I’ve been thinking of taking pictures of Dog Racing for a while. When I came back to the UK I kept reminding myself to look into it and it was only at the end of February that I actually did. I found out that Dog Racing in London was in it’s last days, Wimbledon Stadium was to be demolished and made into a new football ground. After it is gone, there will be no more Dog Racing in London.
That left four meetings until that world was gone forever so it is perfect for a mini project. I had never been to the dogs before, or even a horse race, so I had no idea what to expect. However, the pictures I could see online made it look perfect for my style of work and the lighting conditions seemed ideal.
I have just processed the pictures from the second week of visiting the stadium and I am half way through the project. So it seems a good time to get my initial thoughts down and record the progress.
Week one was simply a recce to see what it was all about and what kind of reception I would get taking pictures. In this kind of situation I tend to start long and get closer and closer until I get push back. There are two parts to the stadium, the inside and the outside. Inside there is a bar and restaurant and betting facilities. There are also benches which you can sit at and drink and face out the big windows to see the action. Underneath this indoor area is an extended bookmakers area but I have yet to explore this. Outside is the terrace? Paddock? I don’t know what it’s called but it’s where most people stand, drink, smoke and bet while they wait for the next race.
When the race starts the dogs are led out and are paraded along half the length of the first straight which is, I suppose, to let you have a good look at them and decide who to bet on. They are then walked back down the straight to the traps and the lights go down inside the stadium and on the outside crowd as the betting stops. The mechanical hare comes around the corner and when it has passed the traps the dogs are off. The race lasts 30 seconds if that. Sometimes there is a clear winner, but most of the time it’s not, which leads the crowd to turn around and look up at the screens inside the stadium and wait for the winner. Once this has been announced the bookies are back on paying out the winners and the process starts again for around 10-12 races in a night.
From my point of view the most engaging area of the whole event are the bookies who stand on boxes in front of their LED screens taking the bets and giving out winnings. The red light of the screens and the overhead lights that let them see what they are doing is just crack for my style of photography. Red light pours over the people lining up to bet and the bookies are perfectly lit against the darkness of the stadium. Harsh shadows and contrasty images are a plenty and I love it.
The crowd are a mixture of regulars, stag dos, work outings, families and couples. They are great subjects as they are socialising, betting, drinking and generally having a great time, most don’t even notice me taking pictures. The ones that do don’t seem to mind. I have yet to get really close and I’m still thinking about whether I should talk to people so I can get super close.
The first week I spent shooting the bookies, the dogs and a few of the crowd. The second week I spent most of my time getting crowd shots, there were a few groups of guys in vintage suits. I have a few good pictures of the dogs but I need a different camera to get the ultimate picture and I have been thinking about what I am going to try and achieve from the final two meets.
For the first time I’ve started thinking about narrative, something that has never possessed my work before. The observation has always been key to my work and even my car boot sale pictures didn’t tell a story. This feels different though, maybe it’s because it will soon be gone. The story is about the people, the bookies and the event, it’s about the night.
So I have started to think about a shot list, another first for me. Some shots I can see but haven’t been able to get. Others I know are there but haven’t seen or been able to visualise. An example of that is the wide crowd shot, all the images I’ve taken up and over the entire mass of people have been flat and mundane. From the side they are looking out to the track and from behind they are facing away from me. The shot is from the centre of the stadium looking across the track back at them looking at me, but I won’t get that. So I have to think of a way to capture them en mass, in action.
I am also thinking about what to do with the project when it is done. There is no shortage of photographers at the meetings so it’s clearly something that is a project for many other artists. Some of them will just post their pictures on Instagram, others might try and get them published, entered into comps or an exhibition. I am trying to think of a life for these pictures after the bookies, crowds and dogs have gone.
But in the meantime, I have two more meetings and aim to get the most out of them and complete what will be for me the shortest project I’ve ever done.