Ewen Spencer

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Ewen Spencer
Ewen Spencer.jpeg
Born1971 (age 50–51)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England[1]
Known forPhotography

Ewen Spencer (born 1971) is a British photographer and filmmaker based in Brighton, England. His photography is primarily of youth and subcultures.[2][3]

He began his career working for style, music and culture magazines The Face and Sleazenation and has since joined groups of young people and musicians to form numerous personal projects, as well as making films for Massive Attack, The streets and The Charlatans and undertaking commercial work. His photography series have included Open Mic, UKG and Kick over the statues.[4] He has self-published a number of photobooks including a series of zines titled Guapamente.

Life and work[edit]

Spencer studied editorial photography under photographers Paul Reas and Mark Power at the School of Art and Design at the University of Brighton.[5] He graduated in 1997.

In 1999 he worked photographing nightlife, such as the UK garage scene, for fashion and lifestyle magazine Sleazenation.[1]

Between 2001 and 2005 Spencer photographed the American rock band The White Stripes.[6][7][8] Initially for the NME, he photographed shows from their first UK tour onwards, including candid backstage photographs.[8][9] In 2010 he self-published Three's a Crowd,[6] documenting the early stages of the band's rise to popularity.[10]

In 2002 photographer Martin Parr tipped Spencer as the most promising newcomer of that year.[10]

Spencer has also photographed London's grime music,[11][12][13] which resulted in his book Open Mic, which was awarded a Yellow Pencil certificate for photographic publishing by D&AD in 2005.[14] In his introduction to Open Mic, Martin Parr wrote:

Ewen Spencer has already established his reputation, in recent years, as a photographer of much talent with his work on youth culture, but now he turns his attention to the 'grime' music scene in London... This is where Spencer's quality as a photographer really begins to work. He has thrown himself into this whole scene with such enthusiasm and dedication that he has won over the confidence of the key players on the grime circuit. This demonstrates how the potential magic of contemporary photography begins to operate. Because Spencer's photography is so compelling, the viewer begins to understand what attracted him in the first place... This scene is about energy... Ewen Spencer's photographs are also about energy, making visual sense of the wonderful anarchy of grime. Spencer brings the same raw passion to his photographs; I think those who view them benefit from this engagement.[2]

Writing for the Huffington Post in 2012, Alice Vincent said "it is his photography from the front line of genuine youth culture that are the most striking. The rituals of sex and socialising are prominent, with Spencer's images seeming to be captured by an invisible voyeur."[3] In a 2012 interview for The Guardian, Spencer named Dick Hebdige, Tom Wood, and Pete Townshend as influences.[1]

In 2013, GOST published Spencer's book of photographs of UK garage, UKG. Writing in The Guardian, Mike Skinner wrote of UKG that:

Ewen's photographs start when the scene was moving at its fastest, and go right up to Moving Too Fast. The first thing I wondered when I saw them was how he didn't get beaten up for snapping such intimate moments of some pretty certified-looking badmen. But my second, more lasting impression was how much more rich in detail they were than my fading typecast memory. . . . But the important and exciting thing about Ewen's photos are that they take you back to the real thing. . . .[15]

In 2016 he was commissioned by Photoworks and Fabrica to produce a body of work for Brighton Photo Biennial. With Kick over the statues Spencer's intention was to re-establish a belief in youth tribes and style. Young Londoners were cast along the route of the August 2016 Notting Hill Carnival and against locations in Liverpool. These cities celebrate and enhance the idea of a UK diaspora, through style and cultural background with an association to music and culture that recalls the history of British subcultures and invents its own contemporary incarnations. The gallery installation resembled a snapshot of how photography is often encountered in the streets of a modern city. Large format images posted onto custom-built billboards are supplemented with music and projected images.[citation needed]

His photography has appeared in The Guardian[16][9] and he has worked for the NME,[6][9] The Face, Nike, Apple, Smirnoff, Footlocker, JD Sports, Sony, Reebok, T-Mobile, Toyota, Vodafone[13] and Channel 4 (photographing on the set of E4's series Skins).[3][13] He took the inner liner photographs for the album Original Pirate Material by The Streets.[3][10][17]

Spencer is also a documentary short film director. His Brandy & Coke (2014), about UK garage, was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2014 as part of the first of their Music Nation music documentary series with Dazed.[18] Writing in The Guardian in 2014, Sam Richards called it "excellent".[19] Open Mic (2014), about grime music, was broadcast in the second series.[20][21][22] Ellen E. Jones, writing in The Independent in 2014, said "There are enough ideas in 'Open Mic', the opening film from Ewen Spencer, to justify a whole series of films on grime music alone."[20] In 2015 Spencer was commissioned by i-D to make a four-part series for Channel 4, Street, Sound and Style,[n 1] describing how music and street style subcultures have changed the face of British pop culture.


