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Interview by Andrew Pulver, 2011
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Photo slideshow, 2011
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Audio slideshow, 2011
Exhibition review, 2011
Interview by Lucia Davies, 2011
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Interview by Liz Foggit, 2011
Nude Magazine
Book review by Suzy Prince, 2011
Who's Jack >>>
Interview by Lu Orcheston-Findlay, 2011
At 1 pm, every day, nearly 600 bingo halls across the UK open. Michael Hess tells Jack about the fascinating characters he found on his recent photographic project, Bingo and Social Club.

A few days ago we announced that Michael Hess would showcase a selection of his images from the recently published book, Bingo and Social Club at The Book Club, Leonard Street. Since then we have caught up with the photographer to ask him a few questions about the work and exhibition. Michael is Germany born but moved to the UK in 2003.

Why did you decide to be based in London?

I lived in Southampton for a few years and, though I loved being near the sea, and the pace of life down there, I wanted to be in a more creative environment and absorb what's going on in the arts scene in London. It's one of the best in the world and there's no better place to get inspired and stay inspired. Having said that, I'm off to Berlin soon for a couple of years.

What made you take an interest in the British pastime of bingo?
Curiosity really. There was a bingo hall near where I lived in Southampton and I always used to wonder what went on inside. It was a big old converted cinema covered in neon signs and peeling paint, and there were always groups of women standing outside smoking. I loved the faded glory of the place. Bingo isn't something that goes on much in Germany beyond weekly community hall bingo sessions so maybe I saw it with different eyes to most people. One night myself and my flatmate went and played bingo there and I just fell in love with the characters and the old world charm.

Who was the most interesting character you met whilst capturing the Bingo and Social Club images?
There were so many, every bingo hall has its characters. Felix in Beacon Bingo in Cricklewood who wears bicycle lights on his hat and toots a horn when he wins. Belle in Newcastle who's 100 years old and still plays every week. But one who'll always stick in my mind is Eddie. He's a 70-something stalwart of Liverpool's Paradise Island and is truly the life and soul of the party - always laughing and joking with everyone and taking ladies up to dance. I have to mention Jack too, the bingo manager from Newcastle who features throughout the book. Of all the managers I met, he was the most interesting, with an enigmatic Humphrey Bogart aura about him.

Were you made to feel welcome in the social/bingo clubs?
Very. The main difficulties I had were before I visited, getting permission to photograph. Once I was in the hall I was made very welcome, and usually given free food and drinks. I was always introduced before each session, usually with a joke like, "if you're MI5 or wanted, you better hide now". But the main thing was that everyone was given the option not to be photographed. To be honest though, most people didn't mind, and even enjoyed it. I found older people to be more relaxed about the presence of a camera than the younger ones. Only one hall turned me away when I arrived because the manager said, on second thoughts, the women's husbands might not know they're there and didn't want to be caught out.

What did you look for for each of your images?
I focused mainly on finding the strong characters in each club; the people you can immediately tell have got something special about them. As time went on I began to find the little details too, like lucky charms and the box of glasses that one club kept by the door in case someone forgot theirs. Overall though I was looking for nostalgia, perhaps with a 1950s American touch. Most of the clubs in the book are small, independent clubs that have been running since the 60s, and little has changed since then. They were full of character, and characters, that a lot of the Meccas and Galas just didn't have.

Do you play bingo yourself?
I was looking through my wallet the other day and realised it's full of bingo membership cards! I played once or twice. Maxine, the writer, played much much more than me, while I was photographing. She won 7 in Newcastle - you can see the winning ticket in the book.

Where was your favourite or most recommended venue visited?
Jack's will always remain close to my heart, but Paradise Island in Liverpool had something special. They were incredibly friendly and had a fantastic sense of humour. In fact, we spent last New Year's Eve there. We also have some fond memories of Roman Bank in Skegness. It's not much to look at but the characters really make the place. Bill, who runs it with his wife June, is 93 and still works behind the bar - and they help give it a very family feel. Actually the previous New Year's we spent at one of their customer's houses. Which is one of the reasons I love photography. It gives you access to people and places you'd never be able to reach if you didn't have a camera in your hands.
The Other Side Magazine
Interview, 2011