Corporal Si Longworth is one of only 38 trained British Army Photographers. He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer, on Op HERRICK 18.
Those who follow me on Twitter will already know that I have been in Afghanistan for just over a month, and in that month I have managed to get out and about, visiting many of the locations where British troops are stationed. I have suffered at the evil hands of diarrhoea and vomiting and produced a handful of home-town stories – not to mention my first multimedia piece, which featured on the British Army Facebook page. I am going to take the time to write about my first month very soon, but it would be unfair of me not to give you a little insight into my career thus far. So please sit back, and try to stay awake…
The journey to Afghanistan was not unfamiliar to me, having done it twice before, but the job I have taken over was.
I wasn’t always an Army photographer. No Sir. I have been tinkering with cameras for years, but it is only recently that I decided to finish up my Army career as a ‘phot’. (‘Finish up’ as in the last few years – not commit career suicide.)
“How do you know there is a pilot in the room?”
“Don’t worry, he’ll tell you!”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what I was; an Army pilot. I have to get it out early, as no doubt I will be making reference to aviation in future posts (because I can’t help it, and because this blog series isn’t just about my life as a photographer; it’s a story of how I got here). In early 2012, after seven years as a qualified Lynx helicopter pilot, I decided that I wanted a change of pace, and I wanted to concentrate more of my efforts on the hobby I was passionate about: photography.
One amazing career; three different jobs
Throughout my Army career, I have made some great friends in the photography trade. Throughout every contact, meeting and occasional coffee (for ‘coffee’, read ‘beer’) with one of these mysterious men and women, I would always sit back and turn a little green with envy at their stories and experiences. To some people out there, the thought of demotion from Sergeant and the loss of flying pay may seem a little strange, and maybe it is. But the beauty of the British Army is exactly that: the ability to change jobs. Why get out when you can try something different? As an employee for over 17 years, starting out in the Royal Military Police (RMP), specialising in Close Protection duties, then applying for Army Pilot Selection, and now finally a photographer for the Army, I can see no greater incentive to stay in – or indeed join up. One amazing career, and three different jobs. Yes, of course I have suffered promotional setbacks at the hands of transferring, and will continue to as I reach the end of my career. But the balance to that scale is I have been kept enthusiastic and have loved – and I mean genuinely loved – every part of my diverse military career. Who else can say that?
Here is an image taken (on film, of course) ‘back in the day’, during an RMP Close Protection training exercise at Ballykilner, Northern Ireland. What you may find interesting is that in Northern Ireland I lived and worked next to the Central Photographic Cell, and had invited a new-found friend, Corporal Mike Harvey (who used to process my ‘work-related’ (honestly) film from my Nikon F90x) to join us for the day and capture the action. He was, of course a Royal Logistics Corps Photographer. Today, WO1 Mike Harvey is the Command Master Photographer in the Army Photographic Trade.
So, where was I…? Oh yes, my friends who I have seen join the trade over the years. I had watched my best friend and successful Army shooter, Staff Sergeant Dan Harmer, travel to amazing places and capture fantastic images, just as the rest of our trade has done, and I wanted to become a part of that. One of the things I have noticed about photography is my reaction to it and how it makes me feel to look at a striking image. I could look at it and become more immersed in the story than I could with any video clip. That was what I wanted to do. I dreamed of people opening up papers and being stunned over an image I had managed to take. (I still live in hope…)
The seed, planted
It wasn’t until my first tour of Afghanistan that I bumped into a now friend and great photographer Corporal Steve Blake, who had sauntered into the Lynx detachment and asked me for a favour. He needed a flight and, as it happened, I wanted a picture. The mutual agreement and friendship was thus formed. He won’t mind me letting everyone know that I took him flying a few times, and convinced him that the angle of bank which made him scream like a little girl was required to allow him to get his pictures. (Sorry, Steve.) He took these pictures for me, and single-handedly – without knowing it, and just like the film ‘Inception’ – he planted the seed in my mind to transfer.
I had a few professional commitments to fulfill with my aviation role, including a second tour in Afghanistan. But under a year later, after a successful Army Photographic Selection course, I had started training at the Defence School of Photography at RAF Cosford, Wolverhampton, to become my current trade: an Army Photographer.
I still managed to snap a couple of sunrises while out and about, though. The pros of being an early-morning aviator, I guess.
So there you have it: a little more about me. I am sure you will all get to know me as time goes by; what makes me tick and what ticks me off. As I have said before, this is a journey, and we’ll take it together. Thanks for reading, until the next time…
Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot