"Lights. Music. Three minutes to go. Testing, testing. Five, four, three, two, one. Action. Welcome to Clothes Show Live 1997." It is 11.15 on Friday morning and five young photographers are about to make their catwalk debut. The finalists for The Independent/Clothes Show Live young catwalk photographer of the year are elbowing their way into the fray around the catwalk for the first show of the week. They are nervous. A representative from Fuji has supplied each of them with the long lens necessary for professional catwalk photography. Chris Moore, the veteran catwalk photographer and competition judge who has been snapping shows since the Sixties, offers some last-minute advice. "Don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes," he says.
The music, dance and fashion extravaganza explodes into action with so much dry ice billowing onto the catwalk the photographers can barely see the ends of their lenses. They have 45 minutes to shoot five rolls of film and produce three strong images that would make an Independent reader stop and look as they turn the page.
This is like no other fashion show. Instead of rows of stony-faced fashion editors dressed in serious black, jotting down notes and sketches in their Smythson fashion diaries, the Fashion Theatre at Birmingham's NEC has the atmosphere of a pop concert. The audience screams, whoops and gasps at the clothes, a mixture of high street and high fashion, and the models. The aim of all Clothes Show Live fashion shows appears to be to get the male models down to their underwear so the decibel levels from the screaming teenagers (and their mums) reach ear-drum perforation point.
After the show, the film goes off to be processed and the finalists go for a wander around the hundreds of stands. Ted Baker's stand is mobbed all day by shoppers waiting 40 minutes for a knock-down pounds 10 T-shirt or a rumble through the piles of shirts, ties, jumpers and trousers.
Antoni Burakowski, of the funsome T-shirt duo Antoni & Alison, loves the energy and party atmosphere of Clothes Show Live. "The kids save up for months before they come to the show," he says. Other names among the 400 showing at the exhibition include Betty Jackson, Que Sera - where you can buy the latest in toe rings, of all things - Dolly Danglers, a favourite for hair accessories, Fat Face, for polar fleeces, and Mambo, for surfwear. British designers Pearce Fionda are attending the show for the first time and shoppers can have their posters autographed by the designers themselves. Round the corner, Ben de Lisi is autographing carrier bags containing his bargain-priced eveningwear.
Waiting for their films to be processed, the five finalists are too preoccupied to shop. At 5pm, the prints are ready to be edited. Paul Gadd, 28, and Christine Coombes, 22, are both from the photography degree course at Swansea Institute of Higher Education; David Vintiner, 21, is in his final year of a photography degree at Blackpool; Laura Woolnough, 25, studied a BTech in photography at London College of Printing and now works on the picture desk at the Press Association; James Moriarty, 20, is at Reading School of Art & Design in his final year of an HND in photography.
Clothes Show Live presenter Caryn Franklin joins the judge's huddle and we decide unanimously on the winner - James - and the two runners up, Paul and Christine. For his shot that catches the movement and atmosphere of the show as well as the clothes, James wins a Fuji GA645AF Autofocus camera worth pounds 995 and will have the chance to follow in Chris Moore's footsteps when he assists the Independent's catwalk photographer next spring at London Fashion Week. The two runners up received pounds 200 worth of Fuji film.
Clothes Show Live 1997 is at Birmingham's NEC until 10 December. Call 0121-767 4444.