Harry Conway’s Candid and Honest Punk Rock Photography
Away from the bright lights and photo pits of mainstream music photography, there are photographers out there turning their cameras away from the stage and onto the people around them. One such photographer is London’s Harry Conway.
Harry’s lens is pointed at the people who make up the UK hardcore scene, both at shows and in every day life. There’s no shiny here; Harry’s shots are a candid, gritty look into the beating heart of a scene teeming with life. As soon as his shots caught our eye, we had to get in touch to find out more…
Hi Harry! How did you get into taking pictures? When did you first feel like you were getting good at it?
I took a crappy sixth form course, bought a Phenix SLR camera for 30 quid and started taking pictures of anything. I always remember shooting loads of cliché black and white. In the past few years I’ve worked harder to gain my own style; predominantly 35mm colour portraits and that’s when I saw an improvement. Everyone’s too caught up in trying to be an ‘all-round’ photographer and you just end up blending in; you need to find your niche and run with it, own it.
A gallery of faces you may recognise from the UK hardcore scene
What was your life like when you got into photography?
After education I got really into graff, I’d be working dead end jobs and just go painting all night. I was doing that for a few years before I fell out of love with it or fell in love with trying to document things again… I seemed to transfer all my energy from painting into my photography. It took years to happen, but I think you have to pick your battles, like I said before you can’t be good at everything and so I just made more time for my own work and cut out certain things.
Heroin & Burners, 2012
You’ve got this very intimate, candid style, where your subjects come across incredibly human. What about that appeals to you?
I want to be able to convey that split second moment which me and the subject might have shared, even if we didn’t know it in that moment. Unlike an all day photoshoot I’ve probably just met this person 5 minutes prior to the shutter being tripped, so there’s no build up… no calculated crap.
Those 5 minute to, at times, hour long conversations led to me realising that my work is a kind of therapy. I’m a strong believer in the idea of someone’s work being deeply rooted in who they are, and when I walk around London looking for portraits I find it therapeutic. Even if I only shoot a couple of frames, observing people on their daily routines is incredibly interesting to me. I’m a voyeur and being able to be allowed to capture someone in that moment in time is a privilege and I treat it so.
Everyone my age into photography is so caught up in trying to get that ‘cool’ shot of a band/performer/ model or snapshot of someone famous, but I don’t care for that as much as framing the stranger. The challenge for me is meeting someone who doesn’t know anything about me and winning them over to not just let me photograph them, but to take a photograph I’m happy with, something that truly portrays the meeting itself.
Tell us about your love of hardcore. What came first, hardcore or photography? What about hardcore appealed to you? What makes it a rewarding world to photograph?
Going to metal gigs at the Astoria/Forum/shitty pub back rooms. I got into awful bands like Throwdown and eventually got into the hardcore scene, firstly by going to Underworld allayers and then going to smaller UK only line-ups.
I guess the principles of hardcore just drew me in. It felt more honest; I could relate to the issues being spoken about instead of the metal scene I had known where people were singing about blood and bullshit.
Your style lends well to hardcore, being that it’s a very DIY kinda scene where realness is everything. Do you specifically go for that in your photography?
Yeah, I guess you could draw parallels in my work ethic. I walk around central London working out all the best places to meet people, I process and scan a lot of my own film. I love the analogue nature of film photography, I rarely shoot on point and shoots anymore as I get a lot more from manually exposing and processing each frame instead of the pot luck nature of point and shoots. Everything is on me, no one’s going to shoot the work for me or walk for miles trying to find people to shoot. I need to wake up and spend my own money and a lot of my time to get a couple exposures on one film.
Ken showing me his first tattoo which is 40 years old, London 2016
Why do you think it’s so important to document these people?
People always want to show the happy side, y’know? Like the beautiful landscape or pretty girl… I guess I just don’t see my environment like that. When people go to Soho, it’s for a night out or the latest fashion drop, while I’m lurking around alleyways. People my age see fashion and fun and I see the lost individual who is wandering around with the greatest expression or the guy waiting for his next fix busily to trying to gather enough p. I feel like I have to document this, its right in front of me. It’s too easy to turn away and say, ‘No I’m going to shoot my mates all the time or the latest cool streetwear.’ It wouldn’t be honest to what is going on around me and therefore it just wouldn’t hold much substance, so what would be the purpose in it?
Lastly, how excited are you by hardcore in 2017? It feels like a scene really bubbling with something wicked at the moment.
It’s crazy to see it dip and dive. When I was playing in bands no one ever thought anyone would really take much notice. We hoped to get a tape and 7 inch out, max. Now, my friends are touring Europe, America and Asia. Its nuts, but I’m just happy some people that have been putting in work for years are starting to get recognised; bands like Frame of Mind, Blind Authority, Higher Power, Crown Court, Arms Race, State Funeral, Payday, my boys in Day by Day and Society Abuse across the Pond. I love that these kids are spending all their money and time travelling to crappy venues and just going mad. Being able to watch your mates on stage while kids are breaking their bones because they’re so into it is cool.
Check out Harry’s photography at harryfconway.com.