Saturday 19 November 2022

Why shoot if you don’t have a target?

 I have a small collection of pictures shot over a couple of days recently. I like them but they don’t really have a home. They cannot be described as happy snaps to be casually shared on Instagram or Facebook, adding to the daily tsunami of images. And if I think about it, the  funeral of a stabbing victim, a dementia sufferer, a memorial service for a 19-year-old, and two off-duty Steam Punks are not images you’d click ‘like’ on. Your finger might hover for a moment, if you actually admired the image, but then you’d swipe away, considering it poor taste to like a picture from a funeral or of an elderly dementia sufferer sunning himself.


I was back in Hull because the BBC wanted to do a piece about my Star & Garter pictures. I arrived two days early to stay with my friend George Norris. There was a promise of informed chat about photography as we walked around the town looking for potential outdoor exhibition spaces for our work. A few pints and certainly a curry were also dialled in. 


With the hour change it got dark early so we decided to pop into the Rayners (formerly the Star & Garter) for a quiet pint on a wet Wednesday night and a chat about the possible spaces we’d looked at.


The place was jumping. Drag artiste and DJ Regina Sparkles was leading a karaoke-themed night to celebrate the life of Adam Smith, who had died four years ago aged 19. For about two hours I resisted taking a picture. I felt like a gatecrasher, but as the evening progressed, George explained why I was there and I was warmly welcomed. Then Regina started to lead the dancing and I thought this is a must-have picture. 

 Just after I took this picture the music stopped and we were all bundled outside for the main event. It was balloon release time to remember Adam, and in true Hull fashion the heavens opened. With no coat on and getting rapidly soaked, I took another picture. But even as I took it I didn’t know what I would do with it.

Next morning George told me he was going to the funeral of his friend Jason Whincup and suggested I should come along. Jason was well-known in the rag-and-bone and traveller communities. He was stabbed to death outside his home. A man has been charged with his murder. 


I decided not to use 35mm digital cameras and took the Rolleiflex. I did this for two reasons. I was not on a news story but I wanted to capture the event and, secondly, I didn’t want to look predatory but I also wanted to get in close. 

I did not attend the actual service and left George to pay his respects. As I sat waiting for him, I reviewed my pictures from the previous night and thought about the ones I had just shot. Although neither set had any real coherence in terms of story value, both were linked by their subject matter. The celebration of a life. 


After lunch we walked back into town to look again at potential exhibition spaces, this time in daylight. The autumn sun had broken up the morning mist and the temperature rose a little. Initially, I thought I’d leave the Rolleiflex at home but remembered I had 10 frames left on the roll of film so decided to take it. 


This is when we met Ken and Jean Carr. Well bundled up, they were enjoying a drink in the sunshine outside their house, which was still decorated with the summer’s Jubilee celebration flags despite the queen’s death. 

All the time we chatted, Jean’s hand never strayed from her husband’s arm. She told us that Ken was out from the local dementia hospital for the day but would be returning shortly. I have posted them this picture. I hope they like it. 


Minutes later we bumped into Ryan Sharman and Marie Buckle, resplendently garbed. They agreed to being photographed, taking the time to pose, with a background they liked only feet away. I was very aware of the colour, so used a digital camera as well as the Rolleiflex. If I had to choose, I’d go for the black and white but for this post I have shared both. I had again shot successfully, but with no real target.

Fifteen minutes later in the centre of Hull I was greeted with a smile and the comment: ‘Ohhh, now that’s what I call a real camera.’ Exhausted from a day’s shopping, mum Tracy Denholm sat with daughter Melissa. ‘If only you’d been here yesterday. We were both fully dressed up as Steam Punks. In fact you’re unlucky, as we’re normally dressed up.’  

I liked it that they weren’t dressed up, but relaxed and smiling with a ciggie on. How could I resist shooting another untargeted random picture. Just one frame. When I sent the picture to them, Melissa quickly replied: ‘We love it. Thank you.’


I made it back to George’s house, four frames remaining in the camera. It was a lesson learned early in my career: always have at least one frame left. Then we had a take-away curry and some beers. Promise fulfilled.  


On the last day, my interview completed, the BBC’s Simon Spark was adding some colour to his piece. He was interviewing Rachel, the landlady of Rayners, and I thought I’d shoot a happy snap for her to keep. But what started as a throw-away snap ended up as a quirky optical illusion as the wall and carpet line perfectly bisects the image. The only thing stopping you from thinking that this is two pictures is the microphone, which breaks the line.  

In the end, I suppose I just have a random collection of images. But Jean, Ken, Ryan, Marie, Tracy, Melissa, Rachel and Simon each have a picture that I hope is important to them. I also hope that with time these images will become even more significant for them and their friends and family.


Maybe that is the target I am looking for: the importance of the person or story that may otherwise go unnoticed.  Who knows? I just love taking pictures and listening to people sharing their stories. 

Russell Boyce


Editing by Giles Elgood   

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