In 1992, the then Southampton City Council Public Art Officer Rosy Greenlees OBE, now the Executive Director of UK Craft Council, ran a unique competition for public art to be shown on the local buses.
My winning proposal focussed on 3 elements of bus journeys: imagining the lives of fellow passengers, looking out of the windows & daydreaming, and the frustration of waiting at bus stops. The project was accompanied by the winning poet, Carol Ann Duffy’s work, displayed on the back of the bus seats and resonated about bus trips.
To quote Rosy ‘It is a sociological document of people in a southern city in the ’90s which looks strangely out of time’. The commissioning bodies were Southern Arts, Citybus and Southampton City Council.
‘When I first won the commission, I thought that I would find a place to be obscure from the other passengers. On the first day I visited Southampton with my new pass issued by the bus company I quickly realised that there was absolutely no place to hide on a bus!’
The project, made over about a year’s visits opened up new horizons for me. It was much more like street photography than portraiture.
I used a Fuji medium format folding field camera and added flash on top as it was smaller and easier to stow away than other formats of the same quality. But when I was photographing I was definitely in people’s faces. People were surprised, at me and at the event.
Only one person asked me not to use her picture in the whole of the photography. I always wondered what she was up to that day.
The elderly passengers were the most amused by my presence, often making comments like- ‘Oh, pictures of us gossiping!’
Lots of people asked what I was doing there after I photographed them, but were OK when I explained the project.
The only time I had a technical problem my shutter jammed and I told the schoolboys I was shooting that I would be back tomorrow. They were very surprised to see me again the next day.
No, I didn’t ask before I made pictures of them- that is a different picture!
I used over 100 rolls of colour negative film, each containing 15 pictures. I made all the C41 prints in my darkroom, which took months, edited to 43 final pictures. We eventually got sponsorship from Rank Xerox to make A3 colour photocopies, which we laminated to install as the exhibition in all the red Citybuses in Southampton.
Although it had always been one of my favourite projects it has not been seen very much in the UK, despite it being exhibited, in parts, internationally and published as far afield as New York, Sweden and Portugal.