Social Photography, The Fleece Hotel, late 1970s

A well turned out couple at an event at the Fleece Hotel, St.Helens. Circa 1979.

My first commercial work (being paid money for photography) was the team photos I shot at Cowley Boys School. My second experience of earning an income came in the 6th form when I got a job as a social photographer at the Fleece hotel in St.Helens town centre.

Although I worked in the hotel I was employed by a company that managed this service for the hotel. My duties were to photograph people at the start of the evening, disappear into the basement (an abandoned sauna) and develop the film and make tiny prints to put into plastic gilt frames. I would then display all the images on a stand in the main event room and individuals or couples would hopefully buy their picture as a memory of the event.

It was pressured work, I had to photograph everyone before the meal was served so had to work quickly, sometimes I did not work fast enough and the soup was served before I had finished. The results were not always good! Im not keen on flash but it had to be used in these kinds of situations.

Factory parties were fun and lots of sales made, golf club parties were more subdued with little in the way of sales.

It did teach me a lot, although I was only a school boy it demanded discipline, I was also very shy to begin with so this forced me to interact with people more. All the film and negatives belonged to the company and were returned but I must have shot these on my own film, perhaps it was a late request, I dont know.

Looking back now I can see that having to stand for hours with the display waiting for people to buy meant spending an awful long time observing people as they partied. I was not aware of this at the time but in retrospect I can see how it enabled me to detach from a social scene such as a dinner /disco, later in Nottingham this allowed me to take candid pictures of people in social situations in pubs and clubs, perhaps the project was born here.