Books of work by Spencer[edit]

The cover of Three's a Crowd Vol.1
  • Open Mic. Self-published, 2005. ISBN 0-9550840-0-8. Photographs of young people involved in the Grime music scene in London. Introductions by Martin Parr and Mike Skinner.[4][13][n 2]
  • UKG. London: GOST, 2013. ISBN 978-0-957427-25-9. Photographs of people involved in UK garage music. Edition of 1,000 copies. With an essay by Jason Evans, "Meanwhile, on the Other Side of Town".[n 3][15][16]
  • Open Mic Vol.2. Brighton: See-W, 2014. ISBN 9780955084058. Edition of 500 copies. Additional photographs from his Open Mic series plus interviews made for the film Open Mic (2014) with DJ Slimzee, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Lethal B, Newham Generals, Jammer, JME, Ratty (Lord of the Mics) and Logan Sama.[23]
  • Young Love. London: Stanley Barker, 2017. ISBN 9780995555556. Edition of 1000 copies.[24][25]

Booklets of work by Spencer[edit]

  • Three's a Crowd Vol. 1. Self-published, 2010. Edition of 500 copies. Photographs of The White Stripes.[6][9][n 4]
  • Three's a Crowd Vol. 2. Self-published, 2011. ISBN 978-0-955084-02-7. Photographs of The White Stripes.[8][n 5]
  • Guapamente (issue 1). Self-published, 2013. ISBN 978-0-955084-01-0. Photographs of young people in Naples, Italy. Edition of 300 copies.
  • Guapamente (issue 2). Self-published, 2014. Photographs of young people in Marseille, France. Edition of 300 copies.
  • Guapamente (issue 3). Self-published, 2014. ISBN 978-0-955084-03-4. Photographs of young people in Miami, FL. Edition of 300 copies.
  • Guapamente (issue 4). Brighton: See-W, 2015. ISBN 978-0-9550840-6-5. Photographs of roller skaters in London. Edition of 300 copies.
  • Guapamente (issue 5): Bring, Come, Punish. Brighton: ES Books. ISBN 978-0-9550840-4-1. Edition of 200 copies

Publications with contributions by Spencer[edit]

  • HOST Portfolio, 8 Magazine, Issue 24: Resistance, Foto8, 2008.[n 6]


  • Brandy & Coke, 2013. 8 m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer, produced by Denna Cartamkhoob, for Dazed[n 7][26][27][28]
  • Brandy & Coke, 2014. 22 m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer, produced by Denna Cartamkhoob and Adam Farley[n 8][18][29]
  • Open Mic, 2014. 23 m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer. Commissioned by Channel 4 as part of the Music Nation series.[n 9][30]
  • Jam and Cheese, 2015. 7 m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer. Commissioned by Dazed.[n 10]
  • Street, Sound and Style, 2015. Four episodes, each 23 m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer, produced by Oz Thakkar. Commissioned by i-D.[n 11]
  • The Business of Grime, 2016, 20m short. Directed by Ewen Spencer, produced by Oz Thakkar and Youern. Commissioned by GQ

Solo exhibitions[edit]

  • Three's a Crowd, KK Outlet, London, 2011[8]
  • Teenagers, Third Floor Gallery, Cardiff, 2012.[31]
  • England's Dreaming, White Cloth Gallery, Leeds, 2012[3][1][13]
  • Brandy & Coke, Create Studios, Brighton, 2013.[32]
  • UKG and screenings of Open Mic and Brandy & Coke, Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam, 2014.[33]
  • Kick over the statues, co-commissioned by Photoworks and Fabrica for Brighton Photo Biennial, Fabrica Gallery, Brighton, 2016
  • Kick over the statues, Hassell, London (UK) 2017

