Shots from behind the bar
There are times when I just love this job. It gives me a chance to work with pictures all day and, on occasion, a set of photographs jump out at me and scream new talent.
Jo Crawford is one example. Jo applied for a place on our work placement programme and sent some links to her work along with all the usual CV stuff. There were lots of good candidates for the placement but a couple stood out, Jo being one, the other was Laura Lean whose work we published a couple of weeks ago while she was with us.
Jo has been here for the past two weeks and so, on her final day, I want to share some of her pictures with you.
Jo recently completed a photographic degree at Leeds College of Art where she had been shooting fashion pictures; her dissertation looked at the role of images in that industry, but for her major project, she took a different route.
Alongside her studies, Jo had been working behind the bar at Flares - a nightclub in Leeds - for a year or so when she hit on the idea of documenting that environment photographically. She said:
"Working in the club meant I already had a good relationship with the owners and so they trusted me and just let me get on with it."
Her tutors and friends were supportive, and although she says it is somewhat of a cliché these days, a talk by Martin Parr at her college finally gave her the push and belief she needed to go ahead.
For me, this is undeniably a powerful set of pictures, fresh and inventive. It's shot in a simple honest way and captures the atmosphere of the bar.
When I first saw them, I was reminded of Tom Wood's book Looking for Love that captured the Chelsea Reach Nightclub in Merseyside in the early 1980s, in itself one of the great documents of that time, and one I had on virtually permanent loan when I was at university. If you don't know it then track it down, though a copy will now set you back more than £300.
Anyway, it turns out that Jo's tutors felt the same way and invited Tom to lecture, so Jo got to hear his views too. One simple instruction struck home, and that was that you can never shoot enough.
On seeing the Looking for Love series by Tom Wood, Jo was worried that her project had already been done, wondering what she could add - but rightly, she put this to one side and started to shoot. She remembers she wanted: "to make the project my own, to come up with my interpretation of where I worked."
For practical reasons Jo worked with disposable cameras as she set out to capture the regulars and those at work behind the bar.
She used a variety of shooting techniques, sometimes asking permissions, sometimes not, gauging reactions and capturing people enjoying themselves.
One thing she wanted to avoid was yet another depiction of "drunken Britain", as she puts it. She continued: "This is not a negative portrayal, this is people having fun, and I was in there too, present, involved in each scene."
I asked if she had any bad reactions from customers, but she says not. That of course comes from knowing the people, regulars and reading the mood. There were times when people would pose, but eventually they forgot about her and she could capture the scenes she was after.
At any given time, Jo would have three cameras, one left at each till point so she could pick them up as required. She followed Tom's advice and got through around 50 cameras which, following a first edit, resulted in a few hundred frames which she then pared down to just over a dozen:
"At first I wasn't sure it had worked. But as I started to edit the story it started to come together and I could see the final project emerging."
Individually the pictures work, but you need the set to draw you into the nightclub's world. The laughs, embraces, kisses and relationships, all random elements thrown into the frame at all angles, and the grain and grit of the pictures just adds to their allure.
Perhaps the best judges are those depicted. The owners of the club and staff came to her end-of-year show and loved it; they laughed and found the whole set tremendous fun.
Currently Jo has a few other projects in mind, but as if to reinforce her point, she states: "whatever it is, I will be part of it, something I'm connected to."
There are so many photographic projects out there that anyone working in the documentary tradition needs to develop a personal style. It's unusual to see that so early in a career, but here you can see the basis of a personal vision, one that's actually well-rounded, and I hope Jo continues to explore this side of her work. I for one look forward to seeing more of her photographs.
You can see a set of Jo's nightclub pictures in a gallery on the BBC site here or look at her own site Jo Crawford Photography.