Corporal Si Longworth is one of 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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.
So, did you miss me?
I bet you all thought that was the last you would hear from me didn’t you? The truth is I really did go off the radar for three and a half months, but for good reason. That reason is; unwinding after a six-month tour, getting back into a routine in your personal life and home life, and taking a bunch of well deserved leave. For me, that was a lot of time off, mixed in with a few weeks in work, here and there. You know, so they didn’t forget who I was and give away my office. Uh-oh, too late. It happened. But you will all be happy to know that I now have it back.
Let me fill in a few gaps for you
Returning home after an extended period away is a strange concept for me, and many soldiers I guess. Life on Operations is simple, easy and routine. Between going to work and going to the gym, the only thing left to do is sleep.
This particular tour was so so different from the previous ones I had done. On a flying tour there is plenty of time off. You generally work a shift pattern, which means there are some days when all there is to do is watch movies or TV or Skype your wife, annoy her with emails and mooch around Facebook.
On this last tour I watched no films and no TV. I had no days off. I am certainly not complaining about it, in fact I really enjoyed it. I love my job, but it kept me working late most nights and I was usually one of the first in in the morning. I did, however, have 24/7 access to the internet. Perks of a media operations job, I guess.
But while I zoned out for 180-odd days and plunged myself into work, what, or who really suffered was my wife. Whereas before I would chat three or four times a week, (probably a lot on tour anyway) on this tour it was barely once. I was so consumed by my day-to-day routine that I forgot there was a routine happening back home that I was no longer part of.
When it was time for me to return home, I was fearful that my self-isolation would have left a void in my marriage. I count myself lucky that I have a wife who is one of the hardest working people I know. She totally understood. And, like the women of yester-year – back in the days where there were no communications from front-line troops – just managed to get on with it. For that I will be eternally grateful.
One word of advice to those who have to endure long periods of separation. Save loads, because taking your wife away to Hong Kong and Vietnam for two weeks afterwards really helps when it comes to making up for being distant whilst on tour.
The holiday with my wife wasn’t really about photography, but here is one I snuck in when she wasn’t looking.
When I got home, there were so many post-tour activities that I had to split my leave up into two-week chunks, and splice them into working weeks. This ensured that I was available for the larger events the Brigade was involved with.
The first of which was the Parliamentary Parade in Westminster. A selection of soldiers from within the units that make up the brigade were selected to march from Wellington Barracks, through Parliament Square and receive a ‘welcome home’ from the Prime Minister, before having reception drinks on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. Grabbing the parade marching down the streets was easy enough, but at the point the troops wheeled into Westminster Palace there were press freelance photographers at the ready. It was unusual to see them so frantic to get the best shot; each of them barging past the other. I left them to it and headed into the courtyard, and then later into the palace itself.
Inside, it got a little more stressful for me, as I was required to capture a group shot of all the attending soldiers and a good selection of MPs, including the Prime Minister. I literally had less than ten seconds to grab the shot, and it was not easy as there were hoards of public lining up with their camera phones making it near impossible for me to get in the centre of the group. I did my best. Grabbed a couple of shots on the terrace and then it was back to Horse guards to edit.
Capturing the shot from three locations at the same time
The next of the 1 Brigade post-tour events was the Memorial Service, which was held at Salisbury Cathedral. This was a hugely important event for those families that had suffered loss while we were deployed on Op HERRICK 18. I was there with a fellow Army Photographer, Gaz Kendal. He was there to shoot video for the press on this occasion. We were given privileged access way up high in the roof. The problem was that I couldn’t be in two places at once. Gaz was busy filming and I needed to be on the ground capturing the essence of the service. What I didn’t need to be doing was running up and down 93 steps while the service was mid-flow.
I decided to use a technique I hadn’t tried before. Remote Camera Setup. Using a PocketWizard Plus 2 and a little lead, I positioned my camera, set it to Manual, focused and calculated the exposure. Using another PocketWizard Plu 2, fitted to the hotshoe on my camera, I was able to remotely fire the static camera each time I clicked my in-hand camera. All in all, it worked well… apart from the rookie mistake I made. It was a drab overcast day when I went into the cathedral, but as it happens; weather changes, and this time was no exception. Half way through the service the sun shone brightly through the windows effectively overexposing all my shots from there on in. Not an error I will make again. Fortunately I was able to grab this shot:
If you look close enough, you will see me in this picture.
Whilst on the ground I was able to capture many shots using the wonderful glass-like font in the centre of the cathedral.
Another job I managed to squeeze in was a day out photographing the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who were working on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car project in Bristol. I was hosted my Major Oli Morgan and his team, and introduced to the rest of the civilian workers. It was an amazing day out and I turned up with every bit of photography kit I own, and pretty much used it all in one way or another.
Today’s children of a bygone era
No rest for the wicked during my weeks in work. I was straight back down to Salisbury to cover the homecoming and medals parade of 4 Rifles. They were given the freedom of the city a number of years back, so back they go, having just returned from Afghanistan to march the streets once more.
This next picture makes me chuckle. It is so classically British and reminds me of scenes from the world war films. Even though the children are waving their mobile phones in order to grab images of the marching soldiers, it doesn’t make it any less timeless in my eyes.
I am even getting lost now thinking of all the little jobs and thing that have happened since we last met.
Oh, how could I forget? The Army Photographic Competition. Here were my portfolio entries and their categories:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in the photographic side of the competition, but for my piece on PB Sparta that I did whilst in Afghanistan I placed second, or runner-up in the multimedia category.
I made the piece to show how our soldiers relax and spend time when they are not doing one of the many tasks they have to perform whilst on operations. I was fortunate enough to bump into a Fijian soldier playing acoustic guitar and I recorded him, and put my images to his track. You can see him playing in the final image.
You can see the clip here.
That pretty much rounded off 2013 for me. I had lots of leave to take, and I took it. I squeezed in some photography jobs, holidays and Christmas and rounded it all off with a quiet New Year’s Eve with friends, in the Peak District.
2014 has started busy, too. But don’t worry. I won’t make you wait as long for my next instalment.