Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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.

What did I tell you? I said you wouldn’t have to wait long. I have come bouncing back after my blog-abstinence, and quite right too. I can’t have those of you who have faithfully followed me through Afghanistan fall by the wayside now, can I?

After a month off over Christmas, I have been rocket-propelled into 2014 with fury. Something happened to me over that break you know. Something that has likely changed me forever. Did I find religion? Did I see the Eighth Wonder of The World, or was I visited by a ghost? I am afraid the answer is so much simpler than that. I used a Canon…

“Arghhh”, I will hear some of you shouting at me, whilst you throw things at your laptop in disgust. Others will sit back laughing and smiling contently. Whichever you are, hear me out.

A technical epiphany

Those of you who know me, will know that I have NEVER subscribed to the Canon-Nikon argument. Each has their pros and cons, and people (except the professionals) tend to navigate towards one or the other by chance or a recommendation. For me, it was the only one I saw in a secondhand shop in Scunthorpe over twenty years ago; Tom Dennis Cameras (I think it’s still open for business).

There it was on the shelf looking at me, as I looked back with my well-earned lawn-mowing business money in hand. A simple exchange later and I was the proud teenage owner of a second-hand Nikon F90X. I learned it, I loved it and I owned it for many years to come. When the time came to change, I sold it (I wish I hadn’t now) and used what little money I got for it to part-finance a Nikon D200. It only seemed right because I had a couple of lenses and they all fitted. I was also used to the ‘buttonology’. Skipping many years and several Nikons later, I am now in possession (bought or loaned by the Army) of five professional Nikon bodies.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love them. I have Nikon in my blood stream, I suppose, and that was just circumstance. I didn’t choose the brand because it was ‘the best’. As a child I never knew about cameras, and, now that the Army chooses to shoot Nikon, I have no choice but it works for me as that’s what I know.

Now over the years, I have bumped into friends and photographers who have gone the Canon route. Whenever I could, I would always ask to ‘have a go’. I can tell you that, on every single occasion, I have become frustrated within minutes because it was so different to handle and operate than my native Nikon. The buttons were so different and everything was buried in menus. I liked Nikons because there was a button for everything. Inevitably, I ended up handing back the camera and thinking to myself that it was too complicated and it didn’t interest me to learn.

Moving on several years later to the stages when I was taking my photography more seriously, and my mind had started to wander towards doing it as a career. I started regularly buying photographic magazines (as you do). Wasting those three to five pounds every month on ‘mags’ that just go around in circles with the advice they give. All good stuff but, if you buy a year’s worth, you will have covered most of the basic techniques and in that second year they will be there again like a faithful dog.

Focus on Canon

What I did start to notice, from reading the magazines, were two distinct things: Firstly, and most depressingly, my photography wasn’t as good as I thought it was. The second thing was that all the pictures that I considered to have ‘amazing colour depth’, or be ‘dreamy’, were shot with a Canon. Call me what you like, but soon enough I could look at a picture and tell if it was a Canon or a Nikon image. (I am not talking about the heavily post-processed images you see.) I sat and bored friends with this notion for weeks and weeks. Some agreed with me and some said I was talking utter nonsense but, nevertheless, I was always right.

If this had have been a fluke then I would have dismissed it, but the fact that I could always do it seemed strange to me. It worried me a little. Probably because my post-processing ability wasn’t up to scratch either, and I probably thought that I would never be able to produce imagery of that quality.

As time ticked on through 2013 I just kept second-guessing imagery and occasionally ‘tweeting’ other photographers to see what camera brand they used. I suspect you know the outcome of my queries. I decided that I was on to something, but I was never going to be able to prove it because I didn’t have access to a Canon. That soon changed.

Dreamy picture

A chance social engagement gave me opportunity to catch up with a friend ‘over a few beers’ in London. He was an avid Canon-guy and the topic of my ‘findings’ came up during the drunken ramblings of the evening. Without trying to quote the conversation, he essentially offered to lend me some gear so I could have a go and see for myself. I think I sobered up instantly at the offer, as I knew I would have to remember it in the morning.

