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Flashes to Ashes

by Garry Cook


These photos are part of a documentary project on the ban on smoking in public places which came into force in England on July 1, 2007. This project was self-published as Flashes to Ashes, a book capturing smokers in social situations before the ban came into force. And the story continued as the smokers were forced to go outside. Here are a few excerpts from my diary made during the project:


June 30, 2007 Smoking has left the building
I spent June 30, 2007 - the last day to legally smoke in public places in England - trawling the pubs of Preston, Lancashire, capturing smokers, er, smoking.
There were some very accommodating people along the way. Some were happy to let me photograph them, some were genuinely interested in what I was doing, some played up to the camera.
Sometimes you get a negative reaction from people when you approach them with a camera, occasionally quite abusive. So when you get kind words and polite conversation it makes your job easier and is very much appreciated.
My only wish after Saturday night is that I don't meet the foul-mouthed young lady I took a photo of in The Old Bull again.

'Take my picture, now f*** off'. Charming. Just the sort of girl you'd want to introduce to your parents.It was a grueling night. I allowed myself a 10-minute break and a pint of Guinness in Preston's finest pub, the Black Horse, before carrying on with the snapping.
These are the pubs which kindly allowed me to photograph on their premises. The Blue Bell, Old Dog Inn, The Academy, Yates, The Old Bull, The Wellington, the Stanley Arms, the Black-a-Moor, the Market Tavern, the Black Horse, the New Britannia, Roper Hall, O'Neills and the Adelphi.
But the project didn't end on Saturday night...At 10.45am on Sunday morning I was at Happy Scots Bar in Blackpool for England's first illegal 'smoke-in'. I was made incredibly welcome by owner Hamish Howitt and his pub full of defiant smokers. Hamish's story is quite remarkable. He opposes the ban on moral grounds and has spent thousands of pounds fighting it - even registering a political party, UK Fags, to battle the ban. All the major TV channels were there - this sort of stuff is TV gold, especially for a slow Sunday newsday.
Hamish is prepared to go to jail for his cause, even though he confided in me that he was petrified at the prospect. The pub was packed with all walks of life, from teenagers to war veterans. Some people supporting the fight didn't even smoke (and some of those had their first
fag in 20 years).
But most amazing of all is Hamish, leading the campaign even though he himself does not smoke.
In the build-up to the smoking switch-off I visited pubs, nightclubs, working men's clubs, social clubs, bingo halls and shisha cafe's documenting people smoking.
While I'm glad of the ban for purely personal reasons (no more smokey clothes) I miss taking the photographs. After all, there is no other photography project you can do in which you can passively kill yourself at the same time.
I particularly enjoyed the shisha bars in Rusholme, Manchester, where I found the people highly accommodating and friendly. I'd like to thank them all for their help. I have no political view on smoking - that's not what this project is about - but I do think it is a shame that the shisha bars will have to close. Apart from being culturally important to the Asian community, they exist only for smoking and I can see a difference between smoking in a shisha cafe and smoking in a pub. That's progress I suppose.


July 29, 2007 Swear words.
Document, not comment - that's what I say when I'm challenged over why I'm taking photographs. And believe me, I get challenged a lot.
Last night I got two 'f*** offs' and one 'you're corrupt' (actually the second time for that one, though it was by the same man). No 'scums' though, so it was a fairly positive night.

Mind you, I was in Blackpool, where the pot can't really call the kettle black.
August 12, 2007 More swear words
Unlucky. F*** off. Imagine a cartoon character gruff voice uttering these words with no small amount of aggression. That was one bloke’s response to my request to photograph him and his wife down the side of a Preston pub (O'Neill's if you must know) He was crouching down at the time. Didn't even turn his head towards me.
His wife, who seemed quite reasonable, immediately tut-tutted at her husband. I adopted my calmest, sympathetic voice and said, 'okay, no problem, but you don't have to be so rude' and left to the noise of a couple arguing. His chest was puffed out as he eyeballed me. She must be so proud of her Alpha Male. What a nice man.
My only regret is that I do not have a photograph of the couple so I can post on here with a big arrow pointing to him alongside the words 'total dickhead'. He was an example of how not to behave, anywhere at any time.

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