Few people have the guts to delve into the lives of young people today, with all the various stereotypes and assumptions that swirl like barbed wire around UK youth. Nina Manandhar, a publisher, artist and photographer, has fearlessly produced in depth work surveying the dynamic nature of one of the most shunned age groups. The daughter of a printer and a former art graduate, Nina made a mark with her successful archive project ISYS with Cieron Magat, an initiative that provides a lens into the style and the living experience of various communities through film, books, exhibitions and events. Now with photo-book Money On My Oyster under her belt and imminent style project What We Wore in production; Nina continues to reveal the beautiful subtleties that make everyday life.
You describe yourself as a pop-ethnographer – what does that term mean to you?
I’m not quite sure what it means … I made it up. I like to immerse myself in other people’s worlds and almost become invisible in the process of documenting them. I guess a lot of ethnography is people going to far off countries to investigate disappearing tribes but I’m more interested in the contemporary city life, so it’s more ‘Pop’ than ‘world’. I like documentary because I’m really curious about other people and how they live their lives, and it’s an honour to be allowed to get a glimpse into their worlds.
Fashion is often seen as frivolous, however your work with ISYS often comments on social contexts through style. What is your view on fashion and its cultural importance?
ISYS was set up by myself and Cieron Magat because we are both interested in people and the idea of style as a way of getting to know people, of them declaring who they are. It’s not that I’m not interested in fashion and trends, I am, but for me it’s more about style, and the meaning of style – how it is used as a tool for identification and belonging to today’s world.
Youth culture also seems to be of particular significance in your projects – what draws you to the younger communities?
I think my teenage years were a really formative time for me, as it is for a lot of people I guess. I experimented with my appearance, had a real tight group of friends and felt a real sense of belonging through the music cultures I was exposed to. It was a time when I felt a real sense of community; belonging seemed simpler then.
There has been much talk about the younger generation as lacking a counter culture and a sense of clear identity – what are your thoughts on this?
The term ‘counter culture’ is so complex. There was a clearer sense of identity for the younger generations in the past because there was far less fragmentation of identities, both for older people and young alike. I guess youth cultures today have embraced consumer society more, but since it began, youth culture has been tied up with consumerism.
What I do think about a lot in terms of the younger generation now is a sense that their lives are lived out in a state of constant ‘publicness’ through the Internet and I wonder how that affects them and how they experience the world.
You’re now working on What We Wore, what inspired you to publish the collection in a printed format as well as online?
What We Wore was initially a project on ISYS; it was a weekly format that ended up being really popular. I really like print (my dad is actually a printer) and so saw how the concept could work really well as a book. With the help of my friend Eve Dawoud, I put together a proposal and took it to Prestel, who really liked it. It’s coming out Autumn 2014. We are looking for submissions – get involved at what-we-wore.com
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Text by Monique Todd