Sure enough, my friend came good to his word and a couple of months later I was in possession of a Canon 1Dx, 85mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8. A formidable line-up, I am sure you would agree. I had the cameras over Christmas, which was no doubt a quiet period for him. It mattered not. I quickly got to work comparing the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1Dx. I am not talking about scientific laboratory tests here, either. I am talking about walking around my local area with the same lenses on and taking the same pictures, with a bit of comparison later on the computer.

What I should say is that, two weeks prior to receiving the camera, I downloaded the manual and studied it. I didn’t want to have this camera and spend a week getting used to it. Admittedly, it took some time and I was even a bit ‘fingers and thumbs’ with it after two weeks.

Unlike other blogs or web pages, I am not going to put up comparison images. It doesn’t matter because maybe it’s only me who can see what I am talking about. I don’t think ‘dreamy pictures’ are something you can quantify anyhow. What I will tell you is that I was very, very impressed with what that camera could do in terms of frames per second, colour and ISO range. My images didn’t seem as flat, straight off the bat, as they had done before. I was content with everything that came off the memory card.

A love affair with Nikon

You may not appreciate this, but it’s hard for me as a self-professed ‘Nikon guy’ to write such things. I should be faithful, should I not? I am guessing as the years go by, each camera manufacturer gets the edge on something. Canon friends tell me that the colour on previous models was awful, and Nikon had the edge. Well, it certainly seems like it has swung the other way for me. The trouble for me is the way it has left me feeling each time I go to shoot a job with my current gear.

When I look at images that I take, even as much as a week ago, I start to feel deflated that they just aren’t up to scratch. I know there is a better machine out there, and I just don’t have the time to always be processing hundreds of images to make them look as zesty and full of life as those images I produced over Christmas.

Go on, shout at me again. I know some of you will want to, but hey, I am only telling you the truth about how I feel, and I think you have the right to know. I will always promote Nikon for what it is , because it is an amazing bit of kit. I love my Nikon kit deep down, and I will always have a love affair with the history we have shared, but the fact still remains; If tomorrow I were not an Army Photographer, and I didn’t own a single bit of Nikon gear … I would go out and buy Canon.

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

 

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

More tc

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Si’s opinions are his own and not an endorsement of the British Army. 

A day without direction

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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.

Vietnam

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.

1st Mechanized Brigade parade through London.

1st Mechanized Brigade parades through London.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

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:

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

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.

Reflecting in the font

Reflecting in the font

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.

Cpl Lisa Brooking

Cpl Lisah Brooking

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

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.

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

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.

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

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:

Portrait

Portrait

Operations

Operations

Sport

Sport

Public Relations

Public Relations

Black and White

Black and White

Equipment

Equipment

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.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Never the twain shall meet: writer’s block comes into focus

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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 is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

Hello, it’s been a while

Why? Well to be perfectly honest, I lost my way, but not in the geographical sense. Had you been serving in Camp Bastion for the past couple of months, you wouldn’t have seen me aimlessly wandering around the camp. I am quite content with my ability to read cartography. It was for a different reason, and although I have spent this last month and a half trying to work out why, maybe I can write it all down and see if it makes sense to you.

I finished my time with Capt Mau Gris and the Baz duo and headed  back to the UK for Rest and Recuperation (R&R). My time at home with my wife is probably worthy of a separate blog altogether. It was always my intention to write about R&R and what I did etc. But, having been stuck with what I can only describe as ‘bloggers block’ and watched two great bloggers write about theirs, I now feel it would be time wasted.

What I do want to say that if you ever book a holiday to the South of France, and decide to locate yourself around the Ardeche River valley; picturing tranquil paddles down a lazy river, with nothing but peace and quiet, may I recommend un-booking and instead, head for the summer mountains of Switzerland. In particular, Nedez.  I will save you the disappointment of sharing the river with hundreds and hundreds of other tourists. Even better; whilst I have slipped into R&R mode. If you do find yourself in Nedez during the summer season, I HIGHLY recommend visiting what my mind has decided to call ‘Chalet Paradise’ but what is actually called, Chalet Grand Loupe, run by Steve and Karen Allen, two British Ex Pats who have set up and will host you beyond expectation.  They couldn’t do enough for my wife and me; turning twisty river hell into one of the most enjoyable holidays in a while, and for that I will thank them eternally. Steve, Karen, we will return, I promise you!

