Onwards and Upwards

Corporal Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth

Sergeant 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.

It does feel a little strange writing this blog. Not because I am at 44,000 feet. Not because it’s being written on a shiny new Apple MacBook Air which I have borrowed from my boss. Not even because said laptop is just working seamlessly which is the other side of the coin from what I am used to trying to work on. All these excuses could account for why this is a strange blog to write, but of course they would all be incorrect.

Your precious time will tell

The reason is simply because I haven’t put the proverbial pen to paper in such a long time that it feels somewhat alien to me. Not immensely alien you understand. Only as alien as say, using a Canon DSLR for the first time. As you all know, that opportunity knocked on my door last year and within an extremely short period of ‘self-beasting’ I had tamed it and was ready to use that great bit of kit on live jobs for work – (‘Beasting’ is military slang for pushing someone or one’s self to extreme limits).

So, with the same mind-set as I had when I unwrapped the Canon 1DX, I am here to write you another blog. I am hoping that throughout my thousand words or so I have still got the knack of keeping you entertained. Only your precious time will tell.

[Quick read of my last blog to find out where we are in the life of Si_Army_Phot]

Right, lets continue…

… 2014 ended on a high for me for a multitude of differing reasons, some work and some personal, but it all started to ramp up from July onwards.

Ramping up

Work was keeping me busy in Tidworth. The Brigade Headquarters went through a seamless role, and name-change. 1 Mechanized Brigade became 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade under the Future Army Structure. Apart from having to remember to change my file naming structure, I wasn’t really affected by the change.

Jobs continued to roll in. Two in particular caught my eye. The first of which being the Tarleton Trophy with 4 RIFLES. This was an annual inter-company competition, which was first set up by the late Colonel Tarleton.

It is a grueling long distance march across Dartmoor competing in different mini-exercises along the way. I followed several sections as they made their way around the ground and captured the various stages. One of the last events for them was a platoon attack over unforgiving ground. What made this one more interesting from my point of view was the ‘casualty’, which the guys had to deal with whilst coming under attack.

You may or may not know of several companies which are employed by the Armed Forces to act as casualties, creating highly realistic scenarios for the troops. One of these companies, Amputees in Action was being used on this exercise.

The casualty was a woman who had suffered from Meningitis in her adult life and had lost her legs. She had worked for the company part-time for years and [today] she was playing the role of a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) victim who has lost both her legs, and sustained a bullet wound to the chest. I had plenty of time to chat to her, and she said she enjoyed providing realistic training for the troops. Watching scenario after scenario unfold, I found it amazing how soldiers dealt with such realistic trauma.

My hat goes off to all those people who make the choice to help out in realistic training scenarios, even though they must have had to deal with difficult personal circumstances themselves.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

The second job that provided great imagery spanned a whole week. I deployed to Warminster with Cpl (Now Sgt) Baz Lloyd to assist the Army Engagement Group in gathering up to date imagery of a wide spectrum of training on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.

Working with Baz

Baz and I moved from section attacks, to village clearances, to tank battles across open plains to underslung load training with the Army Air Corps. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop with virtually unlimited golden opportunities to capture the best of what the Army has to offer. Here are just a few of the examples:

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

 

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

 

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

 

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

So the year was going well, but not well enough it seemed, as it was going to get better. The Army decided to promote me. I had managed to get back to Sergeant again and as you can imagine, was very happy about it. I wasn’t able to wear it until I had moved to my next posting location.

Oh the hardship

The Army would hand me the news of where that was likely to be later in the year, but first they were going to send me abroad again. Where this time? I am sure those of you who follow me on twitter already know as I couldn’t really keep it in. That’s right, I was New Zealand-bound with 4 Rifles. Oh the hardship.

There isn’t much I can say about New Zealand (believe it or not) other than what a friendly place it is. I have never experienced such hospitality since I came home to my parents for the first time after I’d completed basic army training. I was there to cover a multinational planning exercise consisting of the following ‘players’ – Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Austrailia and New Zealand (SUMAN).

