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  • Writer's pictureHYSTERIA BY GIRLONFILM

REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS' UNFILTERED WORLD OF INDIE SLEAZE


Dive headfirst into the gritty, unfiltered world of Indie Sleaze through the lens of a photographer who lived and breathed the scene: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas.


From the depths of East London's mid-2000s cultural upheaval, Rebecca's photography captures the essence of a movement that eschewed the mainstream for the gritty, the real, and the profoundly personal. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Nan Goldin and the tragic allure of classic Hollywood, her work offers a unique perspective on a subculture defined by its daring fashion, eclectic music, and unbridled spirit.



Lady Hawke By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Lady Hawke By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas


While some argue that the indie sleaze movement has faded into history, a relic of the past not to be revisited, Rebecca's work proves it's more undead than dead, morphing with the times into something that social media discourse can't quite kill. Rebecca's contemplation of its evolution into the digital era underscores the critical importance of documenting and re-exploring previous cultural eras.


Rebecca points out the paradox of increased connectivity versus the erosion of privacy, emphasizing how this shift underscores the vital role of capturing and reflecting upon the nuances of past eras. Through her point of view, we're reminded that preserving and examining the unique characteristics of such movements not only honors their legacy but also provides invaluable insights.



Kesh By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Kesh By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas


Today's Indie Sleaze revival isn't just a carbon copy of its former self. It's adapted, evolved, and morphed into something that speaks directly to the zeitgeist of our times.



"I think it’s important to keep evolving and not to be stuck in how things were".



In this exclusive interview, we cut through the haze of the past to the clarity of the present, where Rebecca's tales of nights spent in dive bars, rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Horrors and Ipso Facto, take us back to the era that once was and now continues, in a new form.




IN CONVERSATION WITH REBECCA ZEPHYR THOMAS



AS A PHOTOGRAPHER WHO CAPTURED THE ERA OF INDIE SLEAZE, CAN YOU SHARE WHAT INITIALLY DREW YOU TO THIS PARTICULAR SCENE? WHAT ABOUT IT INTRIGUED YOU ARTISTICALLY?


At the time it wasn’t called Indie Sleaze, I was just photographing artists, musicians, and creatives in the area of East London that I was living in during the mid-2000s. I’ve always had an affinity for people who are unashamedly presenting themselves to the wider world - people who can take the bus in a full look or are part of a defined subculture.


These people are always interesting to photograph and I respect the effort that they make in presenting themselves to the world, I think it makes the world a more interesting place.





I was influenced by the work of photographer Nan Goldin and also the tragic side of classic Hollywood and I wanted to create my own version of this style in my photos. I was also a bit of a party animal in the 2000s so I was out at night a lot and met people to take photos of through that, East London in the 2000s was much more of a small community than it is now so it was pretty easy to constantly meet people who were on a similar wavelength.


There were a bunch of pubs that my social life revolved around, mainly The Griffin but also the Old Blue Last which was owned by Vice magazine, and then later the legendary LGBTQ+ club The Joiners Arms. One of the things that drew me to this scene would have been that it was very budget-conscious! You could wear a vintage dress and some Converse high-top sneakers and that was the look, I’ve always been a massive vintage shopper so this really worked for me. I wasn’t actually a big indie music fan, I liked disco and hip-hop, but I still loved meeting and shooting musicians of the era.



Pam Hogg By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Pam Hogg By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas


THE INDIE SLEAZE ERA WAS KNOWN FOR ITS RAW AND UNAPOLOGETIC ENERGY. HOW DID YOU APPROACH CAPTURING THAT ESSENCE IN YOUR

PHOTOGRAPHS?


I was shooting on 35mm film during the 2000s so I was always really careful with my shots as I couldn’t afford to just shoot and shoot and shoot.


I did do some documentary shoots, I shot at the Underage Club which showed bands to teenagers, and then the Underage Festival after that in 2007 and 2008. Even in these documentary settings, I was usually shooting portraits, though there are some crowd shots of teenagers going mental and wanting to jump on the stage with The Horrors at the Underage Club.





I was really shooting people who were part of my social life, people whose personal style I found inspiring. I took a lot of photos in crumbling east-end pubs and that was an aesthetic choice as well as a practical one, as I could shoot in these places for free.


Locations have always been a really important part of my photos, I like the little details of the time and the place to be visible and I think this reflects the indie sleaze aesthetic, plus you go to the pub to have fun and get drunk.



