What Happened When I swiped Right For The First Time #GirlBoss

Reece Pickering- 20/07/15

Photography had brought me to a commission in Vancouver, Canada on March 22nd. With a meetup with a stranger so random, I hadn’t yet developed the photographs to prove it, until now.

The first thing you might think is that I headed straight to a Canucks game, drank copious amounts of maple syrup; or wander along photographing portraits of residents on the most dangerous street in North America (all of which I did).

But the rain had kept our lenses indoors, little time was spent in the sun; most time was spent hiding in the hotel room researching projects or eating as many $1 wedges from 7-Eleven whilst waiting to be called to the commission. Our room did have a great view of the BC Stadium though.

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I had shared a hotel room at the YWCA with four of my colleagues for ten days, and then discovered this wondrous app known to west yet not to me; it was called ‘Tinder’.

For those not in the know like myself at the time, Tinder is a dating application which drags 20-somethings from all around your location into a convenient sorting system in which you swipe left to ‘dislike’ and right to ‘like’.

I have never felt inclined to use the app, nor have I ever intended to, as my preferences were to speak face to face with people, who weren’t likely to be serial killers or have fetishes for piercing my nipples for me (you would be surprised what goes on); but that stack of 7-Eleven wedges in the hotel bin were beginning to decay and nobody had tipped the maid, so I start swiping.

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Filtering left through the foundation-clad clutter in Vancouver, I notice a friendly looking Asian woman named Michelle; ‘dictionary definition of friends’ says her bio; so I swipe right.

This is perfect for me as my whole concept of a photographer is to keep making new friends, one could say it’s a necessity in my skill set.

Before I knew it, I was stood at the apartment door within the building that Michelle had given me only hours before when we had started chatting. I had my disposable Fujifilm Finepix colour film camera with me, taking shots of the building almost prepping myself for forensics to develop the photographs and discover the place I had been lured into; after they discovered my mangled body. The hallway looked like the same dank, dark corridor in The Watchmen, right before the Joker is thrown out the window of the complex. Furnished but freaky. FH030006

But when I wrapped my knuckles on the door and primed my Fuji ready to strike, Michelle answered with an excited smile and invited me in. After that, she became known as ‘Girlboss’ after seeing a copy of the book by Sophia Amoruso when I first walked in.

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Michelle has that Zen-like state, of freedom and all things cultural. I realised this when I was only one of three meet-ups via Tinder that day alone. She had pencilled me in between her 2:30pm coffee and her 6pm dinner. I felt privileged.

Our day involved all things alternative to a regular hangout with a stranger, like Tarot cards (to which I was dealt the worst three), then Yoga (to which she described I wasn’t very flexible, prompting the proceeding months to be filled with morning Yoga until the day a woman would deem me flexible again) finishing with her soloing the guitar; of course it wouldn’t be a hipster meet-up without a guitar solo.

That was when I began to learn just how generous Canadians were.

After I had told her about the insane week’s shooting in Vancouver, I told her about my even more hectic living arrangements with four other guys. ‘Sounds mad’, she said ‘would you like a bath?’ This strange request would prompt anything but friendship in British culture (or rom my personal experiences at least).

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So I did the right thing, and kindly agreed.

Before I could ask for a towel, Michelle had taken the liberty to plaster me a mint face mask on; cooked me gluten free banana bread, and fashioned up a kale smoothie for me.

Michelle had confirmed every healthy lifestyle cliché box that I had expected from a city like Vancouver; and I was loving it.

I laid in the lukewarm water for the best part of half an hour, accompanied by Michelle’s relaxation playlist she had played under the door with her IPhone.

Not once did I protest, and as I laid there; eyes covered in mint scrub and feeling relaxed from my everyday grind of a routine I laughed at the notion that I had earned all of this, just by swiping right.

Of course by telling my room mates that days events, I ran the risk of being portrayed as some serial-healthy lifestyle freak who would break into strangers apartments to pamper myself.

So, that night I took them all for sushi.

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I hadn’t ran the risk of meeting a friend like Michelle again, for safety reasons within the UK and have ever since swiped left; and proceeded to delete Tinder.

