I've never been involved in, or seen, a flash mob event before. A post on Facebook changed that, and on Tuesday afternoon I headed off to a "secret location" (London's Russell Square) to join in the festivities, part of the London Festival of Photography.
I took a copy of the evening standard, hid my camera away in a handbag and sat on a bench, waiting for the other "togs" to appear. By 6.30pm there were about 30 or 40 obvious photographers congregating. I took out my camera and placed the strap around my neck. A man walking past asked me what was going on, a bemused look on his face (this was part of the point, I guess). I shrugged and said that I didn't know, before laughing and adding "it's a secret!" He hung around long enough to find out what it was all about and joined in with some of the snapping. At 6.40pm a whistle was blown and the assembled togs pressed play on their iPods, on which we'd all uploaded audio instructions.
The next 25 minutes involved a series of exercises, each lasting 4 minutes, with instructions spoken to start, and soft music (Morcheeba, perhaps) playing in the background while we carried out the exercises. The first task was to take a Facebook-style self-portrait. There were probably about 60 or 70 of us by now, and we all started turning our cameras on ourselves, trying to take a corny selfie. I think the result is pretty corny, especially with my extreme black and white, over-contrasty, vignetted post-processing treatment.
People took photos of other people taking photos of themselves. Unfortunately the screenshot of this Nikon guy taking his own photo disappeared a split-second before I took this shot - grrrr.
Everyone was smiling and snapping away. The atmosphere was really good - a bunch of strangers quietly going about their task. I should have taken off my headphones for a bit to see what it sounded like. Next time.
After the first task we all headed back to the circle in the centre of the park and awaited the next mission. The second task was to take photos of wildlife. There wasn't much animal life to see - I could only see feral pigeons. We snapped away at flowers, grass, leaves, and then a couple of guys dressed in crocodile (or perhaps dinosaur) suits appeared, drinking cans of beer, one of them clapping away at cymbals. All quite surreal.
Third up was to take a cheesy close-up shot. People headed off and photographed pretty pink pansies, leaves, other people, bits of detail from the bins and anything else of interest that they could find. I found a discarded, damaged tennis ball lying in a flower bed.
For the next exercise we were told to turn around so that we were facing out towards the park, then walk forward for as far as we could until something blocked our way, then stop and photograph anything we saw from there. Unfortunately I'd picked a spot where my route was blocked by a flower bed, so my walk consisted of about two metres. There were a couple of pretty topiaryed shrubs, and a guy squatting down to take photos nearby.
The fifth task was to photograph another photographer taking photos of another photographer. This was the best bit. Everyone was smiling, having such fun from something as simple as taking photos of other people taking photos of other people.
There was a fair amount of direct photographing; I shot a guy shooting me on an iPhone. He was squatting right down below me. He had a lavender stem in his ear.
The last task was the silliest. We had to put our left hands on the shoulder of the person in front and do the congo, moving around the circle.
The croc/dinos joined in, as did a woman dressed in a leopard outfit. There wasn't a great deal of moving around the circle, other than a small break-away group including the leopard and friends.
Once that was complete we were told to put our cameras away, turn off our iPods and head off home (or to the pub) as if nothing had happened. Which is exactly what I did. I looked at the photos on the tube on the way home, laughing at the simplicity of the event, how much fun it had been, how funny the look on onlookers' faces had been and how much I couldn't wait to get involved in another event like this. Well worth joining one if you get the chance.
One interesting observation I made was that some of the other togs really didn't feel comfortable having the camera turned on them. Some loved it (like Matt Taylor below), but with others you could tell that they were really uneasy and shied away from the glassy end of the lens. I guess some people just feel more secure hiding behind their little black machines.
For more photos, please have a look at my Facebook Page.