I managed to make friends with another military photographer whilst over there, an Australian Naval Photographer called Jayson Tuffrey. He was my ‘Ozzy-opposite’ and together we documented most of what went on inside the wire and at times, and with help from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Photographer, a little of went on outside it. For those of you who manage a trip to Wellington, I thoroughly recommend trying to find the secret entrance to ‘Alice’s’ and drinking a copious amount of cocktails from white china teapots. It’s a great way to make friends and get ridiculous bargains on Fujifilm lenses …

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

 

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

I got back to find out that in the December I was going to be posted to the Press Office in York. Inevitably, this was going to be a change in pace from what I was used to at Tidworth. Being on the doorstep of a lot of front line troops and having Salisbury Plain as my back garden meant I was never short of an image. I wondered if York would provide me with the same excitement. One thing was for sure, I was thrilled to be posted in the North for the first time in my 19-year career.

Another rooftop

I rounded the photographic year off with the opportunity to capture the Remembrance Parade in London from another rooftop. I simply love the opportunities that being an Army Photographer affords me.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

So, that was 2014 more or less wrapped up. As I said, I thought it ended very well… However, I would be lying if I said it ended there. I can assure you that it shifted up yet another gear before the clock struck midnight on December 31.

Baby_Si_Army_Phot

After a long and successful year I was handed a note by ‘Mrs Si_Army_Phot’ and informed that 2015 would be even better.

In 2015, the world was going to welcome Baby_Si_Army_Phot. The year doesn’t get a much better end than that.

So now here I am, early March. Twenty odd-jobs-in having already (to name only a few) travelled UK-wide capturing environmental portraits, been flown around Yorkshire with the RAF capturing aerial images, covered two Royal visits, covered the testing of equipment at the Jaguar test track for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, and now, on a jet heading to a Russian-Estonian border town for a few days to grab some topical news.

With such a strong start, I ask you… where is 2015 going to go from here?

Stick with me and no doubt you will soon find out…

 

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

A brief pause for thought

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.

‘More time off than Clint Eastwood’s safety catch’

That was how a co-worker chose to describe my work/holiday routine. To be fair, I had just returned from a two-week holiday to the US and Caribbean prior to skiing in Austria for a week. So, it was harsh but true. In my defence, when I got back from Afghanistan I had a huge chunk of leave to use before the end of the financial year and I was determined to give it my best effort! I think I succeeded.

In order to restore the balance of things on my return, I needed to get some work done and quickly. Quick diary check: Cyprus? Suits me, so here I am writing you another blog from a seat in an Airbus A330 (somewhere over Eastern Europe), having just completed another week-long photo assignment. Hey come on, it’s still work.

When I got the assignment to go to Cyprus, I thought it would be a Civil Servant Army Press officer from the Exeter office and me, so I was surprised to see the Senior video camera guys from the Army News Team at HQ Army plus three civilian members of the press at RAF Brize Norton when I arrived for check in. I knew I was going to be busier than expected. I wasn’t wrong.

My pictures were going to be sent in several directions; the British Army social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, tumblr), regional press newspapers and also some news websites. Plus I was supposed to be putting together a multimedia presentation.

It’s always been a great incentive to get better pictures when you are pretty much guaranteed to have some kind of output with them besides throwing them up on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong; some of my pictures have had great success on social media. This one for instance had all the ingredients to be a success: It has a dog and it has an interaction of some kind between it and a human. Very simple ingredients, but a very powerful recipe. It’s not the record for Army social media but, as I write this, it has close to 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. I am happy with that.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican  shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

So, knowing I had a lot of outlets to cater for meant I was hyped about getting on that plane. With introductions complete we set off. Well, I say that. What I meant was that we finally got off once we factored in the seemingly obligatory delay that comes with airline travel. Even the RAF is not immune.

Run for the hills

We landed in Cyprus late in the evening but were quickly assigned our accommodation. I was with some senior ranks from 6th Battalion The Rifles in the transit rooms, but I was lucky to have one all to myself.

As soon as I arrived at Episkopi camp I was barraged by the smell of reminiscence. The flora of camp took me back to the late nineties when I was based in the same place. I will never forget that smell. Back in 1998 I lived in a transit block similar to the one I had been given. It hadn’t aged a bit in my mind or reality. The décor was similar to how I remembered it. Quite how I remembered those days is a little beyond me. I was nineteen years old and the streets of Limasol were alive with loud music and Cypriot vodka. In my days off I would party hard, but back then a hangover didn’t mean three subsequent days of recovery!

