Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Term 3 progress or Smoking With The Public

It’s the first week of September and Term 3 has been in full swing for six weeks, except it hasn’t really started.

We don’t go back in the classroom for another two weeks but my camera has been excessively clicking away.

It’s getting to the point where I’m dreading the editing process. I have so many files on my hard drive that it’s 500gb is now full. I need to do some serious pruning.

In recent weeks I’ve been to Preston, Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, all the time roaming for smokers. It’s a strange existence.

I think I have been right in going for lots of flash and an almost snap shot approach. Attention spans of the drunk can be very short, I’m taking over 200 pictures a night and, of course, it’s dark.

There are some amazing photographs of smokers knocking about (I can think of my colleague Caroline Edge’s photograph of the pregnant smoker as an example) but mine lack artistic merit, especially indoors or at night. Instead I hope the vivid colours and harsh light will give a brash reality to my photographs. These pictures are not about seduction.

I noticed in my research how some photographers, if not all, had produced smoke-related photographs of beauty. To me, this was done for no other reason than juxtaposition; showing something so dirty as a cigarette as a thing of beauty. I can see why they did, photographs work best if they show a contrast, even more so if it includes irony. But do they mean anything beyond their basic cleverness? Not really. Not in my opinion anyway.

Some people look stupid in my photographs. Is that my fault? It’s not deliberate – but these pictures just happen to be the best photographs.

I also worry about too much posing. Ask a drunk person if you can take his photograph and all of a sudden his 15 friends appear for the group shop you didn’t want. But this is what happens. I think these pictures will say as much about alcohol as they do about smoking.

I’ve also seen more mooning men’s arses than I would care to. Why do some people understand ‘take your photograph’ as ‘drop trousers and pull a moony’? And it’s never the women either.

My only regret is that I didn’t take more ‘Before’ photographs, before the ban came in on July 1. I’ve probably got 10 times more ‘After’ snaps now, and I’m still not finished. My main area left to document is workers on their breaks – or should that be workers reluctant to have their photograph taken on their breaks.

I have used my 60mm macro lens and ringflash only sparingly, preferring close-ups with a conventional flash and wide-angle lens. It just takes too long to change when your picture can just walk away. I’ve also been less than impressed with my Nikon wide-angle lens compared to my (broken) Sigma wide-angle, but more on that later.

Some of my early shots indoors were very experimental, often using a 150mm macro lens. I love the quality of these pictures but they give such a tight crop that the context of the room, be it a bingo hall or a pub, is lost. While I will use tight detail shots, they are more for variation – not what the nitty-gritty of the project is all about.