Thursday, October 04, 2007

Oh Vienna.. and Austria and other photographic experiences

So there I was, after three incredible days of travel, food and booze, slumped in a chair in the hotel foyer.
It was 1.30 in the afternoon, I had been drinking until seven that morning. I still felt delerious and exhausted.
My eyes were closed, as my Mp3 player pumped out songs into my sore head.
When I opened them momentarily, she was there. Sitting at the next table across from me. Waving and smiling. Blonde hair, short dress, thick make-up. I was about to get propositioned by a high-class prostitute.*
Very quickly Andrea told me that she was a psychologist, health worker, actress and singer, and possibly a few other things I can't remember. She said she owned one-ninth of a huge potato farm in Austria and had slept with two men the previous day, one of which was her best-ever lover.
I promise you I am not making any of this up.
She also quizzed me about whether I thought the two pensioners sitting near us were feeling horny, if I liked 'f***ing' (she did) and allowed me try on her blonde wig.
By the time Robert, the little Irishman, joined me, she was roaring with laughter as she sang seductive love songs to us.
It goes on… when I told her what I did for a living she asked me to photograph her as she smoked (an added bonus) and also proceeded to stand up, lift her leg onto the chair and say 'is this a bit sexy?' He skirt also had a nasty habit of rolling up to the top of her legs as she sat. We made our excuses and left.
Abiding memory of Austria, probably not, but meeting this woman is certainly not an encounter I'll forget in a hurry.
My four days in Klagenfurt and Vienna was as good a trip as I've ever had. The scenery, the architecture, the hospitality, the nightlife. First class all the way.
Now, obviously, this was a press trip (I was working for the Daily Star) and the Austrian tourist employees could not do enough to make sure we had the perfect trip, from the best restaurants and five star hotels to the use of the Rapid Vienna team coach and the dutiful company of the tour guides as we drank until it was morning. The bike ride was something special, too.
But the country bowled me over in spite of that. It was the scenery and clean air in Klagenfurt, it was the awesome architecture of Vienna (by far the most beautiful European city I have visited so far). It was amazing.
NOTE: I would like to apologise to Andrea if my assumption is incorrect and she is not a prostitute (but I think she was).

Manchester United 1 - 0 Sunderland

I'm in the Daily Star offices in Broughton, near Preston, on Saturday as Louis Saha scored a 72nd-minute goal at Old Trafford 35 miles away.
There was never going to be any coming back from that for Sunderland. Ten-minutes before the end, at about 7pm, I was told I could leave for the night. So off I raced to Manchester for what should be my last summer night out taking photographs of people smoking.
Forty-odd minutes later I was on Oldham Street. I had about half an hour of light (ISO 500) before the flash came out.
A Manchester United fan walked past me wrestling the biggest beef burger I've ever seen. 'What was the score?' I asked. '1-0', she said, adding, 'You don't have to look so pleased'. She knew who I supported.
Piccadilly was splattered with Manchester United and Sunderland fans. There is a real European feel to the streets of Manchester these days, so unlike a decade ago.
I was not expecting much joy from Deansgate where all the posh bars have street tables and chairs. I got a couple of negative responses before things started to take off. People were watching and listening as I persuaded one table to allow me to photograph them. Then, as I left, it was 'aren't you going to photograph us?' I kept getting stopped by more people.
There are a lot of bouncers outside the Deansgate bars and quite a few wanted to know what I was doing, but none stopped me photographing.
It was the same story down Oxford Road. The moshers and the hen parties were only too happy to oblige. I photographed a friendly transsexual on Canal Street. One for the family album.
After a stop off in a pub Walkden, Worsely for a quick drink with a friend, it was back up the M61 to Preston.
Two targets here: the smokers section of Lava Ignite nightclub (Tokyo Jo's to me) and outside Squires nightclub where the smokers have a rather exposed pen. I was denied photographing here as the manageress (who has been supportive in the past) was off and her deputy said I needed her permission.
Strictly speaking this is not true as the smokers pen is on the street, but it's silly to do these things without co-operation. One for next time.
But it was mental in the smokers area of Lava Ignite where the punters have to queue to get in (or should that be outside). The 6ft by 12 ft walled in area was packed.
It got a bit mental. It was around 1pm and people were much more drunk than when I normally catch them 8pm or 9pm. There were a lot of requests for me to take photographs without the people knowing what I was doing. Things were going a bit fast and noisy to discuss the social issues of smoking. I took the pictures up anyway (they'll go on flickr so they can get hold of them, cigarettes or not).
In the Old Dog Inn got talking to a rather delightful couple who attend fetish nights in Preston. Had no idea there was one held in Bitter Suite. Sounded very interesting. 'They are,' she said, 'especially in the dark corners.' 'Can I come along?' I asked. She nodded. 'Can I take photographs?' 'You'll get your throat cut', she replied. I'll take that as a no.
My smoking project now slows down. I'm targeting office and factory workers now. But I will be out around the pubs when it's raining to capture the huddled-in-doorway shots.
Pray for rain.