Back to today; and a Miami time zone meant it was a struggle to get out of bed the next morning, but we were straight up and out. The ‘cookhouse’ was up a hill about half a mile from where I was staying, so breakfast was bought in the café 200 metres away instead. We all headed for briefings by the officers of 6 Rifles, who were hosting us for the exercise. They are a reservist unit based predominantly in Cornwall, hence the reason we had ITV Southwest, Pirate FM and the West Briton newspaper reporters with us.

Once all the military jargon of the briefings had been decrypted and translated for the press, we made a run for the hills where a platoon of riflemen was storming a position. Being in uniform meant I could work my way through the patrols, capturing what I could.

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier pauses for shade

A soldier pauses for shade

Throughout the trip the press and I were allowed great access to see just how integrated the reservists were with their parent battalion, 1 Rifles. At times it was difficult to tell them apart. I never exercised like this in Cyprus and had forgotten what ‘mean bush’ the scrubland was. Literally everything that grows out of the ground has spikes. Trees, shrubs; even some of the grass was deadly. There are thistle-looking plants that would eat Scottish thistles alive. I have about four of them still embedded in my thigh. Needless to say that elbow and knee-pads were an absolute necessity.

The day after, my Cyprus dreams were all answered in the form of a pooch. Not the Royal Marine pooch you may be thinking of, which stores essential kit. I am talking about the Golden retriever kind in the form of Otis, the search dog, and his handler from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, LCpl Millican. Those of you who have been following this blog will know that not only do I absolutely love dogs (even though I have never had one) but also they are my ‘gold dust’ when it comes to imagery. It’s fair to say that the social media-using public love to see them, and I am here to cater for that demand.

I learned very quickly that Otis loved his picture being taken, and it was as if he had attended doggy modelling school; the shots just kept on coming.

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

 

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

The team resting after a long day

The team resting after a long day

Nineteen year old me

The next couple of days I just bounced from attacks, to patrols, to night routine, to harbour areas and tried to get as much out of the trip as I could. During an afternoon of editing though, my mind began to wander again to my teenage years in Cyprus. The only camera I had with me then was a disposable. I didn’t really take all that many pictures in Cyprus. Not sure why; I cannot remember now, but I know I bought a couple of normal and underwater disposables. As I write this I am trying to think where all those pictures went. They must be somewhere buried under a mountain of old things in my house. I know I have them as, whilst thinking back, I remembered that when I first got onto facebook I scanned a whole load of images that I came across. One of them was a picture of me standing alongside a Military Police 4×4, outside the Cyprus Joint Police Unit in Episkopi. I must have been trying to be creative as I had it developed in sepia. (Lord knows why!). Anyway, a quick check of one of the first albums I posted to facebook and there it was. A 19-year-old me standing in the police station courtyard with the Isuzu Trooper. I downloaded it to my computer and had a thought. It was only 200 yards down the road from where I was now accommodated, so maybe I could go recreate it. So that’s exactly what I did.

The Military Police were only too happy to move a vehicle for me once I had explained what I wanted and had shown them the original picture. I positioned the ‘photographer’ where I wanted him and adopted the pose. I got it nearly right and here is the result of that shot, set alongside the original, now converted to black and white:

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

There are 16 years between these pictures. Now I have never been one to reflect on past times as I have always been happy about what I have done and achieved in life but staring at this set of two images got to me. It is while I write this that I recently lost two military ‘brothers’ and it has profoundly affected me and the way I view certain things. I never expected to grieve quite the way that I am. Their lives have unexpectedly been cut short, and their families will never be the same; something I have given much thought to.

I thought too about growing old myself. I thought about whether I had missed opportunities along the way. I thought about loss. I thought about making sure now that I do everything I have always wanted to.

This pair of pictures should represent achievement and progress along life’s conveyor belt, but instead they make me sad because I can’t slow it down to savour what I love. My body has changed, the people in my life have changed; some come and some go and I suppose that’s just ‘life’, but at times such as these … it’s hard to reconcile.

