Have you seen Bob? Well I have. In fact I got the chance to speak to Bob, well not really because he’s just a fictional character. But I manage to track down the co-creator of ‘Have you seen Bob?’ the global photography project while he was in Singapore a couple of months back. We had a hearty chat, shared a couple of laughs, together with ‘Hakimbo’ Hakim a local photography enthusiast and here’s what I found out.
Nookmag (N): First, introduce yourselves to our readers.
Jacob Woods-Maher (J): My name is Jake and I live in the UK. I’m an artist/waiter/amateur photographer and co-creator of Have You Seen Bob?
Hakim (H): I’m Hakim, a lot of people know me as Hakimbo. I’m a photography enthusiast, mostly analog photography. I’m also the first ‘Bob’ographer in the world.
N: How did it all started?
J: Well basically, Richard Legg the other chap whom I started this with and I, we were doing a series of paintings for an exhibition and we thought it would be really cool to have something that united all these paintings together, something to tie them all together. So we created a character, whose going to be walking through each of the different scenes in all of our paintings and that character was Bob.
We decided that he’s never going to look up, he’s never going to see what is going on around him. He was just going to keep on walking through. We started doing that and Richard suggested why not get other people to do their own Bob thing, put him in their own landscapes. Well painting’s a bit hard and not many people do paintings and photography seems to be the answer and a lot of people are interested. It’s not easy but it is accessible. So Richard started posting Bob out to some photographers to see what comes back and Hakim from Singapore was the first one who responded. So that’s how it all started basically, as an idea to include people in our project that we started just for ourselves.
The idea was to create something that almost gave you permission to be creative, a character that people could use for inspiration and to wonder what they are thinking about. If you see so many exhibitions, photographic exhibitions especially, even though there is a theme or subject they don’t seem to tie up. You don’t really understand what it’s all about and you don’t really get the message. So having one constant, one thing that stays the same like a character, it kind of brings it all together. It makes it more interesting to look at. I like looking at individual photos and they’re really nice but when you have a load of photographs and there’s one character in all of them suddenly you start to get attached to the character, you start to like him or hate him.
N: What is the story behind the character and why is he looking all sad all the time?
J: Well some people thinks he’s happy and some people think he’s sad. It’s like he’s open to interpretations. The fact is we’ve been really careful never to change how Bob looks. The first ones we started, we hand drew them but that was like the first 30 or 50 but then we started getting requests for a hundred a week or two hundred and we realized we couldn’t do that so we had spray paint him. Then we got even more requests and we realized that people would have to start downloading Bob because we couldn’t meet the demand for Bob anymore. So he’s changed because of demand but he still looks the same and it is very important that he never stop and turn around and wave and say hello I’m Bob because it is not about Bob really, it’s about the people who are taking photographs of Bob and their choices that they make. Bob is just there.
N: Who came up with the name?
J: Can I tell you a secret? (Laughs) When we were doing the painting of the character, we needed a model. So we chose a friend of ours and Bob is actually modelled from a real person called Bob. Our friend, his image is pretty famous now. We thought the name was quite accesible, it’s just three letters and it’s easy to pronounce and it kind of just worked.
N: Does the real Bob, the model know that he’s famous?
J:Yeah he absolutely loves it! (Laughs) Well then again he’s not really a model (Laughs), he’s a musician actually, a really nice guy and he’s happy that we took photographs because he had the right kind of look.
N: Did you and Richard ever expected such a massive response?
J: No. We thought what was going to happen after we sent out to a few photographers maybe ten or twenty, get some really cool pictures back and use those as inspiration for our exhibitions. But what really happened was, quickly, the marketing idea, the idea for getting information became more interesting than the original project. So what was secondary became primary. Purely because of the response. The other thing that we’re very pleased was the quality of these pictures. Richard and I are amateur photographers, we’re not professionals because we’re mostly painters. A lot of the people who were responding were very experienced. The work that they’re are making, well still making, are incredible and from all ages from kids all the way up to 62.
N: How did you and Richard chose these photographers?
J: It was through the internet and sites like lomography, flickr and facebook. Basically Richard sifted through pictures and found people whose photographs that he liked. He picked more than six, he picked about twenty i think and sent them all emails. In fact it was more than that actually but those were the six who responded and said yes, please send us a Bob. What was most amazing about that, with no information apart from the email, they gave us their home addresses. (Laughs)
H: Yeah! You don’t just give your home address to someone from the internet but I guess the six of us took on the project open heartedly. I guess we were also quite influential in the photographic community with a lot of contacts where the work could spread easily. I remember the first 6 original Bobs were sent to Singapore, Brazil, Indonesia, Belgium, Portugal and one more we can’t quite remember.
