. It also makes me question what category I most identify with.
What is so remarkable about this campaign is that nobody is safe and everyone is subject to scrutinization, which makes it pointless and almost narcissistic to get offended about the definition of one subculture when so many are being placed on a pedestal. This campaign can almost be considered a more artistic and fun-filled version of a South Park episode.
Pinups: Betty Page 20-year-olds from shortage Artland. A burlesque mix of 40s and 50s vintage movie star style with a hint of rockabilly. Pencil skirts, pointy tits and Vargas inspired sexiness. They all know the pose: "Woops"
One of my personal favorite subcultures Verslvis sheds light on is “Natural” where he scrutinizes effortlessly beautiful women who dress in casual clothing and neutral colors... but really, they’re wearing designer boyfriend jeans from top Italian fashion brands. “...Simple quick and stylish. Skinny, fashion conscious girls who love to underdress in designer jeans. Refined nonchalance becomes laidback eligence.”
Through the Exactitudes' array of subculture definitions, Verslvis’s is saying what half of us are actually thinking. I just wish I had done it first.
“After nearly two decades of observing people and scrutinizing every detail, deep down, I’ve developed the rooted principle of never judging anyone. That's a very humanistic kind of view, and might not be the way people interpret the project, but that's really how I feel.”
Reli-Rockers: Rebels for Christ. Satan sucks. On the safe side of metal and the extreme side of Christianity. Metal goes deep, and Jesus too. Together, they touch your heart.
What's Up G?: TBA
All of these subcultures are found in just a few European cities, so it brings into question how widespread this campaign can become if the “playing-field” is more widespread. “We take pauses from the project because it’s quite intense – you have to be quite a chameleon to encounter these people, going from the environment of a club, say, and then to a chic party to meet some fur ladies. So we’re having a period of reflection at the moment to do other things, but there will be a time where we’re simply going to do it again because the designs in the street are too powerful, they just seduce you. And that’s very good” (Verslvis's finishing comments in an interview with Dazed Digital).
Skins: No nonsense workmates of few words. A rollup and a beer; cut to the bone gear. Cropped hair and braces up or down. There will always be a skinhead in town.
Grand Hello Tour: TBA
Bimbos: Tasty sex-icons. Go to buyerbeachclub.com. Cocktails and dreams. Solarium bronzed, artificial blondes have more fun.
Les filles du 7eme: Posh, privileged, and well protected. The daughters of Sarkozy are 15-year-old, wannabe women with the style of a tabloid actress. Slim jeans and ballerines to match the Blaisé looks. "I'm so not impressed.”
Text by: Becky Ingram