Small Town, High Fashion

The photographer Diane Arbus said: “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.” Arbus is one of Tom Johnson’s favourite photographers, and her words become especially poignant when looking at his new photo series in collaboration with stylist Charlotte James. Because there's almost no chance that the internet would be looking at pictures of every generation from ex-mining community Merthyr Tydfil, in South Wales, wearing the type of high fashion usually only found on a small number of perfectly styled people in, well, London, unless they had gone there and photographed it.
Charlotte, who is from Merthyr Tydfil, cast some of her friends and family in the series, along with locals and passers-by. Fashion has a habit of taking pictures of “normal people” and going “oooh!” But the pair's series is much purer than that, in part down to the personal nature of it, but not only. While the photos challenge the notion and convention of a fashion image – of who’s in it and what constitutes style – there's nothing voyeuristic about it, only joyful.
At the beginning of the year, we were fawning over 80-year-old author Joan Didion as the surprising face of Céline, and 71-year-old singer Joni Mitchell as the face of Saint Laurent. Then later, the delightful Acne campaign featuring the brand’s creative director’s son, 11-year-old Frasse Johansson, posing in great big heels. Campaigns that pushed fashion forward, because they joined the cultural conversation. Johnson and James' series does this and more, because it leaves us curious, we want to know: How does 8-year-old Kyra, with all that gorgeous red hair, feel in her Agi and Sam jumpsuit? Does she think it's silly? Does she like it? And how did Terry and Lee, the men embracing, meet? And do the people featured in these pictures from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales have any idea how cool they are?
Merthyr Rising: Tom Johnson & Charlotte James is on show at Box Studio, Shoreditch 10th - 13th December 2015.
Pre-order the 40 page page zine of the project here.