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Crazy Titch stands tall

Sarah Saunders examines the significance of young MC Crazy Titch's urban uniform and looks at what basis it could provide for lessons about expression of culture

Tim and Barry

(1977-; 1976-)

Tim Cheve and Barry Edmunds have been working together as a photographic partnership for the past four years since graduating from the London College of Printing in 2000. Their first commission was for I.D. magazine's 20th anniversary issue and since then they have regularly contributed to magazines including I.D., Colors, RWD, Vice, Tence, Duice and Untold. Their clients include Nike, Adidas, 1xtra, The Urban Design Alliance and RICS.

Their work chronicles the diverse styles and iconography of British street culture - where what you wear is significant to both individual and group expression, affiliations, pride and belonging.

This striking digital photograph of Crazy Titch, a 17-year-old MC of grime (a fusion of UK garage and American rap), is one of a series of images by photographers Tim Cheve and Barry Edmunds. It was recently published in the free underground magazine RWD (Rewind) and features in the VA's exhibition Black British Style.

Crazy Titch, who clearly isn't titchy at all, stands tall in a typically small British corner shop wearing an oversized Akademiks tracksuit and New Era cap which, according to Barry and other commentators, is fast becoming the "uniform of the scene". Perfectly self-styled, he oozes confidence and pride as he talks and gesticulates, mobile phone in hand. The myriad colourful layers of wrappers and logos which emblazon the confectionery and crisps surround him and seem to spill on to his immaculate outfit. He represents the type of image that many people would think of when talking about black British style: young, urban and streetwise.

Tim and Barry work mainly in the East End of London, documenting the urban music scene around Stepney, Bow, Leytonstone, Forest Gate and Hackney.

Being closely involved with the music scene and associated artists (Tim is also a DJ), they decided to start recording the striking styles and individual expressions of identity they observed on the street.

Since the cult of British youth began with the invention of the teenager in the 1950s, the most interesting youth styles in Britain have always been closely associated with music styles. When people arrived in Britain from Africa and the Carribean in the 1950s, they brought with them their own particular influences and representations of style as well as traditional fabrics and attire. Over the decades these influences and the influences of music styles have woven themselves into British culture to evolve into new and specifically British styles. These styles have often grown from particular regions of the UK, such as Two-Tone in the Midlands. In the late 1970s the fusion of Caribbean ska (where the term to describe a type of dance called "skanking" originates) and the fast tempo of punk produced a new multiracial music trend. Two-Tone fashion was an essential visual representation of the anti-racist message of the music. Hence the Two- Tone suit and pork-pie hat - black and white depicted as contrasting and complementary.

But what do Crazy Titch's clothes say about black British style? And what sorts of questions could we ask? Students could discuss their own style and the origins and influences of styles worn by their parents and grandparents. They could use this photograph to look at the diversity of styles in the area where they live and then compare this with photographs of the same location in, say, the 1960s. How have styles changed?

The VA exhibition documents all aspects of fashion and style associated with black communities and cultures in Britain since the early 1950s.

Photographic records of black style from the 1950s onwards are animated by garments loaned by style leaders such as Ms Dynamite, Jazzie B, Goldie, Chris Eubank, Ian Wright and Mis-Teeq and key objects of historical interest such as a Free Angela Davis T-shirt and the outfit worn by the first black British headmistress, Dr Beryl Gilroy, when she arrived in Britain.

Seven sections explore Arrival and Settlement; Black Consciousness and Pride; Rastafarians; Religion; Music and Style; Dressing Up and New Order.

Black British Style provides many opportunities for curriculum links, especially to citizenship, art and design, history and English. The exhibition is important and ground-breaking, looking at fashion and style as expressions of the creative tensions associated with identity and belonging.

* Black British Style runs until January 16 at VA Contemporary Space Admission is free to school groups that book at least 10 days prior to their visit, tel: 020 7942 2211.

There is a free programme of pre-exhibition visit workshops recommended for key stage 3 and above. Further supporting teachers' notes are available on the website at Looking Good (November 13) is a day celebrating the detail of grooming and accessories in fashion for men and women with demonstrations, talks, haircuts and makeovers.

Praise Be (December 11) is a day dedicated to the exploration of the clothes and style associated with church and worship with talks, discussions and workshops.

Both the above events are free but pre-booking is advised, tel: 020 7942 2211 to book.

Black Style edited by Carol Tulloch, pound;19.95 from VA Publications is available at: Sarah Saunders is student events organiser at the VA

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