Philip Berryman
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Christmas Party

Photographers need creativity, wit and craft. A photojournalist also needs that and courage, stamina, cunning and luck.

Elliott Erwitt

I have met Elliot Erwitt a few times and have always found him to be utterly fascinating and fun to be around. You just want to get him talking about his work and experiences. What a career! I own one of his classic pieces and he’s always delighted when I remind him which image it is. I’ve met many Magnum photographers and there is some hero worship there for sure. 

My Elliott Erwitt print

My Elliott Erwitt print

I am not sure if I had much cunning and luck on my side whilst shooting this particular Christmas party. The brief was to only shoot the arrivals for an advertising agency Christmas party and not to venture into the actual venue. This sounds pretty straightforward and not a bad commission to have. The theme for the fancy dress was a sort of Old London East End Peaky Blinders/1920’slook and the venue was sufficiently Ye Olde London looking to suit the theme. However there was very little space and it was a total struggle to find anywhere to shoot hundreds of guests in a very short space of time. My creativity certainly came into play here. The guests were keener on sourcing the booze, mince pies and dancing. 

My creativity was tested as I had to find a spot that allowed me to shoot groups of differing numbers and in super fast time so as to not hold up the line. It was cold outside and people have little patience it seems. I had to capture the happiness, energy and festive joy of the staff and to keep the line moving efficiently without making them feel pressured and rushed. As Elliot Erwitt points out, I was laying on the wit and charm as thick as I could and it was working with the lovely guests but not the security that ran the establishment.

The lack of luck manifested itself in the fact the security clearly didn’t share my enthusiasm for capturing the London gangster vibe and festive spirit of the guests enjoying their party. The security also clearly didn’t share my admiration for the arts, respect for my client, cultural awareness, the need to deliver a quality product or the simple good-natured civil decency of any human being. In short they were out to make my life hell for no reason other than they were just nasty. So I had to be filled with both stamina and courage throughout the evening. Its not often I have to see some knucklehead pick up my camera bag on a shoot and throw it to the side as I’m shooting and be shouted at. It’s rare that I am essentially harassed and abused by the very people that run the venue and who are being paid by the very same client. 

Incredibly their bitterness and anger was not solely aimed at myself as I watched them insult the MD of the company that had booked the venue as he and his wife tried to enter the club. It was truly beyond belief to watch the security be rude to one of the hosts as and he and his wife arrived to enjoy the party that they had arranged and paid for to thank their hard working staff.

I reached a point where I knew there was no common civility would work or any suggested comradeship and teamwork. The security were not having it and simply didn’t share any such qualities. So I needed some courage and stamina and boldly continued to snap the hilarious guests as they entered. I feel that this is a good example of how dealing with such people is not something you can be taught in college. It’s nothing to do with ISO’s, Photoshop, cameras and digital photography. It’s all about people management, tolerance and social skills. I stubbornly continued despite the environment becoming more and more hostile and eventually got as many good shots as I could. Certainly not as many as I had hoped but some people were clearly working against me and out to make my life a misery. When I finished shooting I joined the party briefly and downed a few strong G&T’s, chatted with the guests and cheered myself up. I love shooting parties and who doesn’t love an office Christmas party and especially a fancy dress one. How anyone can create ugly tension and promote aggression at such an event is beyond me. It’s a strange world. 

 But how awesome do the guests look!

Happy Christmas everyone!