J: Once the initial six started taking and sharing their photos, their friends saw it, other photographers saw it and realized that it was a proper real thing and that it wasn’t a scam, it was a real project. That’s when the response started to happen. After we’ve received quite a few photographs, Richard and I had our first exhibition and it attracted the attention of BBC and we got on the news. The coverage massively boosted our presence quite earlier on, about six months into the project.
N: How many countries have Bob been to?
J: It’s over 70 countries within a time frame of a year and a half. It started of slow.
H: It started from the initial six countries and it kept on growing from there on. Mostly because people started travelling and taking Bob everywhere. I never leave Bob at home when I travel. We all try to plant Bob everywhere we go, places where he’s never been to and it’s pretty cool.
N: Tell us abut the Bob exhibitions.
J: The first one was held in a art gallery in London as part of a series of exhibitions that was held there during that point of time. The second one was in Slovakia, central European country which is a massive popular art hotspot actually. The third one was in Uruguay by Sophia one of the Bob enthusiasts. She did three exhibitions in fact and got Bob on the national newspaper right next to Meryl Streep’s oscar report! (Laughs).
We have a lot of Bob photographs and they’re like just sitting there so we encourage people to do their own pop-up exhibitions where we would send them pictures of Bob and they can put it up wherever they want like their living rooms, cafes, bars, cinemas and anywhere they really and invite their friends to come take a look at them. We’ve had quite a lot of people doing that already and we thought perhaps we ought to do something also. We came up with this crazy idea of travelling around Europe by bicycle and van putting up Bob exhibitions in 20 different countries in no specific locations.
Basically we would drive around and put up the exhibitions wherever it looked cool or crazy. Sometimes there would be only two people and we would run up to them and put up the exhibition for them to look at or there would be 20 or 30 or more. It wasn’t really about the size or scale of it, it’s more about the idea that you don’t have to exhibit in galleries. Anywhere is an art space and anything could be used for that. People are too intimidated by art and they’ll be shy of it and not have an opinion whereas art is actually about other people’s opinions and their opinions matters. Anyone could put up an exhibition, you could have it in a living room or a gallery it’s still the same.
H: A few weird places that Bob has been exhibited in was at the back of a London bus, inside a Euro railway station and even in a telephone booth.
J: It’s kind of guerilla art, street art but it’s safe. It’s not about destroying public property. Anything that we put up we take it down. It’s not dangerous but more of creating awareness and having a bit of fun.
N: So how do people share their photographs?
J: We actually have a community site on Facebook for people to upload and share. What’s interesting though a lot of people just upload to their own personal Facebook and we never see them. In fact we’ve discovered a lot of Bob photographs that we weren’t aware of on different websites because they don’t know about our community site or they just want to show it to their friends and don’t ever want to show it to the community and that is fine.
We try and reach out if there’s a contact and ask if the mind sharing it with the community but it’s entirely up to them because its a tool for them to use their creativity and we don’t want to control it. Obviously we would probably intervene if people try to make money out of Bob because that’s not what Bob is about, otherwise it is completely open. It is actually pretty nice discovering Bob photographs on other sites that we never knew about. Even though Richard and I created Bob, we try and steer and shepherd it but we’re not really in control over it. The responsibility for Bob being so big is actually with all the people who got involved as much as it is with us. It’s everybody’s project.
N: What are the future plans for Bob?
J: We’re actually in the process of making a documentary. These are future plans but it’s happening right now. We film a lot on our travels through Europe and we’re now asking people to make their own little video about Bob, anything they want and send it to us for inclusion in this documentary which will be a feature length film something that we make, we edit and we put together but it will have elements from the community so it will everyone’s film as well about Bob.
It will be great for Singaporeans who are keen and have learnt about Bob and want to do a short clip and send it to us, perhaps get it included in the final edit of the film. The very least it will be included on our global website where it will reach out to a couple of thousand viewers. So anyone who is a aspiring film maker who wants to help out in that is more than welcomed to do so.
N: When can we expect this documentary to be completed?
J: Well we’re hoping by early next year, but again it’s one of those thing where it’s an organic process like everything else in this project. It really depends on what kind of response we get from the community and also anything that can happen in the mean time. Perhaps something really big is going to happen and we need to include that in the film. We don’t know about it yet so it kind of subject to change but it will definitely be early or mid next year.
Whether you’re an amateur, professional or hobbyist photographer, unleash your creativity and join the global Bob phenomenon and make a few international friends while you’re at it. You can download your very own Bob here.
All photos courtesy of the Global Have You Seen Bob? community.