Punk Fashion and Photography II
Brandon Obregon and Valerie Garza
Much like the rise of Punk in Britain and the trends that arose from the rebellious attitudes toward authoritarian control, the Yugoslav Punk scene sprouted in resistance to the socialist regime, which possessed a strong authoritarian streak. The ability to express oneself was crippled under Tito’s control. From mid 1940s to his death in 1980, Tito’s control over Yugoslavia was based on a dictatorship that operated on propaganda while maintaining an idea of “brotherhood and unity.” Because of this tight ideological control, a sense of individuality was deemphasized and restlessness in the youth would drive them to find outlets for self-expression. In the 1970s and 80s, Yugoslavia was experiencing contrasting influences from the Soviet Bloc along with the western culture and its corresponding media that heavily influenced the punk scene in the Balkan region. As Ryan Moore states, the rise of consumer culture had a similar influence on youth in the west as well: “Partially freed from the authoritarian grip of religion, family, local community, the military, and the work ethic, consumers [were] left to themselves to fabricate an identity from the unending flow of celebrities, lifestyles, and products which confront them in public and in their homes.” Once the youth of Yugoslavia got a taste of punk music and style, they used it to articulate their own creativity and rebellion. Operating under the tight government control, influx of western culture, the Yugoslav punk scene rose, influenced by British Punk, and formed an identity of resistance towards authoritarian control.
Common themes of Yugoslav punk and punk rock bands and the message that they convey focus on the social and political criticisms of the communist control. These messages, like most of punk, show roots in anti-fascist, anti-war, and anti-authoritarian ideas. The notion of non-conformity that the Punk scene embraces can be seen in their fashion trends, from their adjusted/torn attire to their hairstyle and jewelry that radiates an untamed aesthetic.
As Hebdige states in his book on punk style, “the meaning of subculture is […] always in dispute and style is the area in which the opposing definitions clash with most dramatic force” (Hebdige, 3). Hebdige continues to discuss how subculture influenced the punk movement and how their style emerged through visual media. Besides music (rhythm, lyrics, etc.), photography became the most prominent use of the visual media to introduce the punk movement. Photography captured the iconography of the fashion trends and styles in the punk movement. It became a way for the public to encounter punk expression through the photographs as well as the fashion portrayed in them.
Fashion is the main source of identity and self-interpretation of what style means to each individual. The punk fashion transformations in Yugoslavia go against “nature,” interrupting the process of normalization. They are depicted as gestures and movements towards a speech that provokes the silent majority. This then challenges the principle of both unity and cohesion, which contradicts the myth of consensus, serving as “welcome catalogue of beautifully broken codes” (Hebdige, 26). Many of these punk rock bands in Yugoslavia and Britain embody the purposelessness of suburban youth socialized to be spectators and consumers, and the spastic flow of their music dramatizes that fragmentation of experience (Moore).
Photographer Jože Suhadolnik, started following the punk scene in Yugoslavia at age 15 and captured photos of bands and fans fully embracing the punk culture with their intriguing fashion that heavily resembled the punk culture of those that it gained inspiration from. In a couple of photos, punks are obviously mocking the military control by wearing military hats with their punk attire in an underground scene. As Jože Suhadolnik recounts, these punk practices were not without danger, “You could be arrested and beaten hard by police because you prayed graffiti or were wearing a badge with a ‘Nazi Punks Fuck off’ sign just because ‘Nazi” is on it. Few people were jailed and later secretly followed by the police.” The authoritarian control in this region was set strictly to maintain the original order, while space for contestation was limited. In these extreme actions of the police, it is clear that Punk showed more than just a symbolic threat to the Yugoslavian establishment.
The range in style and presence that the Yugoslav punk scene presented in Suhadolnik’s works show styles typical for punk, such as black attire with sleeves torn off, spiky jewelry, lingerie, and even a suit with shoulder pads that looks like something out of Kiss’s dressing room. In many of his photos, however, men dress in plain, solid colored, long sleeve shirts, with regular pants. The untamed nature and rebellious actions of the youths depicted completely justify that attitude that transcends the idea of what punk is on a surface level. One doesn’t have to dress punk to be punk. Though there was a large presence of punk fashion during this time, the newly acquired taste of western culture did not require dramatic fashion in order for one to identify as a punk in this region.
Some of his work features graffiti sprayed on the walls, which has a defiant streak to it in the same way that the punk culture expressed a rebellious trend of fashion. The graffiti in one of the photos read: “Kurac too much,” combing English and Slovene in an obscene way. Dick Hebdige describes graffiti as “an expression both of impotence and a kind of power – the power to disfigure (Norman Mailer calls graffiti – ‘Your presence on their Presence . . . hanging your alias on their scene’ (Mailer,1974))” (Hebdige, pg. 15).
Although punk fashion was as an outward expression contesting mainstream ideas and culture, the true, underlying force of the punk movement was social change. Through these ideologies of rebellion and resistance, the idea of a revolution took hold of the citizens and they would not let that go. In an interview with the Yugoslavian band, Pekinška Patka, a band member states that the punk culture “didn’t just ‘push the envelope’ of what was deemed socially and politically acceptable, they also broke boundaries in radical ways which helped create new spaces and possibilities for a youth subculture to thrive.” In their album released in 1981, Strah Od Monotonije, which translates to “Fear of Monotony,” the meaning behind this album resonates with the idea of a monotonous life that the communist regime had blanketed over the region. On the album cover we see the photograph of three of the band members dressed in black and one dressed in a trench coat against the white background, emphasizing the existing monotony. In another single that the band released, the punk influence that one is used to seeing is fully portrayed in the title as well as the clothing. In Biti Ružan, Pametan i Mlad / Bela Šljiva, which translates to “Being Ruinous, Smart and Young/ White Plum” the band fully embraces that rebellious punk attitude and flaunts their disregard for the mainstream, with band members striking irreverent poses.
Though the fashion and presentation may differ slightly from what would typically considered punk, the Yugoslav punk scene adopted some punk trends and made them their own. Operating in a controlled environment, the Yugoslav youth took the meaning and history behind punk and ran with it, focusing more on bringing social change rather than shocking appearance.
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Pekinska Patka. Biti Ružan, Pametan I Mlad / Bela Šljiva. Digital image. Discogs. N.p., 1979. Web. 3 May 2017.