France and Swizerland

France and Swizerland

l seem to have gone off-piste

So, I return to Afghanistan, supposedly recharged and ready to push out the final stretch, but in all honesty having to leave home again was quite difficult. I knew I only had a month to do, but I was already feeling the burden. Two things made matters worse. Firstly the brigade headquarters had moved to Bastion while I was away. My own quiet office space had been replaced with an open plan situation that I was just not ready for. 180 people buzzing about, 130 phones ringing. It was going to take some getting used to. The second thing that didn’t help, and the thing I will never forgive myself for, is that while I was away, I had suffered irretrievable data loss from my master hard drive. The real stinger to the story is that because I was so busy before going home, I hadn’t managed to back it all up. I lost 40 per cent of what I had taken, including all the work for the CCT. I worked hard to try and retrieve pictures from clients of the jobs I had done, and using recovery software for my memory cards but in the end I was down images, and down in the dumps. I have learnt the hard way what it means to lose hard work, and suffice to say that my electronic work flow now includes two hard drives and online storage. I don’t want to ever be caught out again.

Long working days, long editing nights

With the loss of some of my favourite work coupled with post R&R blues, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and I think my boss, Capt DJ, sensed this. He knew what to do. Get me back out on the road and make me take pictures. He knew that I needed to start building up my library again, and soon. So it was. I was booked on a ’round-robbin’ of Helmand, two days after landing from my leave. Bouncing from one base to the next and capturing what I could in short spaces of time kept me the right kind of busy and images started to build again quickly. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the medicine I needed. I soon got back into the swing of it. I snapped, I interviewed and I wrote the interviews up. I tried to keep engaged with my followers on twitter, and their support of my images kept my spirits up. The only problem was now, I just couldn’t settle down to write my blog.

The weeks passed, and as my six-month tour drew closer and closer to the end, the jobs started ramping up. Whether it be requests for photos I had taken or end of tour photographs for squadrons and regiments, it all added to long working days and long editing nights. There was no way I was going to have peace for long enough to write this blog. Even Captain Sophie Whitaker, who’s job required her to walk past my desk over 50 times a day, and who’s constant prompting about my blog couldn’t get me inspired.

So where did this leave me?

Well, 45 minutes ago I boarded a C17 aircraft at midnight on my final day in Afghanistan. Whilst probably 95 per cent of other passengers sleep around me, I am writing this blog… Peace at last. I regret having kept you waiting this long.

What has been the theme of this blog? Well I think it is a reminder that we are all human. We have ups and downs, but we get there in the end. I don’t know what it was that prevented the small creative part of my brain from putting pen to paper for so long. Different things in different ways affect us all, I guess.

So, after all that, was my last six weeks worth it? Well, you decide.

Here is a short summary, in pictures.

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

Is this the end of my blog? Don’t be silly: the journey has just begun. I promised you in my first blog that it was a journey we would take together. I will remain an Army Photographer for the next five years. For the next year, I will remain in Wiltshire, but then who knows. What I do know though, is that if you remain faithful to me, I won’t let you down. Lets get through the next five years of photographic ups and downs together. Times may be tough, but that’s life, is it not?

Thank you for all your support over the last six months, but here’s to the future…

The author on his last day in Afghanistan

Me on my last day in Afghanistan – by Capt Dalzel-Job

More tc

More tc.

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Bittersweet return: Helmand to home, soldier to student

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1 Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

For us it is the end of the end

For me it really is. Our new team had arrived, our kit was handed over and the requisite briefs were completed. Our job here was over. For me it is the last post I will hold as  a British Army officer. It’s weird even writing it. Believe it or not I have even delayed writing this, because it feels that once I do it is real.

We were some of the first to leave as 1 Mech slowly transforms into 7 Armoured. It happens in parts. A new fresh face untouched by six months in the Afghan desert here; a new tactical recognition flash there. There is always a bit of teasing as soldiers hand over. You see the guys on their reception briefings in their fresh kit, and mutter ‘crowbags’, and they just tell you to ‘get the hell out of my seat.’ This time there is a bit more sympathy – nine months is a long old time.

Then before you know it with the regulation RAF faff, you are on the plane home. A pit-stop in Cyprus is the only thing between you and the rest of your life. From my previous experience it’s at this point you have a peak inside that mental box, into which you put all that stuff you said you’d deal with later. This tour has thankfully left that box empty as far as I can tell. But there are those initial fingers of worry poking me about what the hell I am going to do when I leave the Army. As the C-17 rumbled on I looked around the plane and wondered what the rest were thinking.

