IT was a project which plenty of people said was, well, perhaps a little potty.
When Sheffield photographer Jacqui Bellamy first came up with the idea of taking her camera into nightclub toilets and asking girls if she could snap them in the cubicles, her friends begged her not to do it.
“They thought it might be weird,” she says today.
“Having this stranger intrude on you in what is a very intimate place and asking to take a picture in the name of art – they thought it might cross a line.”
Six years, hundreds of Sheffield girls, dozens of cubicles, several exhibitions and four sold-out annual calendars later, it seems those doubts have been, um, flushed away.
For the Latrino Gals project has been abso-loo-tly a success, as proven by a growing number of galleries requesting to showcase each new series and the growing number of girls asking to feature in them.
Now, after more and more city gents got in touch wanting to also be included, Jacqui, of Nether Edge, has produced her first Latrino Boyz series.
Among those pictured are city artist Martin Bedford and nightclub impresario Mark Hobson.
And the result, just like with the lasses, is a fascinating – and visually stunning – glimpse into Sheffield nightlife and alternative fashion at the start of the 21st century.
“Doing the boys seemed like the natural step,” says Jacqui. “Although, I should make this clear, I insist they come into the female toilets to be photographed – the gents always smell so bad.”
Aroma issues aside, such success – which has included displays at London’s Freedom Gallery and The Forum in Devonshire Street – was not always assured.
It was not just Jacqui’s friends who expressed doubts over the project but club managers and, interestingly, toilet manufacturers too.
“I sent Armitage Shanks an email telling them what I was doing,” says Jacqui who moved to Sheffield from her native London some 25 years ago to attend art college.
“They got back saying they thought it was one of the strangest things they’d ever heard and wanted no involvement.”
Their loss, it seems, because while the Latrino series is undoubtedly a little strange, it’s also strangely interesting.
The concept is simple: the cubicle frames the subject who can be posing, wearing or holding whatever they want.
Significantly they shouldn’t be using the toilet.
No photo, once taken, is ever retouched.
All have so far been snapped at venues in Sheffield – including nightclubs like DQ and Plug, and bars like Soyo and The Common Room.
“It’s grown from an idea that came to me while I was being hired as a club photographer,” says Jacqui who, rock star-like, refuses to give her age other than that she’s in her 40s.
“I’d been taking photos at nights like Razor Stiletto and Lost Vagueness and inevitably I’d end up in the ladies snapping the women queuing, chatting and putting on make-up.
“I asked one girl if I could take her picture in the cubicle and it was like a Eureka moment.
“There was this girl dressed so vibrantly for a wild night out but because that cubicle is such an intimate space, it seemed to capture another side of her.
“And I just thought it would make a really interesting collection if I got different girls wearing different clothes in different toilets.”
So, she did.
To start with it was a case of just taking the snaps at existing nights but slowly it has developed into a slightly more formal set-up.
“With the boys I obviously couldn’t just walk the lads into a women’s cubicles,” explains Jacqui.
“So I arranged to use The Common Room toilets for a few hours over different days, and then got them to come down for different time slots.”
The only problem with her success?
“I can’t go in a toilet any more without thinking about how it would look in a photo,” says Jacqui.
“I’m always nosing in them – ‘Ooh, I like the way the light reflects here, I like the cistern design’.
It’s a hard habit to break.”
The Latrino Boyz exhibition runs at The Old Sweet Shop gallery in Nether Edge Road, Nether Edge, until March 31.
Big talent in the smallest room
BY night Jacqui Bellamy, pictured, may be stalking Sheffield’s nightclubs but by day she has taken pictures for everyone from Warner Brothers to English Heritage.
Her company, Pixelwitch Pictures, specialises in event, corporate and family photoshoots.
Among her clients have been the BBC, Warp Films, Screen International, the NHS and Sheffield City Council.
“The Latrino series is very much a personal project,” she says. “But in many respects the ‘day job’ is every bit as exciting and fascinating.
“I get to do things like work for Sheffield Doc/Fest which is such an incredible and worthwhile event it’s an honour to be part of it.
“I just love photography. It’s my job and hobby.”
She set up her firm in 2005 after more than 15 years experience in the industry.