Whitby Goth Weekend – It’s good to talk

So after the most recent Goth weekend was held again in the beautiful Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby I’ve posted a set of pictures from one of the days where I went along to shoot a few. This ever popular event brings those who are followers of the goth scene to the town to enjoy the music and the culture that surround the genre as well as those who might simply want to dress up in clothing or outfits that come under, broadly speaking, the title of ‘Gothic’ and it also brings many other visitors to the town who simply want to enjoy the day and admire some of what they see during the Goth weekend event.

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This time and in a break from my normal ways of gathering pictures for news I decided to wind it back a bit and shoot the whole day on film rather than digital.

Now as a documentary photographer supplying much of what I shoot to the newspapers and their associated websites and other publications the idea of shooting film these days isn’t really done anymore. The faster paced nature of news and the need to have the pictures out ‘on the wire‘ as soon as possible means simply that shooting film is now just too slow.

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That’s just the way it is so you adapt accordingly. Having already seen pictures from the event appearing from other photographers in the wider media and in the papers it was obvious that the story had been covered as much as it was going to be and as such on the day that I was able to go along I knew that there was only a really slim chance of having my pictures used. Add to this that I wasn’t able to pick a (paid) shift up anywhere to cover the event which is what I need to try and do as a freelance if I can I decided that it was an opportunity to just leave the digital stuff behind for once and shot the day using film.

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I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts that I have recently acquired an old but fine example of a Leica M2 film camera. The model I have was made in September 1960! So at 55-years old it may be classed as a bit of an antique and by modern standards it really is a very simple and basic camera. Which is something definitely in its favour. No batteries, no menus, no auto-this and auto-that, no white balance, no auto-focus just a simple light tight box with aperture and shutter speed dials and a manual lens. In this case a Summicron f2 35mm.

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I shoot mostly on prime lenses anyway and one of my other cameras – a Leica M9 – is the modern day digital version of the M2 and is very similar to this in its simplicity so I’m more than happy with going fully-manual with prime lenses when it comes to photography and I’m quite familiar with this way of shooting having learned photography this way and using film a good few years ago but it did make a nice break from the pressures that seem to come from shooting digital.

Those pressures were always there of course but these days they just take a different form so with a feeling of ‘no pressure’ I headed off to see what I could get using this camera and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri X 400 ASA film – also a classic film used by documentary photographers, press photographers, photojournalists and many others for many years during the days of film.

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Now my approach when I shoot at Whitby Goth Weekend tends to follow a similar method. I want to get people in my pictures, I want to get close, maybe have a chat for a bit and and I want to show some of the amazing outfits that some wear to the events or as they are walking around. I also want to keep my pictures free of overly distracting back grounds where the pictures get lost in a messy frame but I still want to place them in Whitby if I can. Each job I shoot will have their own nuances of course and will need different approaches but this is what I try and do for Goth weekend.

Now what I’ve found covering Goth weekend is that it is usually, not always, but usually better to engage in a chat with someone and through the course of that ask them to pose up for a picture. Looking back at all the goth weekends I’ve covered I’ve never had anyone say no to a request for a picture. Now I’m not saying my approach is that good that it never fails but if you approach someone in the right way and are polite and don’t bullshit anyone then from that they make a decision about having a picture taken and so far it’s worked out ok.

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I’m a working photographer and it’s what I do for my living so I have no issues with walking up to a complete stranger and starting a conversation even if they might be wearing a werewolf mask or anything else. I also know that from a legal point of view a photographer, be it a working professional photographer or not you don’t need to ask for permission to take anyone’s picture in a public place. I can stand there all day long if I wanted shooting whatever I want, men, women, children or a steampunk vampire with a ray gun and I’m perfectly legal in doing so.

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However I’m also very aware that this approach wouldn’t always work in this instance. To be honest in most cases this approach doesn’t really work and doesn’t bring the best pictures which is after all kind of the point for most photographers. If it was a politician walking around on a visit or some ‘celebrity’ walking through Whitby or a news story that needed covering then you do what you need to do to get the picture that is needed as long as it’s legal and ethically viable to do so. Those pictures that happen without any influence by the photographer can either be amazing or mediocre or anywhere in between and that’s fine. All you can do is try and get the best pictures you can from what’s happening in front of you.

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But when I want to try for a certain theme to my pictures and when I have an opportunity to influence the way the picture is composed and ethically, as a professional photographer it’s ok to do so then in the case of the goth weekend I’m happy to chat away and ask for a picture and like I say when done in a respectful way I usually don’t have any issues. After all it’s Whitby Goth Weekend! It’s meant to be a fun and light hearted occasion – it isn’t a life and death event!