CAN YOU RECALL ANY MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES OR ENCOUNTERS WHILE PHOTOGRAPHING THIS ERA? WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHERE YOU NOTICED THAT WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THIS SCENE WAS GOING TO MAKE A LARGE IMPACT?


Yes, I definitely noticed when the band The Horrors came along and that they were a game changer, as much for the way they presented themselves as their music.



The Horrors By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
The Horrors By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas


I was blown away by their style and I think it was hugely influential. Everyone who saw them arrive in the London music scene was really impressed. I shot them in their early days a couple of times, the first time was upstairs in a pub that we all used to drink in, The Griffin, and I bought them all drinks to try to get them onside and to like me! I think I messed up some of the photos and accidentally turned them into double exposures but enough worked and I still love those photos.


The other band that I really loved and I think were super influential was Ipso Facto, the four-piece all-female band, that had incredible style too and I shot them a couple of times.


Yves Saint Laurent showed a collection in AW 2008 that was influenced by their look, with neat black bowl cuts and black lipstick.





LOOKING BACK AT YOUR COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS, DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL FAVORITES? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STORY BEHIND A FEW OF THESE IMAGES AND WHY IT RESONATES WITH YOU?


I really love the couple lying on the grass cuddling at The Underage Festival, the image looks like such a tender moment of teenage love. My own teenage years were more romantically traumatic, so it’s not an image that I personally relate to, but I just really love that pure emotion and innocence of lying on the grass with your teenage first love.



WHAT DO YOU HOPE VIEWERS TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS? HOW HAS THAT PERIOD INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH TO PHOTOGRAPHY OR SHAPED YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?


I was very firm on my ideas about photography back in the 2000s, I didn’t want to use photographic lighting, shoot in a studio, use a digital camera, or change the environment of the photo too much. I wanted the images to be as honest as possible and not

contrived.


I also wanted to shoot women in a non-sexualized manner, this was important to me, not to objectify women and to give them the same agency as men. Consent from the person in the image was also super important, I’m not a photographer who takes a photo without asking first, I would hate this to be done to me so I wouldn’t do it myself.


I think going into that moment of capturing a person on film it’s really important to have the right intentions.



By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
By: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas


THE PARTY CULTURE AND SCENE DURING THE INDIE SLEAZE ERA WERE UNIQUE. HOW DO YOU BELIEVE IT HAS EVOLVED OR CHANGED FROM THAT TIME TO THE PRESENT DAY? ARE THERE ANY NOTABLE DIFFERENCES OR SIMILARITIES YOU'VE OBSERVED?


I think the main difference is down to smartphones and social media, as now if you do something embarrassing on a night out there is probably going to be a record of it.


During the 2000s you could get away with a lot more bad behavior which in some instances could be destructive, but was sometimes freeing. I’m not that interested in partying right now so I’m not exactly sure how much things have changed.


The landscape of going out in London is different however, East London has completely changed, and of course, has been gentrified since the 2000s. None of my favourite places to party in during the late 2000s exist as they once were. But the past is another place and it’s not always a good idea to go back or to romanticise it too much.


I think it’s important to keep evolving and not to be stuck in how things were.





CAN YOU SHARE ANY DETAILS ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS OR COLLABORATIONS WHERE YOU PLAN TO DELVE FURTHER INTO THE REALM OF INDIE SLEAZE PHOTOGRAPHY?


Yes! I am working on an archive project with photos from 2005 to 2015 mainly taken in East London, the project is called We Are Your Friends - named for the Justice song that I used to always hear when out in East London during the 2000s.


The title also is about the insider, gentle, empathetic approach to the portraits I took during this time, they are coming from a friendly place. The first part of this project is a zine with images from The Underage Festival, mainly of the festival goers rather than the artists, though there are a few artist portraits in there too.


This is going to be out in October 2023 and available to buy from my website:



The zine is being designed by a New York-based female-run creative studio https://wildenoche.com



FINALLY, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD OR ANYTHING THAT YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH HYSTERIA READERS?


Drink lots of water and meditate and stay out of the sun! I’d just like to encourage people to ‘fly their freak flag’ if they can, to be unapologetically themselves, and not to conform if they don’t want to.


We need more people who are looking at the world in non conformist ways if we are going to enact positive change.

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