Smoking Places

Tiles, Ben Dolman 2012

The recent weather has been awful and I have not been on location now for a couple of weeks working on my Hinterland project so I have decided to do some small one off projects taking advantage of local locations when there is a break in the weather. This project ‘Smoking Places’ was developed from doing some background research into black and white platinum & palladium printing and in doing so I came across a series of photographs taken by Irving Penn of cigarette butts that resonated with me being a smoker. I then came across another cigarette still life photograph by William Klein in an exhibition at the Tate Modern and it got me thinking about the depiction of smoking in photography and film.

Irving Penn Cigarette Photographs : Google Image Search Screen Grab

I started thinking about certain iconic photographs of cigarettes, of smoking and the first thing that leaped into my mind was Marlboro Man, perhaps the most iconic image of smoking of the twentieth century. Marlboro man was a cowboy, rugged and self reliant, a man of few words but of many deeds. We now live in a time where most of use live in cities commuting from home to offices and factories living in a very control and regulated environment being told what to do and how to do. In this drab world we day dream of being free and it could the very alluring notion of a self reliant individual working in the great outdoors as shown in the depiction of the Marlboro Man smoking his cigarette staring out upon an unbounded landscape.

On researching Marlboro Man I came across an article that stated three of the models used in the adverts had died from lung cancer and also as medical evidence began to show the direct relationship between smoking and cancer it led to Marlboro Reds the cigarettes advertised in the Marlboro Man campaign being be called “Cowboy Killers”.

I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s when high concept marketing campaigns from Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges dominated magazines and billboards with their surreal adverts where the product was sometimes hidden, coded and suggested which was part of the allure, somehow cleverness became associated with a cigarette brand. Tobacco advertising constructed life styles and whole stories an audience could following, the most re-memorable was the comical Hamlet TV slots ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’ when everything goes wrong for the person in the commercial but then everything is put right by simply lighting up a Hamlet cigar and one is at peace with the world again accompanied to a rendition of Bach’s Air on a G String.

Marlboro Man : Google Image Search Screen Grab

Hamlet 'Photo Booth' 1989 - Starring Gregor Fisher, produced by Graham Rose for Collett Dickenson Pearce

Throughout the history of photography and film the cigarette has been depicted but in recent times there has been more and more medical evidence that smoking leads to cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other fatal health conditions and this has led to governments banning cigarette advertising in the belief that the images encourage smoking especially in young people. Cigarette companies put serious money behind there marketing campaigns working some of the cleverest people in advertising ‘The Mad Men’ who dreamt up new ways to seduce people to the delights of nicotine. A cigarette were once considered cool associated with films like James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause that created iconic images from an intoxicating combination of motorbikes, rebellion, sex, music, the black leather jacket, and the angst of youth staring out of the screen with an extensionalist gaze and a cigarette handing just so from the mouth. Smoking was once considered aspirational, social and in the second world war the GI soldiers were actually given free cigarettes rations, a seemly cheap stress busters in of time of world that created a new army of new nicotine addicts. I still remember as a child going to the cinema and looking at the cone of light illuminating the drifting smoke in the auditorium from the projector, it was beautiful, part of the experience, part of the social norm. There was a time when even people who did not smoke would have an ash tray at hand for guest visiting.

Smoking Places : Wall, Ben Dolman 2012

Cigarettes are no-longer seen by most people in Western society as cool, social or glamorous but instead as anti-social, dangerous, diseased and the users of the cigarettes drug users, smelly, outcasts to be derided. Smoking kills full stop and I know this so why do I still smoke. I have experimented with most soft drugs when I was young and I cared little for them or their use, nothing has the same high and addiction as nicotine. I cannot stop smoking, where is my self will, am I tempered by some kind of fatalism.

Smoking Places : Air Conditioners, Ben Dolman 2012

Smokers now excluded from society, pushed outside find refuge in discrete spaces, lonely spaces. In these temporary spaces outside the home, the workplace, the pub one is alone but for the comfort offered by the cigarette. In this space one is also removed from the general background hum of people, a moment of stillness is offered, a time to reflect, ponder, day dream or just look into space. The exile can become just as addictive as the cigarette, freedom from the social norms. Standing in a non-descript space I often have my most insightful thoughts, where I often solve a problem and where the stress of modern day life floats away with the smoke from the cigarette. The first drag of the cigarette inhaling the smoke gives a sudden rush, an almighty high and with the exhale of the smoke all the days confusion and frustration seems to be exhaled also, the moment becomes singular, focussed and heightened.

Smoking Places : Three Windows, Ben Dolman 2012

Returning back to Irving Penn’s photographs of cigarette butts there are two distinct series, there is the early beautiful black and white large platinum prints of carefully arranged single or small groupings of cigarette butts and a later series in colour of vivid orange filter tips with some bearing the mark of red lipstick that are more chaotic in their arrangement. What I find interesting in these photographs is there is no depiction of the cigarette hanging from the mouth or rested in the hands of a person, they are not alight, there is no smoke, all we see is the remnants, the remains of the act of smoking. The black and white cigarette stubs look like found objects, examined and arranged, forensic in their detail, composed and monumental whilst the colour photographs offer a glimpse of a past gathering, a conservation, a social interaction.

Smoking Places : Shelter, Ben Dolman 2012

In the photographs I took for smoking places I choose not to photograph smokers or the remnants of their habit. In the images we have no idea of where the location is, it could be anywhere given the non-descript banal vernacular of the post war architecture in the photographs. The photographs offer only a flat space, no depth or perspective to the space is given, the space is compressed and linear. We are not offer any views the smoker may observe, the images are of the space where smokers have been exiled to, the spaces represent exclusion zones that exist outside the norms of society. The space has become a sanctuary unconsciously colluding with the addict, the space makes no judgements it is just is, an absurd space for an absurd activity.

Smoking Places : Exit, Ben Dolman 2012

Are these photographs markers of my alter life, a monument to fatalism where I escape to from modern society and find sanctuary and shelter, a hideaway from disconcerting eyes to indulge with my sweet nicotine habit. By taking these photographs I wonder if I am celebrating my habit, my exclusion from social norms and cementing some kind of romantic notion of artist as outsider, risk taker and agitator. Or is my rebellion really just juvenile and delusional, that of a week willed individual who succumbed to smoking through peer pressure as a child and wanted to fit in, be cool, part of the gang, a gang that has since moved on and no-longer can be found hanging around the back of the bike shed.

Smoking Places : Windows, Ben Dolman 2012

47 + [10 smoking years] with discoloured teeth and hands, bad breath and wheezy old male seeking lonely spaces for momentary smoking amours.

Smoking now offers nothing but social exclusion and lonely spaces, but are these spaces my true addiction rather than smoking which is something I should have given up years ago. The high from the first inhale from a cigarette though powerful is fleeting and lasts less with each subsequent inhale from cigarette but these excluded spaces have grown on me for they offer a space where time is temporarily suspended. Can one find another temporary refuge where one can reflect and contemplate and it offer relief and peace from the maddening din of our modern lives that is not associated to smoking.

Smoking Places : Prey, Ben Dolman 2012

Off for a quick cigarette break.......................