Hey, if you could see me now, it isn’t a pretty sight.

Being in the thick of it

I am not sure my inner thoughts on life have a place in this photographic blog. I have deliberated with my conscience at great length about their inclusion and in the end, here they are. Why? Well, because that’s the essence of what I believe photography should be about. Stirring up emotion; which these two images set beside each other did with me. I have always been passionate about looking at other people’s photographs, as I have mentioned in previous blogs. If a photograph moves you for whatever reason then it has impact and power and has achieved its aim.

“Back to the pretty pictures” I hear you say. Ok then.

Before the exercise was declared over, the soldiers of 1 and 6 rifles had their final testing phase. I was there to cover it all. Some of the terrain meant our minibus couldn’t make it, therefore I had to lug my kit into position. It was hot. Not as hot as Afghan, but I hadn’t had any time to get used to it, so water intake was a must. Running around in the heat, however, reminded me of Afghan and how much I enjoyed being in the thick of it.

Soldiers discussing their next plan

Soldiers discussing their next plan

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

In less than a week I was back on a flight home. As always; spending time editing and writing this blog [which incidentally I have only just got around to finishing]

I was happy with my imagery from Cyprus. I didn’t have long to revel in it though. Two days after landing I was heading to Devon for a few days to watch hundreds of kids yomp over the moors. I’ll save that for another blog.

More TC

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

Helmand: Reflecting on the past six months

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter. They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

I feel very privileged

It seems like only yesterday when I was packing my bags, trying to force a kit list as long as my arm into two military bags, saying goodbye to friends and family, and boarding a plane laden with body armour and helmet with mixed feelings about the next six months.  They were mainly feelings of excitement, nervousness and slight panic. What had I done? I had given up a perfectly good job and left my boyfriend (now fiancée) and creature comforts to go and live in the desert in a tent working alongside different ranks from all three services, entering into a whole new world.  So six months on….was it what I had expected?

The Afghan Media Operations Centre (AMOC), my office for the last six months

The Afghan Media Operations Centre (AMOC), my office for the last six months

I guess the military side of things in terms of day to day living was pretty much what I had imagined. I got used to not wearing make up and jewellery quite easily and not having to choose what to wear each day was one thing less to worry about each morning.  I soon made myself at home in my little ‘pod’ (corner of the tent that we sleep in) – it was actually very cosy and had a feminine touch to it.  It’s amazing what you can do with a few fairy lights and a bit of tinsel in terms of livening up a living area.

The job itself – Officer Commanding of the Combat Camera Team (OC CCT) has been a real challenge but then that’s what I wanted when I signed up for this tour.  I wanted to play my part with the troops, I wanted to see a new country and experience other cultures, but mostly I wanted to put all my training into practice to prove that I had earned the right to an Officer commission.

The scenery in Kabul was amazing. One place I won’t forget.

The scenery in Kabul was amazing. One place I won’t forget. Sgt Paul Shaw RLC

The biggest challenge I‘ve found being a reservist and having only been in a few years, was the military jargon that is used on a daily basis – the number of different acronyms, unit names, and regiments, flashes (badges) and their roles within the battlegroup that everyone seems to know off by heart. By working on a number of stories with the CCT each week though gave me the opportunity to start remembering a vast majority of them through meeting people in different roles across the whole of Op HERRICK from Camp Bastion to Kabul, Khandahar and Lashkar Gah.  This has given me a real insight into the day to day running of operations and how everyone plays a part no matter how large or small.  From the soldiers who provide force protection on the perimeter fence to the ATLOs (Air Transport Liaison Officer) who check in the passengers and their baggage at the flight line, to the engineers who are helping with the base closures, to the officers who are providing education to the troops in their downtime. Everyone has a part to play and I feel very privileged to have been given an insight into this operational world.

The CCT out on an op with the Warthog group. Lt Claire Jackson.

The CCT out on an op with the Warthog group. Lt Claire Jackson.

Key highlights and memories

The first thing that strikes you as you arrive in Camp Bastion is the dust.  No matter what time of year it is, there is always a certain level of dust.  For the first few months when we got out here most people avoided running in the day, preferring to stick to the early morning runs before the traffic  around the camp starts to build up.

