Sergeant Steve Blake is an Army Photographer with the RLC. He is currently serving a six-month tour of Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team (a trio of soldiers trained in journalism, photography and videography who capture life on the front-line like no other news team can).
I am the photographer in the current Combat Camera Team deployed to Afghanistan. I’m working alongside Mark Nesbit, who is the video cameraman, and Mark Scadden, who is our team leader.
Both Mark N and I are professional Army Photographers who, through the powers of deduction, were chosen for Op Herrick 15. After several weeks of training and lots of new kit being issued, we were ready for the off. The journey here was an epic one, which had us delayed at almost every point of the journey.
Having already been to Afghan three times in the last 18 months, I thought I would be sorted. I knew the layout of camp so I could show the others, who have not been here before, where everything is. How wrong was I? This place has changed massively since my last trip. By this place I mean Camp Bastion. Everything has extended, offices moved and even new roads created. This was apparent even in the dark, from the bus window, as we made our journey from aircraft to terminal.
We are based out of Camp Bastion for the entire six months. However, we won’t be seeing much of it. We just live and work here when not out on the ground.
Within our first few days, we had been given a handover from the previous team, before embarking on our mandatory ‘arrival’ training package, which spans a five-day period.
The Media Operations Centre that we work from is somewhat of a Travelodge. We have journalists passing through constantly all year round, as well as the odd celebrity. Just after we arrived, Ross Kemp came out to do some filming for a new documentary on the frontline of Afghanistan. Not a bad bloke, and he has done some pretty amazing stuff out here.
Afghan, for a photographer, is like a giant playground. Obviously there are some pretty scary places out here, and not everyone you meet is a genuinely nice person, but the imagery you can get here, you can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Throughout our first six weeks here, we have covered a wide variety of stories. We have had some good jobs, some bad. We have had the odd row, and even an occasional tantrum! But that’s what we do. I honestly think I have one of the best jobs in the Army. I can generate my own work and even take loads of portraits in my own time, something I like doing. This also helps to keep the ‘groundhog day’ effect at bay. This place can get boring sometimes. I only have to walk five metres from my bunk, to my desk, and sometimes, despite living in such a large camp, you just feel the need to escape.
Shawqat the resident rat-catcher
I carry my camera almost everywhere and wait for something to happen in front of me, hoping to get a great shot. Others happen on my doorstep; as in the case of the office’s inherited ginger Afghan cat. Luckily for us the team who originally adopted this stray had it fully vaccinated, so Shawqat is now a member of the team. She is great for catching rats, and this morning even brought us a half-eaten bird. A bit like my cats at home!
As I said, we are a team of three. We have all come from various backgrounds, but work out here for the same goal. While Mark N and I are gathering material, our team leader Mark is beavering away booking our next flights, organising our next jobs and also providing us with protection when we are tunnelled into the viewfinder. Basically, Mark gets run ragged doing all our admin while we are editing and doing other tasks.
Recording the progression in Afghanistan
Both Mark N and I trained for eight months at the Defence School of Photography to become professional photographers. Between us, we have seen and done some pretty amazing stuff. We have worked with Royalty and celebrities alike. We are here to not only record the progression in Afghanistan, but to also get still and moving images that, due to security and safety reasons, cannot be gained by civilian journalists themselves. We are getting very busy indeed. We have more work requests than we have time in which to do them.
I am excited about a little upcoming project. Photojournalist Martin Middlebrook, who wrote an article about me last year for a national photographic magazine, is coming to work with us for a while. We have lots planned, which will be good for him to experience prior to writing his article. The piece will be about us as a team – what we do, how we do it etc. You get the idea! It should be a great few weeks ahead.