Cruising 80s London

Ian David Baker on the secrets of Kensington’s pool halls

Alex at the Kensington Pool Hall, 1984
Alex at the Kensington Pool Hall, 1984 Ian David Baker

Taken from the January issue of Dazed & Confused: 

In 1985 British photographer Ian David Baker stumbled across this slicked-back buck amid the 
clack of pool balls and cascading slot machines. He later appeared on the cover of Baker’s monograph Younger Days, all dressed up with nowhere much to go.

“This portrait was taken below the old market on Kensington High Street, which held separate stalls for hippies and military stuff. It was the place to go, but I think by the 80s it was falling on hard times. Underneath was this pool hall for kids. I think someone tipped me off. I’d never been there before; not my sort of place, really. But it wasn’t macho or laddy, it was just hanging out. 
Somewhere to go I guess.

“I used to walk up to people and talk to them and take their picture, and sometimes they performed for the camera and sometimes they didn’t”

I went down, and some kids posed for the camera and some ignored me. This particular guy didn’t say much. He had such a cool 50s look, under the smoke and the very low light of the pool halls. He was maybe 17, 18, and was just sort of laidback. I didn’t see him entering into pool games or anything. He stood out – the others were just generally dressed. He’d obviously gone to a lot of effort, although he was quite shy.

It was easier to photograph people in the street then. There’s this kind of paranoia now – even though people take photos of themselves to be stuck all over the internet! 
I used to do a feature called “Cruising Camera” in Mister magazine, which was a gay pin-up magazine. I used to walk up to people and talk to them and take their picture, and sometimes they performed for the camera and sometimes they didn’t. I’d spend so much time going back to places they said they’d be with contact sheets to give to people. Of course they were never there! It was so much effort. 

I still like this image, 
I think it’s a classic shot. In fact, I recently realised that I hadn’t got a lot of contact sheets (from that era), so I’ve just spent a fortune on getting some done and there were a lot I couldn’t remember. It was good to see, but this one is probably the stand-out.

Am I still fascinated with youth culture? Well, I was walking around Hastings yesterday, and I saw two Spanish students in the park without tops on. They walked right past me and 
I thought, ‘Should I ask?’”

Image: Alex at the Kensington Pool Hall, 1984

Ian David Baker's book Younger Days is published by Gay Men's Press and is available now

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