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

Uncontrolled action

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.

“Eyes to me!”…Click

“Smile”…Click

“That’s it, just rotate your left shoulder a little towards me”…Click.

Considered, safe, controllable. Even outdoors in the intense Afghan sunlight I have begun to feel protected in the ‘comfort blanket’ that is portrait photography. When I first arrived out here, I was avoiding the piercing sun at all costs; angling for shade wherever I could. Now, because of a little gadget I was prompted to buy by a friend and expert lighter, Paul Brownbridge I am able to remain creative when lighting subjects even in the brightest of conditions. I will cover how in a future blog.

So back to comfort blankets. Warm, safe environments where a youngster can cuddle up and feel safe in. For some people, portrait photography is that comfort blanket. But is that the type of photography I always want to be doing? Did I transfer from the Army Air Corps to spend my days in photographic ‘Safesville, Tennessee’, where the most exciting thing that could happen is my subject gets grit in their eye from a passing helicopter? No, I did not!

 As it happens, I am quite lucky because the Army didn’t think so either.

‘Uncontrolled action’ is the name that is given at the Defence School of Photography to photography where the shooter doesn’t get a chance to set anything up. Sure, I have been getting out and about on the ground and grabbing images that are well and truly uncontrolled, as the action unfolds. A squint here, a gurn there; it doesn’t really matter to the young lads who are risking their lives. Those type of images tell a story of the ‘here and now’. A good facial expression can make an action-shot. I believe it gives a picture sincerity and allows a viewer to empathise and immerse themselves in the tale.

‘One shot – one kill’

On the other end of the uncontrolled action scale though, and somewhere where squinting and gurning is not what I am looking for from my subjects, is VIP visits. All around the world there are important people; whether it be royalty, religious, ministerial or celebrity who make visits and trips to meet and engage with other people, and there is generally somebody there to record that event be it on film or stills camera. In the Army it’s no different. Recently in Afghanistan, the person recording the event was me.

Over the last three weeks, Helmand has hosted a number of VIP visits and I had the opportunity to capture each one of them. Now I would like to think that somebody at the top knew I was fresh out of photography school and decided to ‘ease me in gently’ because as it panned out, they sent out the VIPs in order of ranking; Chief of the General Staff, Secretary of State for Defence and then finally the Prime Minister. I am sure this was purely coincidental though.

Each of the visits presented a new challenge, some of which I overcame and some of which I can assure you I will do better next time. Of all the pictures I take during a visit I ultimately select ones that portray the subject in the best ‘light’. VIP photography is no different to studio photography in this respect. However, due to the fact that the subject is engaged with other people and not striking a pose for my camera, the ‘one shot-one kill’ theory rarely rings true. If any of you reading out there find it does, then go buy a lottery ticket. For this reason, and obviously many others, Nikon invented ‘Continuous High’ on its cameras at up at speeds of up to11 frames a second on the D4.

Oooh, a comfort blanket then, I hear you say. Well not really, as you would be surprised what facial expressions can be manufactured during a burst of 11 frames.

Blinker

Some other photographers may be too proud to admit this, but I learnt quickly that if you are desperate for useable images then don’t be shy when it comes to converting light into ones and zeros on your memory cards. It costs nothing, and no photographer that ever got published was forced to supply their ‘hit ratio’ detailing the number of useable images vs squidgy, blinky  ‘gurn-a-thons’ along side their credit. This is a great and engaging image, but how many shutter clicks to get it?

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

Admittedly though, some subjects are harder to photograph than others and this is just a fact of life. I recently did a posed portrait of someone and shot 36 frames. Out of those 36, 4 of them were useable because they were a blinker.

So as the VIP arrives and makes their way through the Province, they meet various military commanders and soldiers and move in and out of vehicles, buildings and camps. They remain very aware of your presence and occasionally you catch their eyes looking at you in a way that possibly would suggest you are becoming an irritant. As long as this isn’t happening too often you can be content that you are not becoming too intrusive.

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence.

I began by carrying two cameras with the trusty 24-70mm on one, and the 70-200mm on the other. I haven’t changed this tactic yet as it seems to work for me. I pop a flash on the body with the smaller lens on just in case I need it. There is so much movement involved in these visits that it really is best to be able to move light and fast, in order to get in front of the VIP with ease.

Royalty and celebrity

One of the other things I have to be aware of when capturing VIPs, who attract a lot of media attention, is the other camera and film crews. In each of the recent visits there have been at least two other sets of reporters and these can range from Capt Mau Gris and the ‘Baz duo’ from the Combat Camera Team to the BBC or Sky news. Wrestling for shooting space is all part of the fun. I haven’t managed to get into an altercation yet whilst angling for the best position, although I have heard of such tales. I always try to introduce myself when I can and ask questions about what they are after so that we can ‘divvy up’ the real estate. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Secretary of State with other film crews

Secretary of State with other film crews

I learned the hard way during the recent visit of the Prime Minister that BBC Cameramen do not take it too kindly when you stray into their shot. I wasn’t concentrating on my position and it is an easy mistake to make, but not one I will make again any time soon.

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move.

No matter what my political persuasion, I am happy that I have been given the opportunity to photograph these people, although I am sure in my career as an Army Photographer, the opportunity may well present itself again. Hopefully in sunlight that isn’t so harsh.

So having had a fairly busy three weeks, I just have two more boxes to tick now; royalty and celebrity. We will just have to see which comes first.

It’s time for a little snooze. Where did I put that comfort blanket?

More tc…

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

Filming a gun fight at night in 3D

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.

A night time helicopter raid into a place of symbolic importance to the enemy, filming it in 3D. It doesn’t get more challenging than that.
 

First time ever

One of the more mixed times for us was the visit by the Prime Minister to Bastion. It was all super hush hush in the build up. It was interesting to see the media circus that follows him around, I would find it very claustrophobic to have 26 reporters following me round.

David Cameron, Prime Minister (PM) Visit.

David Cameron, Prime Minister (PM) visit.  Images by Sgt Barry Pope RLC (Phot)

More annoyingly though the team and I were due to fly out to Kabul on a meaty job, but got put on stand by “just in case.” Now I don’t know whether it’s that mid-tour tiredness but no one seemed to want to do anything.

As anyone on tour will tell you, time slows down to a snail’s pace when you have nothing to do. We tried to keep ourselves busy with little jobs and housekeeping but when you’ve had a pukka job pulled from under your nose, nothing seems quite as good.

That said what I didn’t know, was that on the horizon was something that I have been trying to achieve for a while: a full team deployment filming in 3D, alongside the BRF on a helicopter mission into Yakchal, the area I talked about in my last blog.

Helping out a local man.

Helping out a local man.

 4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force on Operation DAAS NAIZAH L121

4 Troop of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force on operations.

The mission was to gather intelligence on the effect of one of the biggest operations the Afghan Forces had launched unaided, which had cleared through the area earlier in the month. In plain terms we wanted to see if there had been large re-infiltration of insurgents into the area.

What’s more – we were going to film this in 3D. The first mission of its kind to be recorded like this. Easier said than done! – we would be inserting at night so would have to take a separate camera for the night filming, and we would have to carry the large 3D camera with us the whole way.

Night filming

Night filming

The night came. I was carrying the big 3D camera initially as Lloydie was running about filming with the night vision camera. Unsurprisingly It’s flipping hard to get through irrigation ditches, waist high crops with a massive camera in one hand and rifle in the other, and with your depth perception shot to bits because you only have night vision on one eye!

Still, there are times when you just have to pinch yourself, how is it that I got this job? I was covering a helicopter operation at night, in Afghanistan, in 3D for the first time ever. You can’t help but smile through the sweat and suspicious smelling ditch water.

Military cat and mouse

The helicopter was cramped, as you would expect with two whole sections of Afghan and British soldiers. We landed, and rapidly debus-ed into a protective formation, in case the enemy were waiting. All was still, and the humid air settled over us as the helicopter left.

Operation DAAS NAIZAH L121

The silence was only punctuated with barking dogs and the sound of Sgt Pope’s Infra Red flash going off, which would be producing ghostly images of the troops in action. We moved off. Across fields and ditches, the night vision goggles turning the crops a ghostly green as we moved through them. Men scanning their arcs out into the inky darkness.

We were heading towards our objective known as ‘old school house.’ A place of symbolic importance to the enemy before the operation, we wanted to see what they would think of us taking up residence for the morning. Turns out they weren’t too keen on the idea.

They waited for a beautiful dawn to break before delivering a flurry of accurate rounds small arms fire, just over the tops of the heads of the sentries posted on the roof. This was some of the most professionally applied suppressing fire I had seen in a while.

The men of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force were more than up to challenge. What followed was military cat and mouse. Lloydie and his holiness got amongst the guys magnificently, producing what I believe will be the best media we have create this tour so far.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

Troops on ops in an insurgent stronghold.

In amongst the action

In amongst the action

The 3D camera

The 3D camera

This harassing fire continued throughout the tasking, but the Afghan troops, the BRF and CCT continued business as usual. As we finished and withdrew the shooting died down, we were not followed. Some insurgents had returned but their appetite to take us on following the operation was not there.

Read Mau’s other blogs here: Capt Mau Gris

Follow Mau on Twitter: @mau_gris