I don’t think I will experience many runs like the ones around Camp Bastion again! Lt Claire Jackson

I don’t think I will experience many runs like the ones around Camp Bastion again! Lt Claire Jackson

Then in complete contrast to the heat and dust that consumes Helmand Province for most of the year, the temperature drops a fair bit in the winter. In preparation I had packed my cold weather gear and have made full use of it, especially when we got caught off guard with several inches of snow a few weeks ago. Not once did I think I would be building a snowman on my tour!

Myself and Sqn Ldr Smithson made the headlines in many of the national papers with this image. Sgt Dan Bardsley

Myself and Sqn Ldr Smithson made the headlines in many of the national papers with this image. Sgt Dan Bardsley

Covering VVIP events has been a key part of our role, but I must admit I didn’t think we would get the chance to work with so many.  Our tour started off with Teresa May, Home Secretary, followed by HRH Duke of York who came out for Remembrance, then the very memorable ITV production which saw Gary Barlow ‘singing to the troops’.

Gary goes for an early morning run with the troops. Sgt Dan Bardsley

Gary goes for an early morning run with the troops. Sgt Dan Bardsley

The tour continued on with a visit from the Prime Minister, David Cameron who came out with the England football player, Michael Owen to announce a bid to launch a new UK-Afghan football partnership to boost the sport by developing the existing league system.  There was also a visit from the lovely welsh opera singer, Katherine Jenkins who flew out to Camp Bastion to make a last appearance to the troops before they leave Afghanistan.  A very petite and stunning lady with such an incredible and powerful voice.

Turkey, stuffing, crackers and party hats

 I meet the stunning Katherine Jenkins. Lt Cdr Ian King, RN

I meet the stunning Katherine Jenkins. Lt Cdr Ian King, RN

I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to spending Christmas in Afghanistan, but one thing for sure is that it will definitely be one to remember.  The day started off with a fancy dress half marathon around Camp Bastion and Leatherneck which was great fun and a bit different from the usual Christmas morning stroll across Dartmoor. Then back to the office to upload imagery to the various broadcasters before heading off to interview the troops enjoying their Christmas lunches in the canteen which was the full works (but sadly still served on paper plates) – Turkey, stuffing, crackers and party hats, and non alcoholic fizz! Then finally time for our Christmas dinner before one final bout of work uploading the last few bits of footage and imagery back to the UK in time for the morning broadcasts.  And all our hard work paid off with mentions in most of the big national papers, Sky News, BBC and ITV.

Making room for Christmas dinner! Sgt Dan Bardsley

Making room for Christmas dinner! Sgt Dan Bardsley

In terms of places and people who have left a lasting impression with me, at the top of the list has to be the Afghans themselves followed by the capital city, Kabul where we spent a week filming them for an internal video for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA).

Our first encounter with any Afghans was at Shorabak when we saw them proudly marching across the parade square at the opening ceremony for their new battle school (RCBS).

Standing proud. Sgt Dan Bardsley

Standing proud. Sgt Dan Bardsley

We then spent some more time later on during the tour at Shorabak with the Brigade Advisory Team (BAT) who were training the ANA on their weapon systems. On all occasions they have struck me as being very receptive and wanting to learn. They have come on in leaps and bounds and are improving every day now that they have been given the opportunity to take the lead on operations with the ISAF troops in a mentoring and liaison role.

The ANA are currently being trained on various weapon systems. Sgt Dan Bardsley

The ANA are currently being trained on various weapon systems. Sgt Dan Bardsley

Another highlight has been the encounters we have had with local Afghans.  The locals generally tend to be very friendly and curious and love having their photos taken. We take it for granted that we can capture photos so easily but for some of them they have never even seen a photograph of themselves or a camera.

