SFUK: Tell us a little about yourself and your background in photography.
TL:I’m a documentary photographer based in Blackpool, and whilst photography isn’t currently part of my day job, I do try to devote as much time as possible to it. It’s been a passion of mine for quite a while now, and I tend to rotate between shooting film and digital when the mood takes me. I started to become interested in photography towards the end of high school when I was doing a BTEC in Art & Design, but it never really went past anything but a slight interest for a while, because photography wasn’t something my school really catered for. The only cameras we had were the old Sony Mavica ones that took a floppy disk and stored about three photos, and my art teacher wasn’t interested in photography so she didn’t really have much to say on the matter. It wasn’t until I took it as a subject in sixth form that I sort of found my feet a bit and fully embraced the idea. I’d spend forever looking at other artists work and really developed an interest in documentary photography. My tutor at college was brilliant - she was was always full of encouragement and always pushed us to explore new ideas and techniques, and she was also the one who pushed me into film photography, and taught me how to develop my own black and white film and prints. The darkroom at college was tiny, and it constantly smelt of soup because some of the staff had smuggled in microwave and a toaster and used it as a makeshift kitchen, but I used to love spending my free periods in there. I definitely put a lot more effort into my photography work than any other of my college subjects, but it all worked out anyway because I ended up taking a degree course in photography at UCLan when I left.
SFUK: 'Skank for me' is shot on disposable cameras, can you explain why you chose this type of camera and film, how does it complement the series?
TL: Right from the start before I even so much as thought about taking any photos for this project, I knew I wanted to shoot on disposable cameras. There’s an unmistakable aesthetic that comes from shooting with little plastic cameras--one that’s only enhanced by the built in flash, and it was perfect for what I had in mind. I also gravitated towards them for their simplicity. Having been to many of the gigs I was planning to take pictures at beforehand, I knew I’d be facing some complicated shooting conditions. It was going to be dark, crowded, and full of drunk people, so taking anything that I’d worry about getting damaged or covered in beer was a no go. I didn’t want to have to be distracted by adjustments, either. I knew I’d have a very tiny window in which to capture events that unfolded during the night, so not having to fumble around with settings and worry about focusing and exposure gave me more time to concentrate on taking pictures.
SFUK: Where did the idea for this project come from and how did you approach it?
TL: This project originally came about because I had to produce a photobook for a module at uni. At the time, my dad was the lead guitarist in Ska Face, a local 10 piece ska band who’s gigs were notorious for being a wild slice of escapism for the over 40s. I’d been to a few of them myself in the past, and the crowds were the main thing that captured my attention. There was always a sense of carefree enjoyment teetering on the edge of chaos about it all. If there wasn’t a bloke dancing around like a maniac with his shirt off and a pint of beer in either hand in the middle of the dance floor, then it wasn’t a Ska Face gig. However, when I originally approached this project I was careful that the idea of “drunk people doing silly things” wasn’t the main focus of the work. There’s been so many projects put out in the past by other artists on British drinking culture that understandably portray it in such a negative light, and I didn’t want this work to be another example of that. I wanted to focus more on the energy and the sense of enjoyment that was always found at these gigs, and even though alcohol was certainly a contributing factor, it wasn’t the main focal point.
"there was a bloke outside in the smoking
area who’d worked up such a sweat
inside that he was literally steaming.."
SFUK: When shooting in the pubs how did people react when they saw your camera, is there a favourite particular scenario you remember?
TL: People were surprisingly okay with it?! I did go into this project with slight trepidation, because I was worried that some people who didn’t want their photo taken would kick off at me shoving a camera in their face, but in the end I never really faced any massive issues. One guy did end up taking my camera off me one night and wouldn’t give it back until I’d posed for a picture with one of his friends, but that’s about it! The very first time I took pictures for this project I did make the mistake of being too eager and jumping straight into it at the start of the night, and because people were still quite sober they were more aware and self-conscious of the fact they were being photographed, so I didn’t get as many casual shots as I’d have liked. In the end I found it was best to hang back and wait until about half way into the first set of the gig, when people had already had a few drinks and they were much more co-operative. I also remember going outside during the break between sets and there was a bloke outside in the smoking area who’d worked up such a sweat inside that he was literally steaming. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it at the time, but I didn’t!
SFUK: Can we expect to see this series expand at all in the future?
TL: It’s been a few years since this project was officially ‘finished’ in the sense that my original idea came to a nice conclusion with a photo-book, but I do have loads of images from the series that have never seen the light of day, so I’d hesitate to say I’m completely done with it?! I may expand on it in the sense that I release some of the photos that have never been shown before - maybe I might put together a limited run of zines or something - but I’m not sure I’d go back to the gigs and take more photos. Whilst it’d be interesting to revisit it all after 4 years and see how the ska scene has changed, and whether or not there’d be the same familiar faces in the crowd after all this time, I don’t currently have any plans.
SFUK: So what else are you working on at the moment?
TL: Whilst I don’t currently have any focused projects in the works, I’m still taking pictures. Living in a place like Blackpool has its advantages in the fact that it’s never boring. It has that typical (if slightly grim) British seaside charm about it, even when it’s out of season. Then, there’s a steady flow of tourism through the summer that inspires that typical Martin Parr type imagery, and the town itself is constantly shifting through various stages of redevelopment. Photography isn’t something I ever really stop thinking about - it’s always in the back of my mind and I find that I’m always looking, even if it’s only for the occasional Instagram post or two.