Photography blogs are boring and make me want to go on a terrible spree. Welcome to the antidote.
I don’t mean to start with an advert of sorts, but my favourite photography publication is The British Journal of Photography (BJP). I like it because, unlike most of the other mags on the shelf, this one actually looks at contemporary photography, providing studies and showcases of photographers that are making images right now. With many magazines, it all seems to be the same “how to improve your portraits!” or “50 ways of making landscapes more landscapey!” crap. Those mags have their place and give a gentle boost to someone who is still finding their style and is maybe an enthusiast beginner, looking for a bit of inspiration, but I don’t find inspiration from things like that. I like to look through the work of the very best there is (whilst trying not to feel like a ten ton bag of shite about how much better their stuff looks ) and then draw inspiration from that.
Something that is often celebrated and examined in the pages of BJP is the photo project, or the idea of a series of images coming together to form a story of sorts, be that a more traditional one or an abstract, “fashion story”, as they call them. The magic of that has really grabbed me over the last year: the way the shots work together to unlock something new, as you see the images forming a cohesive whole.
My own project has been a photo documentary, just over a year in the making now, following indie game development studio Hello Games. The ultimate goal is to just record what happens, essentially, as they go through the process of making a videogame. My angle is on the developers themselves: the game is neither here nor there in the story I’m telling ( it is, however, really bloody great – Joe Danger 2: The Movie! ): it just felt like the right way to go. Also, I feel like game developers should be more visible than they are – seeing as they are the authors of the games we play – not hidden behind a faceless company name. I realised that, to do this, I had to play the long game: I had to get them used to me being there all the time, to relax them and end up with genuine, ‘natural’ images. This opportunity presented itself when we spent a week at Europe’s biggest videogame convention – GamesCom in Cologne, Germany.
I was summoned for a meeting with Sean, the “Big Cheese” of Hello Games (he is not actually a large cheese) and we decided I should accompany them to GamesCom. I decided to go for the entire week and just cover everything. Absolutely everything. I would just be there all the time, right up in their faces. Good galloping Jesus bags, they were going to be sick of me.
The “be as conspicuous as humanly possible” approach was one I hadn’t considered before, until I read an interview with one of my photo documentary heroines, Anastasia Taylor-Lind. Once I started applying it to my own work, I could see the immediate improvement. It makes sense, really: people are going to be on edge if you’re creeping around the place. Plus, I’m 6 feet 2 inches, beardy and gangly, so I probably resembled some sort of unshaven, pervert stick insect, trying to snap them unawares. Not a brilliant environment to create to relax people. After adopting the ‘in your face’ approach at GamesCom, I began to find that the more camera shy members of the group started to relax. The great thing was, they all very busy and had a job to do, promoting the game to the public, so worrying about what I was doing became much less of a priority.
The idea of playing that long game in a long term project is a strange one to get your head around: it’s the process of taking photos that you know you won’t use or won’t count because the best one will come up later. The initial photos are like little tools that chip away at the surface and taking them feels pointless at times, but you know that this process will lead to the photo you’re actually looking for. Hazel, one of the programming team, is notoriously good at avoiding my camera almost completely, essentially just moving out of the way on purpose if she spotted me (hi Hazel). Hazel has plenty of personality, is fantastically intelligent and has a wonderful, dry wit: it’s just she would become immensely self-aware anytime I pointed my camera at her. The thing is, I knew I’d “get her” on this trip. I got a few good, relaxed shots of her demoing the game to people, and some fun, silly ones, but the “honest” photo wasn’t to come until very, very late in the process:
Sunday came around, the last day of GamesCom, and the evening drew in. It was an utterly disgusting temperature and we were all feeling like hell. I went outside and I was actually frightened by how hot it was out there: the tarmac was reflecting the heat from the sun and it honestly felt like walking into an actual fire. I felt so dizzy and unwell, I sat down for a good while, certain I was going to pass out, and then very nearly went back to the hotel. Instead, I washed my mush, gulped some water down from the tap and ate about twelve Celebrations, then shot the devs all helping take down the stand after the close of the show. It took ages to pack everything into the van, and everyone just wanted to go home. I was still shooting and at this point they didn’t care, not even Hazel. I saw Hazel sat on top of one of the sofas as everyone was loading the furniture into the van, nabbing a thirty second rest. I composed the shot and she spotted me, but she was either too tired or didn’t really care I was taking the shot and just looked at me (click on it to make it big and exciting).
It was the most honest shot of the whole week, as it showed just how physically and mentally tiring the entire thing had been. I knew how it felt because I felt it, too – I had been shooting for eight hours every day, non stop, for a week. It was something of a triumph for me that this shot had come from one of the most reluctant participants in the project, and yet was a brilliant and honest summing up of the whole of GamesCom. This little moment has given me the long term project bug and I get the feeling that as soon as this one is done and out the door, I’ll be itching to start another.