2010: a party retrospective

When I look back at my photography in 2010, I see two major trends: the rediscovery of 35mm SLR photography, and the discovery of bright flash + beautiful black-and-white Croatian film (thank you, eBay). On many nights during the latter half of 2010, I would venture out with my F4 loaded with said film, flash ready to fire at always happy and usually inebriated friends and strangers.

(A side note: the photo immediately below of Robin, Simon and Brian is the only one in this post not taken on the lovely Croatian film. And you can tell - it's much greyer and less silver than the others. Still a great party portrait, though.) 

The reason I love using black and white for these photos - and this particular film - is because it's classic, and it's flawless, and it's real. While the paradoxical assertion that black and white conveys realism more strongly than colour may no longer be common, I still subscribe to this position, albeit without being able to easily explain why. Possibly because, especially with this gorgeous silvery film, the high contrast and deep tones look unmistakably like film - I have yet to see these aesthetic properties exactly replicated digitally - so there is no possibility of manipulation. The logic is absolutely flawed, I know, but I can't get past the fact that when I look at these photos, I never have any doubt that they are displaying the truth. There are no tricks, there is no interference. Just a flash, a shutter, and film. Like social photography from decades past, these images seem to say This is what happened, exactly and completely. This is what it was like.

I suppose you could argue that taking photos of people when they are not sober is unfair to them because they may be acting out of character. But when the effects of alcohol are at their best and people are overwhelmingly jovial and celebratory - like the above two photos, taken at the closing end of my cousin's wedding in November - any usual insecurities give way to moments of unguarded and unfiltered enjoyment. It's a wonderful thing to be able to capture, and it makes for some spectacularly animated images, full of action and character. In the photo immediately above, I was trying to get a portrait of Kate and Arthur when Marg ducked in front of them and grinned directly into the lens. Anyone who knows Marg well will be familiar with her latent mischievous side, and will be able to very easily imagine her doing this after a few drinks. Which means that this photo depicts a very real but quite rare aspect of her personality. Certainly, the same could be said for Robin (on the left) in the photo above this one.

When photographing strangers it's hard to know whether or not you're capturing some intrinsic part of their character, but that doesn't mean you can't get some fantastically animated images. Admiring my oversized camera, the guy on the left asked me to take a photo of him and his mate (on the right). I agreed on the condition that their other friend - with his perfect teeth and ridiculous moustache - be included, and that he take the centre. They did the rest themselves and what I ended up with is a very well-centred photo of three strangers, each bringing their own silliness and vitality to the image. And even though I don't know any of them in any way, I really love this shot.

Certainly, several people interacting with one another makes it somewhat easier to get an interesting and animated party photo, but this one of Kev demonstrates that individual folk can provide the frame with plenty of action, too. This was taken at Yah Yah's late one night and it's a simple photo, but it's a great expression. Also, I love freckles in black and white. (Look closely.)

Aw, Ester and Anne at the Tote. So cute. And so fitting.

This one is slightly different, as it is completely orchestrated and my subject is completely sober. It's still a great party portrait, though, because she's absolutely confident in front of the camera, and also because she's showing off one damn fine jacket.

Here's another orchestrated shot, but this time it's of a stranger. She was extremely patient while I tried to get my flash to work very late into Cherry's Halloween party. Her make-up was white, black and red, and her hair was bright green, so I wondered at the time whether black and white would do her justice. But the contrast and texture in the image are wonderful, and I almost think colour would take away from that. The success of this photo is a great reminder never to be afraid to ask strangers for a photo. When it's this far into the partying, it's highly unlikely they will refuse.

In all of the above photos the subjects have been at least aware that their photo was being taken. Not so here, where the moment is completely unaltered. Similar to the photo of Adrian and Seán I posted a while back. Like that photo, this is wonderful precisely because it doesn't acknowledge the camera's presence; the idea of documenting a moment exactly as it happened is at its purest in images like these. And it's such a classic social photo: one talks - leaning close to overcome the intrusive music - while the other listens. We can tell D'Arcy is listening (or trying to) because his gaze is aimed too low to be looking at someone else; his eyes are avoiding any other action while he tries to catch everything Taka is telling him. The crowd that is visible behind him reinforces the busyness of the place, and in the absence of audible music we still get the sense that it would have been hard to hear.

I absolutely love experimenting with the psychedelic beauty that film (and especially lomo) cameras are able to produce. The forms of expression possible with those kinds of effects are irresistable and endlessly exciting. But the raw and absolutely beautiful truth that black-and-white social photography offers is what excited me most about my 2010 collection of photos. No doubt this is due in part to their autobiographical aspect - This is what I saw, This is what I did. More than that, though, there's something incredibly satisfying about being able to present an unadultered experience to people who weren't there (or who can't remember it), to tell a story about a time and a place, and to give people something truthful, however small. I'm absolutely thrilled to have all of these images, and I plan to take many more right through 2011.

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