You work with me not someone else
Words and photography by Sarah Feeney for T*S*P*T*R print magazine
A 3 minute read
Wig Worland was described as being a “legend” by the late Virgil Abloh. He recently exhibited at Somerset House and his prints adorn the walls of many skateboard enthusiasts.
He’s a subculture legend with art world legitimacy.
He’d bat that away if you said it to his face though.
Wig began photographing skateboarders in 1989. Back when skateboarding was considered a subculture and Wig was just photographing fellow skateboarding friends.
He was 18 and an apprentice photographer so the two things sat together nicely.
The 90s became known as skateboarding's “second coming” and Wig and his friend Andy Horsley were a part of it creating a zine called The System.
(It was the 90s so it had to have a suitable, smash-the-structure type name.)
The System believed it was the system to replace an old (unspecified) system.
Despite its serious-sounding name and intention, Wig and Andy made sure the zine had a good dollop of humour and irreverence so that it would appeal to its audience and reflect themselves: they didn’t want to take themselves too seriously, after all.
It was a diy set-up funded by a local skate shop and fuelled by the fearless energy and earnest cynicism we associate with youthful endeavours. The kind of energy that happens when people come together to celebrate and protect what’s important to them.
Skateboarding was one of the subcultures that made the shift from diy toward something more formalised and professional. Likewise, so did Wig's photography and publishing endeavours.
By 1995 Wig was employed by Sidewalk Surfer as Chief Photographer…and then as Photo Editor, once they realised they needed such a thing.
How skateboarding looked in the media began to take on a more sophisticated vibe with a greater expectation on the photographer to better capture that all-important moment: a landed “trick” with great polish and clarity.
The shots required split-second timing and a razor-sharp instinct, coupled with technical ability.
Fortunately, Wig’s photography skills were moving at the same pace, cementing his role as the interface between skateboarding and this bright, shiny new world of skateboard magazines with their fancy, full-colour pictures and the landscape taking a starring role as the epic backdrop.
Despite being more professional Wig’s photography still captured the original vibe though.
Because of this, skateboarders still wanted him to photograph them.
No way was Wig going to fuck-it-up.
They knew he’d press the button at the crucial moment.
Wigs photography was trusted because it was accurate and precise without losing the spirit of the thing. It was accurate and precise because, after all, he instinctively understood the moment (and when it was coming) and his work retained the spirit of that moment because he’d been a part of that spirit forever.
He had that level of understanding that comes from being fully immersed in whatever culture it is you’re photographing. Because you are the culture. Or at least a massive part of it.
It goes without saying that to capture the moment you also have to be in the right place at the right time. That only happens when you’re part of the culture too — you’re one of the collective, part of a collaborative, symbiotic ecosystem so you do the invites and you’re invited. You’re there at the critical moment and the more you are, the more you will be because you become synonymous with them.
It's an inclusion based on a sincere relationship: friendship. Or, (just to be clear that this isn’t about being in a cliqué) you’re a kindred spirit—so you’re in.
I have to be careful not to sound too grandiose and suggest that instinct, a sense of belonging and technical ability, therefore, make Wig an “Artist” producing “Art”.
Because I suspect he’d hate that.
So I’m adding this anti-grandiose disclaimer on his—and others'—behalf as an acknowledgement of the fact that those who capture subculture from within, whether it be writers or photographers, are usually humble souls who would cringe at the idea of being described as an Artist or their work as Art.
It’s just too elevated a term. The photographers I know who photograph ‘from the inside out’ would never regard themselves as having that kind of elevated role within the relationship between themselves and the person they’re photographing.
Nor would they believe that there is some kind of hierarchy going on that makes them the Artist and everyone else their subject matter.
They’re just all mates playing out various roles based on their abilities, needs and wants. Wig was just photographing friends, something he loved, people he knew and something he was a part of. Turned out he was quite good at it.
I’m pretty sure I can get away with saying that he and others like him have great Artistry though.
Not using the word Art as a descriptor for the way something looks, or the word Artist to describe someone’s status, but instead describing their skills as being Artful.
An artful mix of instinct, skill, intuition and core-deep understanding of what they’ve been entrusted to capture and represent.
It’s through this artistry that Art can be captured. It’s the place where subculture meets Art (or the place Art meets subculture, depending on your point of view.)
But all this is the usual post-rationalising after the event: the act of legitimising spontaneous, instinctive—and fun—acts to understand what you did and why you did it, what it all means.
Finally concluding that no action is as subconscious as you might think —everything you did had logic and reason and took skill. You just weren't aware of it at the time. It felt instinctive and intuitive, which is ultimately the backbone of what subculture is.
In the words of everyone’s favourite Situationist Tony Wilson:
“Doing something because you have the urge to do it, inventing the reason later.”
With this methodology, you can be excused from having to overthink what you’re doing, free from the expectation of it having to be Art or mean something.
But if it's captured and documented accurately, by someone displaying all the skills and artistry previously mentioned, it could indeed be considered Art, at a later date if not at the time.
……But then again. Can these mementoes really be considered Art? Or are they just the future’s relics—souvenirs of a moment long gone?
The memories that adorn the walls of those involved back in the day, give them a warm and fuzzy reminder of something they were a part of, whilst being apart from, everyone else.
But I suppose the debate around Art or Relic? is one for another day.
As featured in Monopod magazine
Writing by Sarah Feeney
All photography by Wig World @wigworland
Follow Sarah Feeney's modernist adventures on INSTAGRAM: