Barlife

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I learned to drink in places like this.

Hull had lots of Victorian boozers with huge plate glass windows.

The light that came in was extraordinary in its illumination of smoke, atmosphere, faces and life.

Pubs now seem too comfortable; carpeted, decorated, warm. It sometimes feels like you are drinking in your own living room, who wants that?

They were called public houses for a reason, it’s where everyone went to meet, talk, brag, celebrate, drown sorrows, make a friend, cause a fight. It was a distant age when face to face conversation with other human beings was king. Anything was said, so anything could happen. Now everyone’s on social media, people find the internet more interesting than the people who are in front of them.

I found out later the guy with the long hair and the beard was a champion kick boxer, or something like that. Whatever. He was very quiet, very gentle, but he also looked like it would be a big mistake to be on his wrong side. Mostly bars are easy, forgiving places to visit, the rules are simple, just show respect.Accordion Content

This is an art deco cinema converted to a pool hall.

An Italian student was trying to explain to me how to play Sicilian Billiards.

He failed.

All I was interested in was photographing the joint. But he left me with an abiding phrase. For him “Sicilian Biliards was the marriage of two of his favourite subjects – Art and Geometry”.

What I love about the girl is her complete disregard for the no-smoking sign…very Italian

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The times I’ve asked Italian girls in bars if it’s OK to photograph them, and could they just ignore me and carry on as if I wasn’t there. ‘That’s perfectly OK’ is often the reply and then they proceed to do exactly as I asked; it’s depressing beyond measure.

When we arrived a man in white trousers, white shirt, white shoes and what should have been white hair but was dyed black, danced the Tango with his wife who was also dressed in white.

They where both on the very large size, but very light on their feet, as big people can often be. They were beautiful to watch.

I didn’t want to spoil the atmosphere and used a remote cable to take some photographs. It’s a clumsy way to take shots, and I found to my disappointment I had nothing to show of the elegant Tango dancers.

But I did have this accidental image, which is unexpectedly thoughtful.

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This was taken in the original Valeries London, when there was only one Valeries.

I loved this girl’s expression, and the way her hand is echoed in the painting. The lady on the left looked unexpectedly appropriately dressed.

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Drinking alone can make you obsessive.

Alcohol blasts you into different orbits, freezes time, focuses the mind and then giddily rearranges perceptions. You get to work out the bigger picture, and then you get hung up on the detail.

I was fascinated by the neat arrangement of objects, the atmospheric lighting and the call box. I found myself wondering who had made the calls, and what had they said.

Yeah I know. I should get out more.

Well that’s not true, I was out. The trick is make sure you meet people – it takes your mind off your obsessions.

This is/was the painter Monet’s bar.

It’s just what you hoped it would be isn’t it?

And the ladies who arrived were just as timeless.

We’ve moved into an era of trainers, cell phones, Tee shirts with messages, and sloppy pants, all of which will date a photograph.

Taken in Milan, this place was banged up, but looked just full of atmosphere.

It would have been perfect with one lone drinker and a morose barman, I’d have been in there like a shot.

I don’t know what there is to detain people in this photograph, absolutely nothing is going on. Blood red walls, an empty bar, a door open in the street opposite.

Edward Hopper could be quietly painting this scene, there’s nothing here and there’s everything.

Via Savona is the street that runs just outside the window, it’s a lively place, full of exciting bars, all of which seemed to add to the loneliness of this interior.

I waited patiently for someone to come in, take a seat, order a drink, give a sense of scale, add the warmth of humanity.

If you were feeling alone, facing up to our ancient dilemma, ‘What’s the point of existence?’ this was not the place to ask the question.

I waited a bit longer.

No one appeared.

Cape Town bar Milan, it’s a brilliant bar when it’s packed out, and it’s still interesting when it’s nearly empty.

Cape Town bar is one of the liveliest places to be in Milan. The owner Sergio makes it his business to know everyone else’s while dispensing lethal size glasses of excellent wine. 

If you are feeling lonely which you can in a big city, this is the place to be. Someone will strike up a conversation with you in your own tongue. Italians are friendly, embracing people, anything goes just so long as the conversation is entertaining. I’ve taken lots of different shots in this bar, it never fails to provide something interesting.

It’s a busy place, the staff have to run at the job, this shot was taken early evening before the rush begins.

The waitress was ‘resting’ before the onslaught, which gave me a chance to take this photograph. The activity at the door added to an enigmatic moment.

The girl who never smiled

I’d seen this young women around the Navigli area of Milan, she was very striking looking, but I’d never saw her smile, not the once.

I’d tried to photograph her in a café a few days earlier but she’d picked up her bag and left when she realised what I was doing. Then she came into this bar where I was drinking. I had my back to her which made things difficult. I picked up the camera, twisted it back to front and fired off a few frames.

Normally when you try that kind of trick you can guarantee out of focus, badly composed results, but this is what I got.

The sax player was a gift.

This is the same young women from ‘The girl who never smiled’ photograph. 

I found her in a different bar almost exactly a year later. Milan was suffering from torrential downpours hence her yellow overalls. I showed her the photograph I’d taken previously, much to my relief she liked it and agreed to sit for another shot. 

I like the way her hand rested on the cup, you wouldn’t think to ask someone to sit like that.

We exchanged emails, I said I’d send both images on to her, but I never heard from her again.

I think she was an artist of some kind.

Such is my luck with women, and the time I saw her smile, well…..

This photograph was so dark you could hardly see anything. Thank goodness for digital, I could never have captured this on film.

I liked the way the light entered this dark bar in Amsterdam, it reminded me of bars in Hull. There was an older man in a dark suit in the corner who looked alone and morose, but he lit up once a very attractive lady of a certain age appeared; or rather she lit up; the smoke is all hers.

She transformed the atmosphere in a few seconds, exhaling great clouds of smoke from an enormous cigar in the direction of the ceiling.

What bothered me was the bar counter which cut right across them. I tried moving positions and standing up, but that only drew attention to my presence. I thought ‘nice atmosphere, but a ruined shot’.

The thing is, the bar counter bothered me, but it bothered no one else. The lighting and the atmosphere seem to be enough for most people, what is certain is, you won’t find bars with smoked filled atmospheres like this any more.

We were in the back streets of Santander, the rain had been coming down in a deluge, the night was dark and hot. The old Spaniard stared out into the street watching those who dared the rain. He hadn’t been in the best of moods, he’d lost some money in another bar, but now he was calm watching the night, lost in thought. He looked like a fighter; a fast car went down the street, crashing water on to the pavement, his gesture to the insult was swift and uncompromising.

I wanted the bar in the background, but I also wanted his view of the street. The camera wouldn’t stretch that wide. Photographers stitch shots together to make panoramics, so I thought why not do the same for portraits. This is two photographs stitched together, it gives you the view that I saw.

The times I’ve asked Italian girls in bars if it’s OK to photograph them, and could they just ignore me and carry on as if I wasn’t there. ‘That’s perfectly OK’ is often the reply and then they proceed to do exactly as I asked; it’s depressing beyond measure.

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email:dmbandb@hotmail.com : telephone: 01263 517118 all images copyright David Morris