“What’s your favourite tube line?” she replied. Not quite the answer I was expecting but that, one girl I quizzed assured me, was the best question she had been asked during a recent speed dating event. Yes, the highlight of her evening had been discussing sweaty armpits on overcrowded trains during the London rush hour. I could only begin imagine the worst horrors she had suffered.
The principle is sound enough. Get twenty single people of each sex in a room together, get them talking and let nature do its thing. Brilliant idea. It’s the practice that lets it down. After ten conversations you’re wondering why everybody wasn’t asked to bring a placard describing where they live and what job they do and you’re just about ready to throttle the next person who asks you whether you’re having a good time. Then finally somebody appears in front of you who might actually be worth a date and suddenly a three minute conversation feels like a job interview. You try to be witty; you try to be charming; you want to appear interested and interesting. Instead you end up discussing the best method to commit suicide.
What I’ve felt speed dating has always needed is something to interact over. So when Urban Travel Blog asked me to write an article about shoot dating in London I was intrigued. However when the editor explained that “shoot” was a reference to artistic camera work, not murdering clay pigeons and I knew I was in trouble. “Absolutely no experience in photography is necessary, just creative flair!” reassured the organiser. I was in real trouble. But I’m not one to back down from a challenge just it’s going to make me look like an idiot, and so it was I found myself in the attractive Victorian-era Bathhouse in the heart of London’s old city.
The idea was simple. Split everybody into teams of four, two guys and two girls. Give each team a deliberately vague clue like “Back to the Future” or “Reading between the lines” and then send each team out to take the most creative photo they can think of. Having snapped your shot you’re given a new team, a new clue and off you go again. The best photo for each clue wins a prize.
It was a format the organisers, Shoot Experience, had tried before but the dating aspect was new. As your team changes for each clue you get to meet a series of guys or girls and, just like speed dating, you mark on your card anybody you want to see again. If you both mark each other then the organisers will put you in touch after the event.
Picture the situation then. We’ve been given our first clue and it’s “Capture a Stranger”. My inner creative flame is burning like a candle in a wet hurricane. I look into the eyes of the girls I’ve been paired with and I can see the blankness that’s filling my own mind reflected in their eyes. I did the only thing I could think of; I threw my head back and laughed out loud. Then we all bolted towards Liverpool Street Station and started harassing strangers, returning with a photo of a charity worker with a bucket wheedling money out of a passerby not quick enough to avoid him. As I moved on to my second team I smiled at one of the girls and made a quick mark on my dating card.
When the second clue came round I thought I was prepared, but I was about to discover new depths of meaning for that word. We had been advised to bring props and one of the girls in my next group had taken that advice to heart and packed a small fancy dress shop into her backpack. The clue was “You gotta have faith” and before I knew it I was wrapped in a shawl, waving a star above my head with a rather unconvincing baby Jesus lying in my lap. The situation was absurd. I had no idea what I was doing, but I suddenly realised I was having fun. What’s more, the impetus to think of creative answers to the clues had all but driven the dating aspect of the day from my mind. As out of my depth as I was I had to admit that the guys from Shoot Experience had succeeded. They had removed the interview element from speed dating.
After the final bell has rung at a speed dating event you can almost feel the room exhale with a collective sigh of relief. It couldn’t contrast more with the mood at the end of shoot dating where everybody in the room was buzzing as they discussed the photos they’d taken and the strangers they’d captured. Then the slide show with all the photos began and I laughed out loud as I saw how differently each group could interpret the same clue. I started to think that I’d actually be happy to do all this again.
And the girl that I’d marked on my dating card? Well we met up in the bar afterward, she proudly brandishing the camera that she’d won. I started reeling off a few of my traveller’s tales but startlingly enough that didn’t seem to put her off and not only did I find that she’d marked me on her card too but the conversation has been continuing since. Now that’s a lot more than I ever got out of speed dating!
For more info on Shoot dating, as well as photo events, workshops and activities, check out the Shoot Experience website.