Sergeant Steve Blake is a professional Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps. A trained soldier, Steve is currently serving a six-month tour of Afghanistan as part of the three-man Combat Camera Team (comprising a trained journalist, photographer and video cameraman).
Steve and the team are based at Camp Bastion in Helmand province but will spend most of their time out on the ground, capturing life on the front line.
MPs and UAVs
Since my last post, work has been reasonably quiet. Without wanting to focus on the doom and gloom that you have probably read in the news, I thought I’d focus on something a little different.
Work in Afghanistan as a photographer, as with all jobs, has its ups and downs. We sometimes have jobs that aren’t as glamorous as others, but still need to be covered. But regardless of the subject, they all need the same amount of effort, and post-production time.
I started out photographing the Hermes 450, an Unmanned Airborne Vehicle (UAV) down at the flight line, before an early start to catch it taking off. For me, I like people pictures, static objects don’t excite me. But nevertheless, if a job needs doing, it gets done.
A couple of days later, I was tasked to cover a visit by some Members of Parliament. The aim of their visit was to gain a greater understanding of the Military effort in Afghanistan, in order to take a bigger role in Ministerial debates on Defence subjects.
After an initial ‘meet and greet’ of several different military personnel, lunch was served in the Afghan Training Village within Camp Bastion. The lunch break provided several soldiers the chance to speak to MPs from their constituency about any issues they have, but also for the MPs to ask them about their role in theatre.
Coke and hot pants
A day or so later, we had news that a Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) show was due into Bastion, prior to heading out to the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). They always perform as many shows as possible, in as many locations as feasible within their time in Afghan. Their first show, a kind of warm up act, was for the Joint Helicopter Force. These are the people who are responsible for ensuring the CSE shows gets airlifted to all the locations on their program with ease. So this was a kind of thank you to them in advance.
This was the first CSE show I had managed to see during my trips to Afghan over the past two years, and it was a complete laugh. Having been stuck editing in the office for a few days, this was just the break I needed. The comedians were brilliant, and had me in stitches for most of the night, even while trying to take pictures. The aircraft hangar in which they performed was packed, and everyone was having a good time.
As with most CSE shows, they had two dancing girls, much to the delight of a good percentage of the men. They danced, men cheered (while drinking coke), I got some good pictures, what more can you ask for in Afghan?
After the opening dance, it was back to the comedian to entertain us for half an hour. I can’t even start to remember the jokes he said, there were too many, but it was brilliant. That’s one trouble with being zoned into the viewfinder, you sometimes miss the good bits.
The dancers then came out for a second performance in their ‘Morale Boost’ T-shirts. By this point, they had the undivided attention of around 150 men, all sat gazing at them in their hotpants and skimpy tops. Trying to get pictures in such low light levels as they were dancing around was quite a challenge, my camera was being pushed, almost to its limits.
Once the girls had finished, the comedian was back, to the disappointment of some. He felt it only fair to provide some entertainment for the women now. So, he stripped off, attempted some pole dancing, before shaking his stomach at the crowd. Not quite sure if any of the women were grateful, but he did make the whole hangar erupt with laughter.
The last act of the night, was by far the funniest. A middle-aged man, with a guitar. Doesn’t sound great, but he was actually hilarious. A very dry sense of humour, lots of swearing and an occasional note on the guitar, with rude vocals to some very popular songs.
After all that excitement, I had time to do a quick edit before bed.
The last two images on this post are not exactly rare, but it’s also not very often you see skies like this as the sun sets. What a great sight. The sunset seems to go very fast here, so when I saw this from the office door, I quickly rushed to get my camera so I didn’t miss the opportunity.’
That’s about it from me for now.
My next blog post will be about my time with the Danish Battlegroup, who are doing some bridge engineering with the British in Nad e-Ali North.