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The Bingo Story: As Told By A Photographer & His North Eastern Friends!

ByEmily

Jun 1, 2017

When you think of internationally-renowned photographers, you don’t often think about bingo halls or even the North of England. However, that’s exactly what German photographer Michael Hess did when he looked at the UK’s vast history of the country’s gaming palaces (including two right here in the North East) as part of a 2013 commission.

Hess, born in Eisenach, Germany back in 1977, is a self-taught photographer whose participation and dedication to bingo caught some attention, capturing some of the essence of Britain, and potentially leaving a mark to be looked back on and enjoyed for many years to come.

He was the first person to spring to mind when the idea of a photo series came up, thanks to a native interest in the game, first sparked by playing back in 2005. He then completed a book of his own accord back in 2010; Bingo And Social Club. It was this authorship that caught the eye of one David Lloyd, who ran his own website about retail bingo history, complete with galleries of the clubs and people who loved them.

Lloyd wanted more photos and rightfully believed that Hess could tell their story. Focusing on everything from their architecture to the games and players themselves, Hess and Lloyd teamed up to visit a multitude of venues already featured in the book, and, most notably for us, two in Newcastle and South Shields respectively.

Why Photos?

Photos act almost as a documentary in visual form and, as they say, a picture can say a thousand words. A series of images will form part of a game that seems to only grow with popularity over time but it’ll also help highlight its roots when the modern incarnations begin to take over even more.

These days, bingo halls – whilst still frequented by lots of people – are rivalled by many other venues and modern ways to play the game. For example, Newcastle has played host to Bongo’s Bingo now on a few occasions, offering millennials a quirky alternative. Instead of the more traditional bingo halls, they can meet in a club setting to play and enjoy DJs and even bands as well; in fitting with the retro theme, both the Vengaboys and S Club have played the Newcastle gig venue, The Boiler Shop. Talk about a nostalgic night out!

Increasingly though, players across the region and indeed the world are starting to shun physical venues almost entirely. There are now a multitude of bingo sites online where you can play 24 hours a day with strangers and friends alike; iGaming provides an opportunity to try a diverse range of bingo activities, without ever having to travel too far. For this reason, Hess’ work takes on an almost archaeological tone, preserving a disappearing world.

Why The North East?

Hess loved getting away from his London base in order to work on his photography. The character of the people contributed and translated itself into the character of the halls somehow. People were relaxed and welcoming and he even made friends – for example, a man named Jack from a local bingo hall. This relationship added something special to his book, meaning that the North East was responsible for some important finishing touches.

As a main character, Jack’s story helped to provide some truth to the historical significance and cultural relevance of the game. They became close and, as such, added dimensions and insight to bring the book to life. It’s hardly surprising; Newcastle residents are famed for friendliness, openness, and warmth, and there’s certainly more of a community feel than in many other places.

Whilst he photographed everywhere from Biggleswade to Nuneaton, Skegness, and Worksop, his fondness for the North East provided that extra something. Although Jack has sadly since passed away, his memory will live on as the bingo halls start to disappear – and, in all honesty, this is something very special indeed.

In 50 years, we don’t really know for sure whether bingo halls will exist, superseded by the online variety. However, the game itself shows no signs of losing its popularity. Future generations may well be interested in where it all began, and these tributes will help to show them perfectly.

By Emily