“adidas has always been there. When I was at school, adidas football shoes were the ones that kids all wanted. They were accessible and all the kids who needed sport stuff were wearing adidas or nothing,” says photographer Gavin Watson. “Throw Run DMC into the mix – the 'My adidas' song – and they cemented their 'coolness'.”
He continues: “This is slightly embarrassing but until recently I thought adidas was a British born brand because of the way it's loved here!”
With three books to his name – ‘Skins’, ‘Skins & Punks: Lost Archives, 1979-1985’ and ‘Raving 89’ – each both a highly personal and yet completely inclusive photographic portrayal of different eras lived via subcultures in the UK, Watson’s latest project with the German brand is just as apt as previous endeavours with the likes of Dr. Martens and Levi’s.
While the latter two might make more sense on paper – both are key components of the skinhead culture for which Watson is best known – his partnering with the sports giant for a shoot that entertains decades in which he’s lived, is confirmation of his continued interest in movements within society.
Though he suggests his appointment was “totally leftfield, I had no inclination that they even knew about me!” there is a personal element that championed the choice over the rest. One of his favourite photos he tells Clash, is of policemen standing in a park with skinheads, incidentally carrying an adidas holdall; “a moment in time” he says.
The project in question absorbs the history of the ZX runner by adidas Originals, the trainer first released in 1989 (and so called the ZX 8000) that went on to be a key ingredient within the realms of the music scenes played out by Watson and his team above; acid house, jungle, garage and grime.
“In ‘89 I was either thinking about going to a rave, at a rave, or recovering from a rave,” tells Gavin. “There were a lot of changes going on, the biggest one that year being the Berlin wall coming down, and there seemed to be a spiral effect with lots of changes going on around me. I split with my girlfriend at the time and it just went on and on. More than anything '89 turned into one big brilliant party.”
Inspired by but not an exact replica of the ZX 8000, today the shoes – updated to the ZX Flux title – possess a woven upper and a moulded heel cage; sleeker, brighter and we’d hazard a guess, with further advanced technologies unseen in their early counterparts.
Two and a half decades on for Watson, and his once just for fun photographs have come to hold collective memories for a group that spans beyond his initial circle, proposing inspiration for various others too.
As with adidas, the aforementioned collaborators are turned on to the history and authenticity his lens brings. But the photographer is hesitant to suggest these partnerships are something he courts: “I don't go looking for collaborations, it's just not what I do. I'm always honoured to be asked to do books and for my imagery to be used on apparel and other products. There used to be a time where collaborations used to be on a small but very high end scale, we're now at a time that bands and fashion labels are helpful in one another's success.”
In fact he says, “I always view collaborative work as a way to actually position myself as a photographer and a wonderful way to get my imagery and artwork into the world. One day my campaign imagery may be someone's favourite photograph forever.”
Perhaps it’s already happened? Certainly a search of the Watson name on Tumblr returns bedroom wall ready results aplenty.
Words: Zoe Whitfield