The journey home begins

The journey home begins

Decompression, beer and a show

Fifty tired soldiers got blinking off the plane, and were told to get into ‘civvies’ ready for the organised fun, something the Army loves. It was odd seeing the boys out of camouflage. His Holiness (Sgt Pope) had gone for a glaring yellow tee shirt, Lloydie for some functional sports gear. Then it was down to the beach, a bit like any at a moderately successful holiday resort, except quieter. No one is trying to sell you some moody ‘Ray-Bans’, and there is a priest cutting around trying to ‘chat’ to you. Me and the boys steered clear, opting for some competitive inflatable wrestling instead.

Cyprus stop-over

Cyprus stop-over

Here is where the proper decompression starts, on the oversized inflatables in the sea. But not before your annoying mandatory swim test which everyone gets a little bit competitive about. Then after a few hours, it’s on to the equally isolated Bloodhound Camp for mandatory briefs, followed by strictly four beers and a CSE entertainment show.

This bit was very different from my first experience of decompression. First time round the ‘4 can’ rule was more like guidance, so we all got drunk. This time, however, we were a small group, compared to the 200 that normally go through. So we consumed our first beers in a large draughty hall, playing pool whilst the friendly mental health nurse and the padre wandered around chatting to people.

It was at this point that I got a subtle hint at how padres go about taking a peek in that mental box to see if their help is required. I had just been crowned Pool champion of the CCT, much to Lloydie’s and His Holinesses’s annoyance. When I got challenged by the Padre, he kicked my arse with a bit of divine intervention. In the process we got to chatting about the tour. Naturally he wanted to know what I had found tough. So I told him and slowly I realised he was probing to see if I would hold anything back.

Pretty clever,  generally nothing clams someone in the armed forces up quicker than being asked what scared / disturbed them. But what was tough? I would say that 99 per cent of all Army stories are based on toughness or tough situations. We can chat about those forever. It was only a small thing, but I think it is symptomatic of a growing awareness of the mental health side within the Army and how to deal with it. It gives me hope one day all those who suffer will be treated in time.

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Sgt Barry Pope and Sgt Barry Lloyd

Goodbye boys

For me, this tour will leave only good memories, unlike others. Be it at the sharp end with the boys from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force or sitting quietly on the HLS with the boys, telling some ‘dits’ and killing some time, it’s been incredible. There was a little anxiousness there because of the imminent career change, and really I guess I am slightly nervous that once you leave that extend family of the Army, who understand what you’ve done / seen etc, then the issues arise. I have seen it in some of my friends.

These worries chattered away in the back of my head, but didn’t affect what turned out to be a really entertaining evening provide by the CSE guys. All the officers were singled out for derision by the comedian (standard) and the music was excellent. The four beers were consumed without any drunkenness ensuing. Everyone went to bed in that kind of cloud of happy tipsiness that was no doubt intentional by the staff of Decompression.

We woke up with just a hilly bus ride and an aeroplane journey standing between us, our loved ones and the rest of our lives. We arrived at 3 o’clock on a Friday, and I was then ‘in my own time.’ I collected my bags and with more than a little sadness, said goodbye to the boys. For the past six months had never been more than three metres away from them. And, I am proud to have serve alongside them.

I am now officially ‘resettling.’ To compound the strangeness I am starting a Masters course in TV journalism. So that I can keep doing what I am doing at the moment. I am going to keep writing about it but it is going to be weird jump. I hope you stay with me. Soldier to student…. hmmm.

Decompression starts here

Decompression starts here

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

50 Shades of Green

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1 Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

You can’t put a price on R&R

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Now whilst I don’t believe this in general, an absence of several months does make you appreciate things you might otherwise take for granted.

You cannot beat the first time you lay eyes on the UK countryside after a prolonged time in the desert. Everything is so green and lush; the smells so familiar and comforting. The taste of that first beer. Underlying that, and most often taken for granted, is that sense of order and safety that is often missing on operations.

Green, green grass (and trees) of home.

Green, green grass (and trees) of home.

Under UK skies again.

