Today, five months after the introduction of England's smoking ban, I sit here at home looking through the 90 portraits taken over the six weeks leading up to that momentous day for the British smokers.
A minority of the British public, it seems to me, see this as a triumph and a stepping-stone to further legislation to restrict and stop smoking altogether.
I undertook this project with the aim of taking a series of portraits of smokers in locations that will be affected by the smoking ban; to archive the final moments of their freedom to smoke publicly.
My own personal views aside, I also encountered many stories which only exacerbated my feelings that this blanket ban is and unjustified and morally questionable.
On May 18, 2007, a request was put out on the Taking Liberties blog site, looking for individuals who would be willing to have their portrait taken in locations in which it would soon become illegal to smoke. The only other criteria were that they should be smoking, or appear to be smoking.
After receiving some 50 initial responses, I began planning a route around the country to meet the 010707 deadline.
The first person to get back to me was Alison Scales, wife of Falklands veteran Tony Scales, who nearly lost his life at the bombing of Sir Galahad 25 years ago.
One of the furthest locations I travelled to was 360 miles south-west of my home town of Wisbech, to Falmouth in Cornwall. Andy and Georgina Connew, who are involved in various cigar-smoking networks, and regularly arrange cigar-smoking events, feel the idea of stepping outside for a cigar is patently ridiculous.
It is a sentiment shared by the pipe-smokers I met. I visited an annual meeting of an international pipe smokers club in Essex, which of course needs a suitable venue in which to meet, with pipe smokers coming from all over the world.
I drove up to Liverpool to meet Steve Cross, an ex-navy man. Steve smokes a pipe and says when he joined the navy, pipe-smoking was a tradition. Now Steve works as a Coastguard and told me he wasn’t allowed to have his picture taken in uniform whilst smoking his pipe.
The day before, I had met up with three actors in a Manchester bar. As high-profile actors, Neil Morrissey, David MacCreedy and Philip Martin Brown all welcomed the opportunity to have their photos taken with cigarette in hand as part of their public protest at the smoking ban.
Anita Chowdry, based in North London, is an artist and a dedicated smoker. She says her mother, an elegant and educated lady, used to be a smoker for much of her life, particularly during her years in India, where smoking was common amongst sophisticated ladies.
I visited a tobacconist in Derbyshire and met the delightful Anne Iliffe. Anne is 71, and inherited the tobacconist’s shop from her parents, who turned over £2,000 a week on Park Drive sales alone in the 60s. The shop doesn’t sell cigarettes anymore and the empty shelves (bar the odd box of cigars) tell a story of a bygone culture, a time before smoking became demonised. Anne sells sweets and ornaments now to help meet the financial demands of running of the shop.
Down in Oxfordshire, I met Adrian Brown and took pictures of him on Didcot railway station. There is an ironic element to this shot in that the power station in the background is filling the skies with pollution; as the train left the station, the platform was black with fumes, and yet his cigarette smoke is considered a health risk to others on this very platform.
One of the most pertinent moments of my journey was when I met Ian Edwin Allen, a Labour councillor in Derbyshire who told me he felt he’d “been stabbed in the back” by a party that had gone back on a manifesto pledge and criminalised some 14 million smokers across the country.
On my travels I met up with two people who work in the field of mental health, Kate Parry in Oxfordshire and Steve Thompson in Derbyshire. Steve says Nicotine has been shown to reduce the side-effects of psychoactive medication – more than 90 per cent of people with schizophrenia smoke, and nicotine is being used by self-medicating sufferers. Steve has been challenging attempts to try and outlaw smoking for patients.
Frederique Dupont was telling me that when she grew up in France, her parents taught her that it wasn’t ladylike to smoke outdoors on the streets. For Frederique, the smoking ban is offensive to her cultural upbringing and it forces an uncomfortable change to her lifestyle and beliefs.
Freelance Journalist Bernard Anghelides now can’t smoke in his spare room-cum-office-cum-smoking room, but can legally enjoy a cigarette in the kids’ bedrooms. In his search for related stories he was trying to track down a lorry driver who claims he is going to remove the passenger seat from his truck to prove it is a “one man only” office.
Back down in Oxfordshire I met up with German-born Dieter Dirla. Dieter, self-employed kitchen and bathroom installer said: “I guess the fact that I drive a van will affect me despite the fact that the van is my property.
These feelings were shared by West Yorkshire pensioner David Stuttard.
I met up with pipe smoker George Speller in Bradford, who told me that as a Morris Man even his street performances have to be covered by a licence.
The stories I picked up are endless and the common feelings shared by these very different individuals were those of sadness, anger and a frustration that freedom of rational choice was being denied them.
The stigma surrounding smoking is now so great that I believe there were many more people who would have supported this project but couldn’t, for fear of this negative social labelling.
In fact on two separate occasions, meetings were cancelled; once with a doctor and a second time with an employee at a military base. Each pulled out at the last minute due to different forms of pressure – one from their partner and the other from a colleague concerned about the impression it would give.
My last photos - taken on the eve of the ban - were at The Windmill, a pub in Norwich at which both of the landlords and 90 per cent of the clientele are smokers. Sadly (and annoyingly), my last public smoke was caught up in debate with a non-smoker who avidly supports the ban. His tone and rationale were unnerving as he welcomed the level of control the ‘nanny state’ offered. He represented something of a fly in the ointment of my final hour of smoking liberty.
So, recorded here now in this piece of work is an historic record of smokers enjoying smoking freely - before their pleasure became criminalised.