Group exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ Web page about Street, Sound and Style, Channel 4.
  2. ^ Its website is [1].
  3. ^ Its web page is [2].
  4. ^ Its website is [3].
  5. ^ Its website is [4].
  6. ^ It is available to read at [5].
  7. ^ Brandy & Coke (8 m version) is available to watch at Dazed here.
  8. ^ Brandy & Coke (22 m version) is available to watch on Vimeo here.
  9. ^ Open Mic is available to watch at Dazed here.
  10. ^ Jam and Cheese is available to watch at Dazed here.
  11. ^ Street, Sound and Style is available to watch at i-D here.


  1. ^ a b c d "Ewen Spencer's best photograph: MCs at a UK garage rave". The Guardian. 24 October 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b Spencer, Ewen (2005). Open Mic. Brighton: ES Books. ISBN 0-9550840-0-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e Vincent, Alice (28 September 2012). "'Skins' Photographer Ewen Spencer Opens New Show". The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Anya, Lawrence. "Ewen Spencer's Open Mic series beautifully captures the UK hip-hop scene". It's Nice That.
  5. ^ "Ewen Spencer". University of Brighton. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d "The White Stripes: The last great rock band". The Observer. 24 October 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  7. ^ Tootill, Liam (25 October 2010). "Ewen Spencer: Three's a Crowd". i-D. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d "The White Stripes - rare shots by Ewen Spencer" (PDF). 20 September 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d Chick, Stevie; Spencer, Ewen (5 February 2011). "The White Stripes: Detroit's rock heroes remembered". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Ewen Spencer". University of Brighton Faculty of Arts. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  11. ^ Mike Skinner, "'This is what real British rap looks like'", Guardian, 15 July 2005. Accessed 2010-12-14.
  12. ^ Mary O'Hara, "Pictures prove that the kids are all right", Guardian, 28 June 2006. Accessed 2010-12-14.
  13. ^ a b c d e Coomes, Phil (3 October 2012). "England's Dreaming". BBC. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  14. ^ "Ewen Spencer - Alumni and associates: photography, film and performance - University of Brighton - Faculty of Arts". University of Brighton Faculty of Arts. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  15. ^ a b "Booooo: Mike Skinner on the glory days of UK garage". The Guardian. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Back to the bogle: the UK garage scene – in pictures". The Guardian. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  17. ^ Martin, Clive (June 2013). "The Soul of UK Garage, As Photographed by Ewen Spencer". Vice United Kingdom. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Music on 4: Music Nation". Radio Times. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  19. ^ Richards, Sam (21 October 2014). "The day when Orbital split up and we reminisced about Peep Show". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  20. ^ a b Jones, Ellen (6 November 2014). "BBC2's The Fall returns next week and the psycho-killer tale is not so sexist". The Independent. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  21. ^ "C4 and Dazed's Music Nation returns for a second series in November". Channel 4. 9 March 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  22. ^ Tsjeng, Zing (21 March 2014). "Say hi to Music Nation, our new Channel 4 documentary series". Dazed. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  23. ^ "King of documenting counterculture, Ewen Spencer is back with a new book". www.itsnicethat.com. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  24. ^ "Young love lasts a lifetime: Ewen Spencer on his new book". www.itsnicethat.com. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Ewen Spencer's exploration of love (and lust) of teenagers at youth clubs across Britain". Creative Boom. 23 August 2017. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Brandy & Coke". Dazed. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  27. ^ "Brandy & Coke". Fact. 14 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  28. ^ "Ewen Spencer // Brandy & Coke // Golden Days of UK Garage". Gilles Peterson. 14 January 2014. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  29. ^ "The golden age of garage". Dazed. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  30. ^ "Music Nation". Channel 4. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  31. ^ ""Teenagers" by Ewen Spencer". Third Floor Gallery. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  32. ^ "Ewen Spencer – Brandy & Coke". Create Studios. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  33. ^ "Ewen Spencer on the UKG scene". Wieden+Kennedy. 5 November 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  34. ^ "We Want More: Image-Making and Music in the 21st Century". The Photographers' Gallery. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  35. ^ "Festival: Krakow Photomonth". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved 19 April 2021.

External links[edit]