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What has become apparent to me as I’ve covered this event are firstly the amount of photographers who now visit through the weekend to take pictures and secondly the way some…and I stress it’s only some, not all, photographers approach people to take their picture. Now let me say this – I have no issues at all with people taking pictures of the Goth weekend or anything else in any capacity. Professional news photographers like myself, other professional photographers, semi-pro’s, non-professional or full on amateur photographers or just someone visiting the town that weekend with their family on holiday and want a quick snap or whatever. Whether they shoot on a Leica or a top-spec Nikon or Canon or on an old plate camera under a bit of black cloth or a camera phone I couldn’t care less to be honest.

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I fully support, encourage and will defend with vigour the rights of anyone to take pictures of whatever they want in public spaces as long as it remains legal to do so and is morally and ethically decent. Some of the most classic and incredible work ever shot that might come under the title of ‘street photography‘ has been taken with or without the consent of those featuring in those pictures and it is something to be protected that remains open and accessible to anyone.

But at the same time and in fairness to the subject of those pictures if a photographer is going to interact with them it has to be done in a way that applies not only common sense but some level of ‘professionalism’ depending on the photographer and their reasons for taking the picture. In this case it is someone’s portrait you’re trying to get – you want something from them and are, albeit briefly, becoming part of their lives for a period of time so how you approach people is very important. The Whitby Goth Weekend isn’t actually called the ‘Come-along-and-photograph-anyone-dressed-up-because-they-are-there-for-the-photographers-benefit-weekend‘. They are there for their own reasons whatever they might be.

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Maybe they are life-long or new-to-the-scene goths who love the music, the clothing and the goth ‘scene’ and have no interest in dressing in some of the more flamboyant clothing that can be seen as was the way the weekend in Whitby first began. Maybe they love dressing up and then the following weekend after the Goth weekend they go dressed as pirates or Victorians or World War Two soldiers to some other event or whatever. Maybe they love the attention of walking around a town dressed in whatever way they want. Maybe they come to see old friends and enjoy the scene in Whitby once a year as it’s a break from all the other routine in their lives – it doesn’t really matter why.

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There have been some issues with this over recent years about the people who now visit the weekend event which is held twice a year and something that is mentioned in a great blog post by a good friend of mine and great news photographer Ceri Oakes who wrote about it here so have a read through that for more information. But as a photographer it is your responsibility to make sure that whatever the reason you’re lifting your camera to take a picture it is done in a respectful way and not simply to use the subject of your picture as a commodity. Engage with people. Speak to them. Have a chat and find out a little bit about them and what they’re about.

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They won’t bite…well the person in a werewolf mask might have a bit of a growl but it’s cool to speak to people! It’s ok to interact with someone you don’t know. The problems arise from one simple thing. Fear of the unknown. To one degree or another the ‘type’ of photographer you are and the type of pictures you might normally take will ultimately dictate the amount of fear of this unknown you have when taking the picture and will ultimately affect the way you approach someone.

Doesn’t matter if it’s Whitby goth Weekend or something else. If you’re a working photographer who interacts and speaks with strangers on a daily basis then they’ll have less fear of this unknown. If you never ever shoot pictures of people or maybe aren’t as confident generally then you might be less inclined to do so. Nothing wrong with either. It’s just different experiences. The flip side of this of course and something that gets on the nerves of some of the goths of whatever kind when they see photographers taking pictures is that might come across as rude. In some cases this is true but in most cases it is is simply the lack of experience of the photographer taking the picture in this environment.

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Some photographers regardless of their role as a photographer are rude I have no doubt! I’ve seen and heard them. Just because they are a photographer I’m not saying that goths should just accept this and just let them do their thing. In photography like every other walk of life or profession there are dickheads! It’s a fact of life. I can’t see it changing any time soon. But what can be done at Whitby Goth Weekend specifically, and I suppose this is the point, is that photographers can acknowledge to themselves that by taking someone’s photo, for whatever reason and by interacting with them they immediately have a responsibility to be professional, polite and courteous and similarly goths should understand that not every photographer has an understanding of how might be the best way to approach or talk with a complete stranger to get a picture. Goth or otherwise.

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Unfortunately in this day and age interaction and conversation with strangers isn’t really done that much in public. Common sense and a degree of logic has taken a back seat. For whatever reasons people generally keep themselves to themselves or look on from afar. To stop someone you’ve never met in the street and engage them in conversation isn’t done often unless it’s part of your job. Wider issues have influenced this. They might be mad crazy people who will kill you! They’re dressed in a way that some parts of the media have commented on in such a way for so long that they now carry with them some kind of negative stigma or assumption around them. They’re wearing a skull mask and dressed as a monk they must be some kind of freak. He’s got a camera…and he’s taking pictures in a public place he must be a perverted sick weirdo!

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Seems ridiculous when you read it ey? Course it is. It’s a load of bollocks quite frankly. It’s all about showing a bit of respect to those who are photographed and also having some understanding for the reasons a picture is been taken by the subject of that picture. Some of the photographers or ‘goths’ (and I’m using this term for ease of writing regardless of whether they are ‘real’ goths or simply ‘fancy-dress’ goths) don’t help themselves. One of the main areas of complaint and tension I hear about are the pictures taken in St Mary’s church grounds at the top of the steps.

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Some seem to forget that all this posed up stuff in the church and graveyard at the top of the hill is actually a church and the gravestones that have people buried underneath are real ones. Now I’m not religious – I’m an atheist – you want to talk about a lack of common sense then talk about religion! But it doesn’t matter respect should still be paid to the people who are buried there. Would you like someone randomly standing on the grave of a relative or leaning over their headstone posing for pictures? Of course not. Remember this isn’t a life and death major news event that absolutely needs this image taken where the need to record this moment is imperative to the wider understanding of the public at a world-changing event. It’s Whitby Goth Weekend! So chill out and avoid running around the graveyard like paparazzi chasing some ‘Z’ list celeb outside a nightclub and at the same time stop draping yourselves over a headstone because you’re loving the attention. Works both ways.

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Many of the pictures taken by some will simply get posted up onto social media like Facebook or whatever as a record of where that individual might be and that’s cool – we all do it and it has to be better to see something like this than some boring status update that constantly seem to fill our timelines. Some of the pictures are taken by photographers who want nothing more than to cover the weekend and practice their photography. Others want to take pictures and try and sell them through image galleries online and make some money – images for which many are more than happy to pay for or ‘like’ or ‘share’ so they’re not purely mercenary as has been suggested. It’s a two-way street.

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Professional news photographers are at the event to record, in pictures, an element of the weekend. Depending on who and why they’re there they might need a collection of pictures of those attending for an online gallery – something I’ve done many times myself – and a broad collection of images that illustrate the wider event and are interesting or unusual or colourful or are out of the ordinary are ideal for those galleries and that’s why those people dressed in Steampunk or Victoriana clothing and the like are picked out by the wider press.

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Along with this some will need a ‘stand alone‘ picture that can be used, as the name suggests, on its own in a paper to illustrate that Whitby Goth Weekend was on. It more than likely won’t be to support a long-winded Guardian article looking in depth at the nuances between the original beginnings and meaning of the goth weekend compared to the over commercialism and fancy-dress wearing day trippers who also go – but it could be. That’s the thing. So essentially there are many reasons for those pictures to be taken and if I, as I have been on numerous occasions along with many other working news photographers who have covered this weekend event have been employed to do that then we will endeavour to do it as best we can.

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But regardless of the reasons the same basic courtesy and respect should be paid and for the vast majority of occasions it is. Only on rare occasions does this not happen for whatever reasons and that is unfortunate. For the same reasons every ‘goth’ shouldn’t be judged because they are a goth so the same can be said for judging all ‘photographers’ simply because they are carrying a camera.

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But with all these issues or observations to one side the Whitby Goth Weekend is a great event and one that should be supported, encouraged and visited whether you want to wear your werewolf mask or catch up with friends for the weekend or whether you want to listen to some of your favourite music at the pubs and events on the evenings or practice your photography skills at a different event or if as part of your job you supply pictures to your employer at a broadsheet newspaper, the local paper or a foreign newspaper, whatever, it’s still a great occasion on many levels and one that should continue.

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So remember next time that your at Whitby when the goth weekend is on…the werewolf you saw might be a van driver from Huddersfield who brings your home shopping, the monk with the skull mask could be a school teacher from Newcastle, the older women wearing daft hats and just having a laugh might be on a bus trip from Leeds for the day and the leather-clad steam punk with the mask and the gun might just be there with his kids. And for photographers…engage with people, be courteous and enjoy the day for whatever reasons you go and as for the choice of pictures you want to take…you’ll figure it out as you go.

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Please note…no werewolves were harmed in the writing of this blog!

 

 

See more of my work on my website and blogs… HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth 2015

All rights reserved.

No usage without arrangement.

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