On my daily drives in and out of the Chicago Loop area I began to notice people smoking.
I don’t smoke—although I’ve had more than a few social cigarettes over the years and enjoy the occasional celebratory cigar. I actually like the idea of smoking more than smoking itself. The packaging designs and the rituals and gadgets that go along with it are what appeal to me.
So this series began accidently. One day, stopped in traffic, I noticed an arm and hand holding a cigarette visible from behind a marble column. There was real beauty and elegance in the way the hand held the cigarette, the shape of the smoke and the way the column created a frame. The anonymity of the human subject—the absence of any identity—added a layer of depth and complexity. I thought the composition was striking and interesting.
Sometimes a hand or arm offers clues—a tattoo, a wedding ring, or the type of cuff or sleeve reveals some aspect of the smoker’s personality or profession. But it’s the behaviors and attitudes that are communicated through the body fragments and postures and the way the cigarette rests in the fingers that interest me.
I understand there might be a stigma attached to public smoking, but these images are non-judgmental. I’ve kept the people anonymous by hiding their face or parts of their face, breaking the flow of the composition with elements that obscure them—street poles, columns, trees, even my own car door, visor and rear-view mirror.
I use a long lens to restrict my view, create camera vignettes to create negative space, and use shallow depth of field to create blurring, gradients and soft focus (some may view it as “smoky”) allowing the focus to fall on the cigarette and the human element.
I capture many of these images from my car, my long camera lens allowing me to hide as much as I can to remain unseen. There’s something intimate and personal in these private smoke break moments and I think they deserve to stay that way.