When I decided to write blog articles to accompany my weekly photo, I did not fully comprehend what a commitment it would be. While the project is proceeding well, the opposite is definitely not true when it comes to publishing the images. And a lot can happen during the extended intervening period when I do not post. “Stride”, my eventual shot for the week did not start out as my initial selection. Then everything changed. I entered it into the first round of Amateur Photographer magazine’s 2019 Amateur Photographer of the Year competition. The topic was “Mad About Mono” and the magazine has just published the result. To my surprise and delight, “Stride” was selected as one of top 30. It appears in the issue dated 8 June 2019.
Here is what Amateur Photographer had to say:
“A wall like that cries out to be photographed and Michael has made the most of it by waiting for someone to walk past. This image wouldn’t have worked in colour.”
I took the shot during a photo walk with the Royal Photographic Society London Region. Despite Amateur Photographer’s assertion to the contrary, I am not aware that any other participants used the wall as a backdrop. That is the potential issue with such events. Great fun, socially, but with the inherent chance of someone copying a shot or having the same idea themselves. Naturally, that is even worse if their result turns out to be better. Although I would say all kudos to anyone who can make an image work, however obtained.
Three Shell Scam
This is my actual favourite from the day. We started by wandering across Westminster Bridge, which was full of people. To my astonishment, I saw a number of gangs operating the three shell scam. It is a con as those betting cannot win. Rather than leaving the ball inside the upturned cup, the dealer hides it in their hand. Whichever cup the punter chooses, it will be empty. A conjuring trick, rather than an outcome based on luck.
On street gambling is illegal in the UK, so it was definitely a shock to see it happening so blatantly just yards from the Houses of Parliament. Apparently, it has been going on for some time, so must be lucrative. There were a lot of foreign visitors and such activity in a prominent place does not make for a good impression.
The Story Behind the Shot
Obtaining a photograph was tricky. I was fortunate to discover this gang who had stationed themselves at the south side of the bridge where there was some space. Westminster Bridge was too crowded to have a clear shot of any of the others. Not to mention that I was wary of hassle from any of their members. (I learnt later a friend who was on the walk had been discouraged from taking a photo.) Aside from the person manipulating the shells, each gang had at least one “minder” acting as a lookout. There were also people pretending to bet, yet did not seem the least bit excited when handed what looked like a £50 note.
Unlike “Stride”, this image has more of a story which is not necessarily obvious unless the viewer knows what to look for. Clearly, the most significant figure is the man bending down and manoeuvring the cups. The individual on the right looking at me suspiciously is a lookout, with the three people in the foreground being the potential “marks”. I cannot be certain, but the woman on the left wearing a headscarf might be one of the gang. If so, she will have stood to one side in the hope that the onlookers will place a bet.
There are two other aspects of the image which I enjoy. The monochrome rendering has some lovely rich tones. And that sign in the background encouraging redemption is the icing on the cake. Sometimes, we just get lucky with our photography. To have it happen twice in a day is good fortune indeed. Especially given that shooting on the street can be so unpredictable when it comes to finding opportunities.