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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Randomness

"Bombsite Boudiccas" was the enticing title of a website I stumbled on a few years back. Who knows what random search algorithms led me there, it was just one of those perfect accidents: a small archive of photographs documenting the 1950s London teddy girl scene shot by film director Ken Russell. Their sartorial assertiveness contrasted with the bombed out environments they occupied and their feisty appropriation of male styles (often down to the classic duck-tail haircut) set them apart from the standard Fifties Feminine. They were a revelation. I'd never even heard of a teddy girl before, let alone known anything about Russell's pre-film career as a photographer for semi-tabloids.

The website promoted a 2005 exhibition of the teddy girl photographs, part of a recently discovered archive of Russell's early work for the Picture Post, commercial photography he abandoned once his filmmaking career began. But the website eventually disappeared, leaving only traces of the intriguing Boudiccas scattered around Google or captured on blogs. Trying to recover all the images I so vividly remembered, I finally stumbled on a couple of links that helped me put the picture back together.

You can see all the original "Bombsite Boudiccas" reproduced here from Amateur Photographer. A few more teddy girls can be seen in this selection of signed reprints still available for sale. But best of all is reading about the determined discovery of the photos themselves by Judy Westacott, a neo-teddy girl who wanted to document the true inventiveness of the subculture and correct the perception "that teddy girls all wore circle skirts and bobby socks and listened to Rock around the Clock, and that kind of stuff."

The Sunday Times coverage of Westacott's discovery and subsequent exhibition (at which she even got some of the original girls, now in their 70s and 80s, to appear) points out the work and creativity of the teddy girl style: "The teddy girls left school at 14 or 15, worked in factories or offices, and spent their free time buying or making their trademark clothes – pencil skirts, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, tailored jackets with velvet collars, coolie hats and long, elegant clutch bags. It was head-turning, fastidious dressing, taken from the fashion houses of the time, which had launched haute-couture clothing lines recalling the Edwardian era."

Even though I have my girls back, some mystery still remains. Russell's early photography is still being actively shown, yes, but why haven't these images been published in book form yet? Even more importantly, where is the long overdue teddy girl revival?

—Mina Estevez







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