From the series 'Teenagers', Rock, Cornwall, summer 2001
I don't subscribe to the view that teenagers are all about drugs and crime. I think that's a middle-class preoccupation with a working-class situation. To be so damning and cynical is depressing. Teenagers are fundamentally the same as they've always been - just a bundle of hormones and excitement. It's a wildly exciting, turbulent time for them and I think that's how it's been since the 1950s.
Sometimes it can be quite hard to befriend a group of teenagers. Often they can be introverted, aloof or they just don't want to know. That's the prerogative of the adolescent. In this instance, with this group I met at Rock in Cornwall, they were easy to mix with. They were much more extrovert, sporty, jovial and very, very sure of who they were.
I started doing stories on youth culture in 1998. Sleazenation used to send me out with a big bag of film at the weekend and I would go everywhere and anywhere documenting people at parties and clubs. Youth culture seems a bit more prepackaged and accessible now. When I was growing up it was all mods, goths, punks and rude boys. But you had to show real commitment to your tribe. If you wanted to be a mod, say, it would have involved a bit of fisticuffs - getting chased round town and having your head kicked in. Now it's less creative, and it's much easier to just buy straight into a style.
The impact technology has had is amazing. Now it's all MP3, Messenger, Skype, video messaging. Kids are so at ease and quick to pick up on it all. I wonder if it makes life slightly more isolating though. There's a lot less meeting up for a kickabout in the street.
'Open Mic' by Ewen Spencer is published by ES Books, [pound]9.99
'Grime Kids', London E14, 2005
There's a very nihilistic, materialistic culture that exists on the streets of east London right now. Everything is about the ghetto. To have any importance or self-respect you have to be a product of the ghetto. The problem with this mentality is that it means people aren't looking to get out.
I'm not terribly optimistic. I've been photographing kids in east London's grime scene for a few years now and they're all very heavily influenced by American gangster rap. Glorification of weapons, a bling-bling lifestyle and thug mentality is everything. It's actually very banal though. It's all posturing, egotism and mindless violence, but they aren't actually fighting for anything at all. I think, unless it's reined in, there is very little hope for them.
If you're on the grime scene, chances are you were born in a single-parent family, live on a council estate, eat fast food and carry a knife but aspire to owning a gun. There's no money in urban music in London so all these kids who think they are going to be Jay- Z or 50 Cent are deluded.
Almost all of them have been a dealer at some point. It seems to me that they're all looking to make money but don't want to put the work in. There is a culture of apathy. Ask them what their ambition is and the answer is "to win the Lottery". For the girls, it's to marry a footballer and become a WAG. There are whole swathes of youth who want everything for nothing. I didn't meet one who wants to be a plumber, or any of those traditional trades.
These are all Thatcher's children and I think, in many ways, that she is to blame. She instigated the breakdown of community, so it's no wonder there is no respect among these kids for their elders.
I also think corporations have a lot to answer for. The glorification of Nike, Adidas, Puma etc and the commercialisation of football has created an incredible materialism among these kids. When I was a teenager I wanted a Lacoste shirt for sure, but not when I was eight - I waited until I was 15.
Valerie Phillips …