Martin Amis is best known as the force behind the UK's biggest photobook retailer, photobookstore.co.uk, but he's also a photographer. RRB is publishing his first book, The Gamblers, in April.
We sat down with Martin to ask him some questions about The Gamblers, its inception, process and his experiences of making his first photobook.
What made you start The Gamblers project?
Back in 2005, when I was just starting out as a photographer, I made a list of possible events/themes to photograph. Taking photos at the races was top of the list, as it was a subject I knew plenty about from my childhood when my father would take me to the races. I made a trip to Bath races and instantly knew that this was a project that I should continue working on; it felt a very natural thing to photograph, in fact a few of the photographs from that first trip have made it into the book.
Did you initially envision a book as the outcome for this project?
No, at the time I was just trying to build a body of work, with more an exhibition in mind. It wasn’t until I took a break from the project in 2009 that I started to think about a possible photobook. I put together a dummy version back then, but never moved forward with it until many years later after having a chat with Rudi at RRB. After which I decided to go back out and shoot more material to finish the book.
Why did you end up using such a variety of shooting styles?
The series evolved over a long period, and I played around with different approaches. Initially I took a fairly traditional documentary angle, but after spending time shooting on the streets of New York, I favoured getting quite close to my subjects and at times using a flash. When I returned to the project in 2016, I found myself more drawn to how groups interact and focused on that. Of course the quite unusual thing about the book is the mix of colour and black and white throughout. This was tricky to balance at first, but once we worked out how to realise this mix I found I really enjoy the blend of moods and how it mimics the ups and down of betting on a race.
What’s your favourite anecdote from the making of this project?
I have had a few run-ins with racecourse security. One particular day at Lingfield Park, two burly bodyguards took me aside and escorted me to the racecourse office. As it happens I already had the racecourse’s blessing to photograph there, so all turned out fine after a while. I had a similar experience a different racecourse last year when security asked me to kindly stop photographing. Most people are fine being photographed and when a few have asked what I am doing, they are usually just relieved I am not from the press!
And the worst day you’ve had shooting this project?
Not wearing the right kind of shoes to get into the members enclosure!
How has it been being on the making side rather than the selling side of photobooks?
It has certainly given me a greater appreciation of the creative process and I have gained some valuable first-hand insight what a photographer goes through to take a book project to the final stages.
You’ve mentioned before that you would place bets as well as shoot, what’s the most you ever won?
In the early days of the project I would just have the odd bet to try and cover my expenses, but as I went on I found it hard not to get involved and bet more often on the races. These were only small fun bets but earlier in my life I would gamble more seriously. Like any gambler there were good days and bad days, but I did win enough a few times for a couple of bookmakers to close down my account.
What do you think draws such a varied crowd to the races?
There’s an excellent sociology book about the racing crowd called The Racing Tribe, which goes into detail about the different groups of people who attend and how they interact. Personally, I love the diversity of people you come across as you wander around a day at the races, from die-hard local punters who attend every meeting to upper class social gatherings to boisterous stag parties. When photographing I have to admit though that I am always drawn to the real racing aficionados who assemble around the bookmakers.
Do you think there’s something quintessentially British about The Gamblers?
Yes. I think that the cross section of society that the book represents makes the scene recognisable to most, and horse racing has such an important place in British culture, even somebody who's never been to the races has a mental picture of 'going to the races', whether that means big hats and bubbly or flat caps and plastic pints.
The Gamblers is published by RRB Photobooks, 30th April 2018, including a special edition of 50 copies with a signed and limited pigment print. All pre-orders will receive a signed postcard from the series