Under UK skies again.

Picking your rest and recuperation (R&R) date is a luxury I have not had on previous tours. Being part of a small team has it’s benefits. The question is then is when to go? If you get it wrong your work and relationship with those around you can be affected.

Too early and you come back with more than you have done, left to do. A morale sapping situation, in which you watch everyone else get excited before they go off knowing you still have to push through to the end.  You become a bit of a misery guts.

Too late and you end up climbing the walls and generally getting a bit ratty because working longer than 3 months straight is a long haul. I have experienced both, having gone way too early on my first and way too late on my second tour. So I was ready to make an informed choice.

Ditching the Army regulation footwear for a couple of weeks.

Ditching the Army regulation footwear for a couple of weeks.

Then I got told I had an important wedding ‘that I could not miss; not even for Queen and country.’ So ‘too late,’ it was again. If you’’ve read this blog before you’ll know that the boys (Sgt Pope and Sgt Lloyd) had taken their R&R and were back by the time I was due to go and I was going back solo.

I was ready for mine by the time five months had rolled by. After the obligatory delays, stop overs and reshuffles, I made it back. There is something about seeing British soil for the first time after a long time in Afghanistan. A large weight that you weren’t aware you were carrying, lifts. A blissful moment of stepping off the aircraft into a damp Wednesday morning, entirely mundane.

There is that rush you get in every airport over the world, collecting baggage, clearing customs and the heart-warming scenes of long-separated loved ones reunited. I met my parents, as is tradition, and then met my brother, who came up from London for a meal. The sense of being home reinforced by the quintessentially British streets of Oxford and poor restaurant service.

Beer tastes so good when you've not had any for months.

Beer tastes so good when you’ve not had any for months.

Following that I caught the train home with my bro. Some would advocate going straight out to see friends for a bit of a party, but I find big crowds sketch me out a little when I first get back. Plus, nothing good ever came combining five months booze free with over excitement in London.

So I had my beer in the garden. I had a Sol, as it was the only thing I could find in the fridge. No drink matches the first one back, and there were many over R&R.

Most of R&R passed in a blur. I vaguely remember being dressed as a Spice Girl, and had a lovely relaxed stay in Zurich (not at the same time!)

Too soon it was time to dig out the combats again for the trip back to Helmand. There was the standard antisocial check-in at 0400. I had the nice surprise of finding out that Si Longworth, a fellow Army blogger would be sharing the journey back.

Regardless of how well you planned for your return, there is that feeling in the pit of your stomach of walking into the unknown. A distilled version of that was experienced at the start of tour. As it happened, his Holiness (Sgt Pope) and Lloydie, were all over it.

A couple of days later and it’s like you were never away, although there is a renewed energy that was not quite there when you left. There is a slight debate in some circles about the value of R&R, it is a constant drain of manpower and a logistical strain on the ‘air bridge’. But, then, how do you put a price on R&R?

The all-seeing eye

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1st Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

Captain Gris and Longshanks explore the secret world of ‘drones’

Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), or ‘drones’ as they are sometimes incorrectly referred to, are a constant source of controversy and suspicion. For some they define 21st century warfare – and myself and Longshanks (photographer Si Longworth) were going to get to talk to the crews behind them. I’ll tell you why they shouldn’t be called drones in a bit.

Initially, I was a little dubious about going down. Although we can talk about them, there is still actually quite a bit of secret kit on these things so it is awkward to cover stories which involve them as you are met with a wall of ‘you can’t take that picture’ or ‘I can’t answer that’. I was pleasantly surprised by how candid the whole group were.

Bombardier Edward of the Royal Artillery was one of the pilots I got to speak to. A veteran of multiple tours with over 2000 hours clocked up at the helm, she spoke a little about what it was like to be directly involved with operations, having a direct effect but not being out on the ground with the soldiers experiencing what she was seeing.

It is now a thing of the past that the Hermes would be constantly supporting troops in fire fights but having done a little work with RPAS myself in the past, I could relate to what she was saying about previous tours. You could hear the pressure of the situation in the voice of the person on the other end of the radio, hear the background noise, which fills the quiet composed room you are controlling in, giving life and urgency to what would initially look like bland, aerial images.

Bombardier Edward went on to talk about the differences between a drone and a RPAS. The most important being that ‘drone’ implies some autonomous machine cruising around with no human control or oversight, whereas RPAS is as it is on the tin – remotely piloted and overseen.

Bristling with missiles

Now whilst it is interesting to talk about, the Hermes 450 is not what fans of action films like the Bourne Trilogy would call a proper drone. It isn’t bristling with missiles and a camera that can read a newspaper from space. It isn’t a silent killer delivering unexpected death. Basically, what I am saying is it ain’t that sexy to look at. So I was interested to see what Longshanks would come up with.

Si Longworth’s Hermes 450 image.

The Longshanks Hermes 450.

The answer was written all over his face when he walked into the hanger, his little eyes lit up like all his leave had been granted at once. The lighting was completely in his control and the set up did look a little like something out of the movies. So I left him to it, happy that he was in his element. I think you’ll agree the picture is pretty good.

In addition to our Hermes trip, the Combat Camera Team also went to Sparta to visit the guys from 4 Rifles in the Kandak Advisory Team (KAT).  We had been at the camp for a few hours and I was relaxing in the shade when Si came running up to me saying he had found something.

Me relaxing in the shade. Another Si image.

Me relaxing in the shade.

He brought me round to a couple of soldiers sat in the Afghan dust. One had a guitar and was just messing around with it. It amazed me first how clean he kept his guitar but also how the music in that setting was that much more powerful as there were no distractions. Si knew exactly what he wanted to do. This would form the first combat camera team multimedia piece using Si’s photos and the music I recorded, click here for a look.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris

Chaos and the creative mind

Chaos and the creative mind

Herrick 18 Stories

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Capt Mau Gris. Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

Captain Mau Gris is team leader for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout the summer 2013 as part of 1st Mechanized Brigade. Op Herrick 18′s CCT also includes Sergeant Barry Lloyd – video cameraman – and Sergeant Barry Pope – photographer.

Cpl Longworth steps into the breach as the Baz’s take a break

His Holiness (Sgt Pope) and (Sgt) Lloyd(ie), flew out on a plane in the wee hours of this morning for some well earned rest and recuperation. It felt strange getting up and not going to the gym with Lloydie at 0600 or seeing His Holiness just coming back from his afternoon run.

Whilst I felt a bit of a jealous twinge as they discussed plans for travelling back and what they were going to do when they got back; I was excited to be working with Cpl Simon Longworth. He is the brigade photographer based in Helmand and works alongside us as the dedicated photographer for 1st Mechanized Brigade.

The excitement was partly because he has been my social media ‘frenemey‘ since the start of tour. Though the competition is a bit one-sided (he regularly kicks my arse on Twitter followers and blog posts), it’s been fun and a bit of a giggle. So I was interested to see what working closely would yield.

Moreover having been doing this job for over a year I have worked with numerous Army photographers and not one of them is alike style-wise or work-wise. It is amazing to see the difference in their creative eyes, you could put ten of them in the same room with a photography brief and get ten completely different sets of photos.

Chaos in the workplace

Chaos in the work place

Si or ‘Longshanks’ as he is known, is a disciple of Joe McNally and David Hobby, masters of flash photography and lighting, whereas others in the trade might follow Don McCullen, the famous war photographer. There are also those like Jamie Peters who’s passion is nature.

If you look on the British Army Photographers Facebook page, you will see the true variety of photographer that the Army trains.

It’s not only the style that differs between photographers, but the way they work and take input. I am sure Longshanks won’t mind me saying that he quite likes a bit of chaos in the work place ( chaos = mess.) He says it is a sign of the creative mind…I have my doubts!

Whereas Sgt Ian Forsyth, another former Army Photographer was border line obsessive compulsive! So I look forward to seeing what we create! Watch this space…or follow us on Twitter : @maugris and @si_army_photo

Here are some of Si’s images:

PB Aborshak gets handed over to the ANSF

PB Aborshak gets handed over to the ANSF

PB Attal with Egypt Squadron, 2 RTR.

PB Attal with Egypt Squadron, 2 RTR

Op Daas Naizah L100 planned and conducted by the Brigade Operations Company, the First Battalion Irish Guards,

Dog and handler at sunset

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

Op Daas Zeer Zamin

DH3 UAV Launch.

DH3 UAV Launch

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris