Words by Jesse Serwer/Photos by Dean Chalkley, with Creative Direction by Harris Elliott
Just like Jamaican music, Jamaican style has been exported in ways that have evolved well outside of the island’s confines. Some 50 years after rude boy style first manifested itself during the island’s post-independence/ska era (and more than 30 years after it was reborn via the 2 Tone ska movement), this sartorial subculture is getting a fine arts close-up in its second home, England. Starting today, London’s Somerset House is presenting Return of the Rudeboy, an original photography exhibition documenting the style and related subculture, as seen in that city today.
The show, which runs through August 25, is the work of photographer Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, a former stylist for Usain Bolt and a consultant on Puma’s Jamaican Olympics campaign. All told, the duo shot 60 rude boys and gals around London, from notable musicians and bloggers to hairstylists, designer Sam Lambert (pictured above) and even original London rude boy (and Dancehall Queen director) Don Letts.
The show, Chalkley and Elliott say, is an effort to contextualize the style’s history from its birth among ’50s-era Jamaican gangsters through the recent revival of certain rude-boy fashion signifiers, like pants cropped high at the ankles and customized formal hats.
“The notion of Rudeboy probably first entered my life like many others through the 2 Tone ska revival in the 80’s,” Chalkley says. “Well, as I got older and dug deeper into the past, I began to appreciate what an important thing it was. It was a point of cultural crossover and exchange that had not really happened before. Well, fast forward to about a year and a half ago, I started spotting people displaying these Rudeboy traits, dressing in particular ways. I thought… ‘hold on, there is something going on here…’ I spoke to Harris Elliott about it and he’d been feeling the same way and spotting the same things, so we decided to do something about it.”
Return of the Rudeboy aims to go deeper into the culture than a typical photo show. As part of the exhibition, each subject was asked to provide a playlist to “act as a sonic backdrop to the visual works,”—a soundtrack for the show. The space also includes a pop-up barber shop for some grooming inna rude boy style. Photograph prints, set pieces and some clothing and accessories are for sale, as are hand-bound books featuring all of the images in the show, we’re told.
If you’re in the UK this summer, we definitely recommend paying a visit to Somerset House for Return of the Rudeboy. We’ve also gathered a gallery of highlights from Chalkley and Elliott’s photos: scroll through here.