When Wales Banned Public Cigarette Smoking

The images that follow show advertising boards used in the campaign to promote the banning of smoking in public places effective from April 2nd, 2007. The images also record street life at the time of taking these images, with inspiration taken from Ed Ruscha and Lee Friedlander. 

Years ago I saw some photographs of gas stations in America. I couldn’t remember who the photographer was, but I could remember how iconic the images were. Each was caught in a time warp, was from the late 1950s and epitomised the Americas. Huge cars, company icons including shell, chevron, texaco all with the desert in the background.

[Edward Ruscha, 1962. 26 Gasoline Stations]

[Probably this is the series of images I had in my mind, by Ed Ruscha documenting a journey from Los Angeles to Okalahoma City and back, and all the gas stations they visited along the way. A bit like ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac.]

I wanted to capture a similar series of pictures, in particular images that captured the current time and place in a historical context. I wanted to be able to have an image that people could relate to in years to come and perhaps have similar recollections as I had had with the gas station images. I considered photographing buildings or objects within the built environment because these images tend to change over time, whereas landscape images of trees or seascapes do not.

For the homework task, 'A Sense of Place' I photographed a familiar place, Cardiff Bay. I took the pictures at 6am, a favourite time of day since there are few people around at that time. I was happy with the images, but I wanted something more specific that could date the images.

I stumbled upon billboards - in particular the government advertising for the upcoming no smoking ban on April 2nd, 2007. This particular advert had the date on it, whilst it also happened to be an important historical point in time. Thus for the purpose of the project I chose to photograph this series of adverts within the city but later expanded the idea to photograph all types of advertising on billboards and bus shelters. In researching for the project and to give me some inspiration and ideas I found Lee Friedlander had taken pictures in a similar vein. I have found that Lee Friedlander's images are sometimes totally haphazard. He seems to break the compositional rules for example the rule of thirds or the golden section.

Lee Friedlander's Telephone Box
© Lee Friedlander

In this example the telephone box is in the centre of the image, it is almost forensically taken. He has taken the picture exactly how he found it to be, or as a fact of the landscape.

I adopted this approach in some of the photographs I took. For example the bus shelter images were taken as I found them, with little attention paid to traditional compositional rules.

Lee Friedlander also took of many pictures of urban America capturing fashions, e.g. the woman walking along the street.

John Davis - Blaenau Ffestiniog
© John Davis

John Davis is another photographer that admire. I used some of his pictures as inspiration for this project including the image of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales, 1994. I like this photograph simply because of the tonal range of black of the slates and windows through to the white in the clouds. He has the whole range of the zone system in one picture. I like the composition elements within the image, including the viewpoint which enables the viewer to look as if up on high, down into the town. The train track draws the eye to the right and up the hill into the mist of the clouds. The sky is quite dramatic and adds impact to the picture. It is also the level of detail in the image that interests me. I am aware that he used a large format camera to take this picture. One day I hope to try using a large format camera just out of curiosity. I certainly try to get as much detail out of my photographs as I possibly can. I use a medium format camera and always combine it with slow film and a tripod.

Ansel Adams - Half Dome
© Ansel Adams

It is for the same reason that I have been interested in the work of Ansel Adams and the level of detail he was able to capture in his images. In particular Winter Half Dome. This image also appears to have every tonal range from Zone 0 to Zone X.

Time of Day

Normally I take photographs at the sea or in the mountains. Taking photographs in the city using the tripod and medium format camera would be a new challenge. This challenge would also bring with it upsides and downsides. The photographs are likely to involve some long exposures because I will want to maximise the detail in the image using slow film and filters to control contrast that will further reduce exposure times.

I once took photographs at dusk at the end of Queen Street in the rush hour. All the photographs were blurred, not just because I had a light weight tripod, but also because of the volume of traffic that produced vibrations on the road surface.

For this project I will work at dawn where it is more tranquil, less people around, I will be more focused and able to get a better photograph.

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