For now I will stick to mundane dates in restaurants or cinemas, the generic stuff…

 

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Photographing Moscow Circus in 50°c Heat Is Tough

Reece Pickering/ 11/07/15 Moscow circus had been continuing it’s tour throughout the UK in May. The Russian troupe made it’s way to the South West and hit us here in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

The ring-master had organised for me to meet up with the main act for promo shots with a bunch of photojournalists, snapping staged shots of the Russian ‘magic duo’ on the grass, in the rain.

But this wasn’t my approach, I planned to go behind the stage to shoot portraits of all the acts, to get to know each of them on a personal level. Maybe even have some interesting conversations with some internationals, being some of the first Russians i had ever met.

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Source Credit: ‘Britains Got Talent’ 2015

Two days passed full of reccy’s, organising equipment, assistants and logistics; then I was able to go behind the stage and begin shooting. The 20:30pm show was warming up, the ringmaster Vladimir (not the Putin variety) took us to the backstage where the acts were warming-up, and to introduce us to our site escort and translator: Angel. The same Vladimir had recently appeared on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ just days before.

The two days spent researching before the shoot, I had chosen a backdrop that would compliment their story, creating a rustic, dramatic aesthetic which matched my approach in photography. The canvas of the big tent itself, a strip of which was behind the stage, in a small alcove where the performers would sit  or warm-up and wait to be conjured.IMG_7424

All seemed well until Angel brought us to the same spot I had picked the to stage my shoot, two days before. But there was a prop box the size of a car sat in the same space; when I asked for the box to be moved Angel replied “no, box stays there”. Which is when I first realised the Russians didn’t quite share our British ethics of accommodating others.

As I processed how to recompose the setup, a collapsable pipe (the size of those ones you would jump on at bouncy castles to try and deflate it so the other kids would get stuck) began bellowing hot air into the alcove; the small alcove now filled with a giant prop-box, a dozen chairs for the acts, two perspiring Brits, and a cold, cold Russian.

I wasn’t deterred for my shots, and we continued to set-up cameras for both stills and moving image, tripods, shutter releases. Lastly to test the lighting, with a timeframe of 10-minutes before the acts came rolling in. Nor was I even deterred when one the portable lights struck me in the forehead after the immense hot air blew it over.

The process was hectic, but simple. Performers would finish their act on stage, and head to the alcove backstage to be photographed.

I didn’t plan for these to be stylised portraits, and as hot as that pipe made the room; it only worked in our favour to give the images my own preferred, dramatic approach in aesthetics and lighting.

By the time the acts reached my camera, they had the desired outcome of looking as though they had just came off stage, sweat dripping, make-up running, and minimal regard to posing for the camera; raw expressions were key; with an intetional flash flare to give the stage-feel.

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I had spent the past two or three nights watching these guys perform in the ring, with their strenuous warm-up and cool down routines; and wanted that to show this in the portraits.

Angel would translate my instructions and we began to shoot all 21 acts. Each would pose accordingly, and some would laugh at the purple egg that had formed on my forehead.

Each subject had a shared, almost melancholic expression when told to relax, to get out of character:

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Igor (top left), Maksim (top right) and Anatoly (bottom left) had the desired candid composition I had planned for the shoot. All three were from the same act known as the ‘RUBAN’ 13 people springboard troupe. Anatoly was their leader, and was the portrait I anticipated taking most. Anatoly had a flawless tactic of posing for the crowds whilst being authoritative, his role being to catch the smaller performers via a chair-top pole; strapped to his chest. He also shared the expression of snapping my tripod in two if I broke that mutual trust between photographer and subject.

This hidden temper was confirmed after I had packed away and walked home, and in the back of one of the trailers saw Anatoly beating the life out of a punchbag, for strength training I’m sure…

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/128961512″>Moscow State Circus</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user36365072″>Reece Pickering</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Though non of the acts spoke a lick of English, and when the pipe had finally stopped spilling hot air half way through the shoot, the experience was actually pretty damn extraordinary and I can safely say I’ve kept a few friends in Moscow to go visit, google translate permitting. Although me and my assistant didn’t get invited to one of Moscow Circus’ Infamous ‘big tent knees up’… Maybe next time…