Whitby Goth Weekend – The Great Goth Debate


As the war rages on between the Goths, the fancy dress wearers, the day trippers, the photographers and the media, I thought I would share my view of the Whitby Goth Weekend, from a press photographers perspective, and some pictures of course..
The Whitby Goth Weekend began 21 years ago. Organiser Jo Hampshire met with some like-minded individuals at the Elsinore pub and each year the crowd got bigger and bigger. Over time Jo decided to make it into an event for goths who were into the music scene, booking some of the top bands of the genre into the Spa Pavilion for a three day ticketed festival, and booking an array of weird and wonderful stalls for all the gothic accessories and clothes you could ever wish for.
The official event is known as Whitby Gothic Weekend, its brilliant and you can explore it in more depth HERE
Of course over the years others have cashed in on the growing event, with fringe events set up around town,  local business selling gothic merchandise, photographers having a field day, and the world’s media catching on to spectacle.
Over the last few years various arguments have erupted, mainly on social media, though sometimes leaking into the mainstream press, from different sides of the fence.
One argument has sprung up as the sheer volume of photographers has risen dramatically over the last few years. Type in “goth weekend” on flickr and you will get an idea of how many amateur photographers head to Whitby, trundle up the 199 steps –  tripod in hand – to capture the many sights before them. You can read more about this on Whitby photographer Glenn Kilpatrick’s site, with some example photos.
Some goths, who come for the music side of things, started to express their dislike of being photographed without permission, while trying to enjoy their holiday.
There was also a large debate over the suitability of taking photos up at St Mary’s church and eventually a polite notice was put up by the parish asking people not to pose by the gravestones.
As a press photographer, who has photographed the weekend for many years this would be my personal rule of thumb:
– If you want to take a portrait of a goth, ASK. It is basic human manners to approach someone if you wish to take their photo, plus you are likely to get a better shot if you are engaging with your subject. Most of the dress-up goths have put a lot of effort into their outfits, hair and make up and will be very happy to pose. Especially if you are willing to email them a copy of the image.

-This applies implicity to photographs of children, if they are under 16 you must ask their parents permission.
– For “crowd” scenes the above generally does not apply, especially if you are on public property.
– Be respectful of the dead. I will still always visit St Mary’s church yard on goth weekend. It is a beautiful graveyard with stunning views over the town. I will not however photograph a goth draped on a grave or role-playing within the burial site. I think this is disrespectful of the church’s requests and completely unnecessary when there are much better more interesting, creative shots to be had.

– Regarding candid photography, which I love, I think it is ok to take photos without people’s knowledge if you are not in their face, or personal space. Even in these circumstances I will often go up after and chat to the person in the photo. Its good manners, and can often lead to an interesting conversation

I see the real advocates of the official WGW getting so angry that each year at the influx of fancy dress wearers to the event
This really saddens me, that a group who fight for acceptance for all, can be so negative.
The die-heard true fans of the official event do not own the rights to Whitby, nor the weekend
The fact that the weekend falls on Halloween means that the term “goth weekend” has now been coined for all lovers of the wider genre; spooky, elaborate, Victorian, fancy dress, vampires, witches etc etc. Not only this but Whitby itself has many connections to the genre, being the main setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for a reason. There are not many towns, with crashing waves one side, desolate moors the other, while being overlooked by a crumbling gothic graveyard and monastic ruins.
    The debate over whether these people are “true goths”  is ridiculous, and unwelcoming
It is not the place of the “official goths” to decide who is welcome in Whitby -it is the locals.
The goth weekend brings a boost to the economy before the quiet winter season, it boosts sales in local shops, restaurants, bars and B&Bs.
Regarding the media coverage, as a photographer, I love everything about the goth weekend, but I shoot the photos that I find interesting and that, yes, will make me a living by selling.  If these are the most colourful and over the top costumes displayed on the day then so be it. It is still real. It is still news. Photographers have a responsibility to document history, but with their own interpretation. It is not their job to publicise official events, that’s the work of a good PR team.
I was really pleased to see Buzzfeed use my photos in this article, celebrating the goth fashion. What a change from the many newspapers and magazines putting down a celebrity for their outfit in the worst dressed columns.
Perhaps it is a good thing that the media haven’t homed in on the official event? Imagine trying to mosh at the front of the gig with 40 photographers flashes going off in your face?
Enjoy the sacred sanctum that you have, those that want to come love the music and the events and they will still buy a ticket… even if it wasn’t mentioned in the “mail online.”
I feel as though the goths are fighting a battle with themselves, on the one hand fiercely protecting what they believe in, the event and music that they love. They want to keep it going and are passionate about it. They also seem to strive for individuality, but why then be disapointed when their side of the weekend isn’t covered in the mainstream press? It won’t be the first, or the last time an event has been portrayed in the media in a different light to the reality. And I wonder how they would feel about it if it was ever widely exposed? 
The fancy dress day trippers shouldn’t put you off
Be proud of what you’ve created, a place where people feel welcome, free to express themselves, free to walk the streets in an outfit they’ve spent hours creating or collecting, free to have fun, free to meet new people, free to talk, dance, drink, laugh.
People are absolutely fascinated by the genre and the scene and if they want to try out a little bit of the magic for a day, once or twice a year then let them!
I hear too much about how these people are not welcome and should have their own weekend. Why do we waste so much energy on negativity? Perhaps the effort should be put into positive practices. Why not hand out flyers encouraging supporters at the Goth football match? Educate the day trippers about what an amazing charity event it is. Tell them about S.O.P.H.I.E and tell them how they can support the event that started it all off by going to enjoy the music that you all love.
There could even be collection buckets around the town for charities such as S.O.P.H.I.E. When visitors “invade” the town for the Whitby Regatta, the event is funded by donations into buckets by willing volunteers, that have kept it going year after year.

The goths complaining that they can’t find accommodation because the “fake goths” have taken their places should book further in advance.

I really can’t bear to read any more negative comments about the goth weekend. It gives Whitby a bad name. If you don’t like what the goth weekend has become, then don’t come. Go to Bognor Regis for the weekend and listen to some cassettes and mope about the days when you could walk down Church Street dressed in black without tripping over a tripod. It’s all just a bit of fun. Stay true to yourself, but be open minded too, be respectful, and most importantly, love all the people.