The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps, art and culture

The photography site for sore eyes. Featuring: Art, photography, performance and theatre. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

Houwen Do You Do!

I’ve had a frustrating time trying to get office workers to allow me to photograph them smoking outside their buildings.

Without the lubrication of alcohol, it seems people are too ashamed to be pictured feeding their nasty little habit. That’s the impression I get anyway.

Things got so bad last week while trawling the streets of Bolton that I ended up photographing a woman who was rigid with fear when she set eyes on my camera and approaching some Chavs* in a backstreet who threatened to sue me if I put the picture in the paper. Ever tried to tell a Chav that, no, he couldn’t sue me if I used his picture in a newspaper? It’s better just to walk away.

As for the woman… well, at least she said ‘yes’. Photographing smokers at work has been a far from satisfying experience.

But at Bolton University we had renowned photographer and documentary film maker Pieter van der Houwen fly in from Holland for a talk and to asses our project pictures.

Houwen, who produced the documentary Thru Dutch Eyes (well worth a view), said he liked some of my portraits, but suggested I forget about trying to represent all smokers in my project.

So, taking his advice on board, I have decided to concentrate on the social side of smoking for my project, which I now see as a documentation of the working classes as much as smoking (or at least the working classes who smoke).

Enthused by Houwen, I took to the streets of Blackpool again for four hours of dash and grab photography.

Now I have the laborious task of doing a first edit of my photographs, which I will present to Houwen on his next visit to Bolton later in November.

* Chav is a phrase we use here in Britain to describe hooded-top wearing, slightly aggressive teenagers who vandalise and terrorise. They demand respect while failing to give it, fuel themselves on cheap booze and drugs and collect ASBOs.

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2007 by in pieter van der houwen smoking bolton ma photography.
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