The locals are so curious. Sgt Dan Bardsley

The locals are so curious. Sgt Dan Bardsley

A new found confidence

I will be taking back many memories from this tour, with plenty of ‘war’ type stories to tell the kids in years to come.  I can’t believe it was only a few years ago that I passed through Sandhurst and talked amongst the other newly commissioned officers about going on operations at some point.  I honestly didn’t think I would have the opportunity to get onto Op HERRICK but here I am having successfully completed a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

By the time you read this blog I will hopefully be back in the UK starting my leave.  With a well earned holiday in Mexico lined up, followed by some time with the folks in Devon and some wedding planning, and not forgetting some job hunting at some point I think my leave will go fairly quickly.  I’m not sure what the next chapter will be, nor where this tour is going to take me, but I know for sure that it has filled me with a new-found confidence that will hopefully stand me in good stead…

View Claire’s page

UK Yo-Yo!

UK Yo-Yo!

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.

Hello again everyone. I welcome you all from somewhere over the South Atlantic Ocean. Normally I would know where I am, but this time I can only tell where I have come from and where I will end up. I say that with some certainty as I have faith in the flight crew with whom we are cruising at forty-four thousand feet, South-West towards the Falkland Islands. I have time on my hands. About six hours I reckon, so why not write a blog? Well that’s exactly what I am doing.

‘Falkland Islands?’ I hear you ask. Well I have purposely whet your whistle for a future blog, I hope. I haven’t been there yet so I can’t very well write about it at this stage. Give me a week and you may get lucky. There are 12 hours to fill on the journey home between the Ascension Islands (our refuel point) and the UK.

This blog however, is about a little game I played a few weeks ago. I liked to call it UK Yo-Yo and here’s why.

My first week back from Christmas happened to be the third week of January. As most of 1st Mechanized Brigade had been away on operations in 2013, the brigade was granted four weeks leave at Christmas. A welcomed break for most, I can tell you. My first job was helping out on an Army Photographic Selection Course, which was being held at the Defence School of Photography. I was going to be part of the Directing Staff along with Staff Sergeant ‘H’ Harlen. As it went; the selection didn’t run the entire week’s duration and I was back in the office in Tidworth by Wednesday. I was glad I had an extra two days to sift through my work emails… Honestly.

The following week is where the fun really started. I was fully booked for photography jobs; each one in another part of the country. Let me just drag it out for you.

Monday:

The 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were having their homecoming parades scattered around their recruiting grounds. I was tasked with covering them. They happened to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday was Nottingham. I set off at ‘Sparrow’s fart’ (early enough to catch those noisy Sparrows waking from their sleep and cracking a little trump out, as we humans all do) from Aldershot and headed up the notoriously busy M1. I was early enough to miss most of the morning traffic, but what it meant was that I hit Nottingham around two and a half hours early. That didn’t bother me because I was being joined by Sergeant Paul ‘Moz’ Morrison, the York (and regional) Army Photographer.

As I arrived early I had a chance to meet the owner of a pub that overlooks the City Hall Square. I negotiated access to their fourth floor abandoned premises that sat above the pub. Although the rooms were riddled with the stench of Pigeon excrement the view was fantastic. I knew this is where I wanted to be positioned, but I couldn’t manage it because I needed to be on the square capturing the formalities and couldn’t be in two places at once. As reluctant as I was, and knowing that the other press would not have access to such a fantastic elevated position, I handed the keys over to Moz when he arrived. He looked out the window, grinned at me and I threw him a string of expletives in my mind. He knew what I knew. Those shots where going to go places!

The parade came and went, and I did my bit. I got what I could. I even managed to get a smirking Moz up in the window. He was just relaxing, as he had got what he needed. I can even hear him laughing now.

Look at how relaxed Moz is, as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Look at how relaxed Moz is (in the window), as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Meanwhile, back at ground level.

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

Parade over, it was time to head to a coffee shop and edit what we had. Edit done, sent out to press, and back to the M1 is was; Southbound. I was tempted to be a good sport and post some of Moz’s pictures up here, but then I thought that it would just be easier for you to do a ‘google’ search for them online. You will no doubt come across a picture of the parade snaking it’s way through the streets from an elevated position. All healthy banter aside, that’s the beauty of finding a great shooting position. If it offers something unique over what other press photographers are getting, then you have a great chance of getting it published in print, which Moz did. Well done!

Tuesday:

Tidworth this time but I had two jobs. Firstly, I was being interviewed live on BFBS Salisbury Plain about being an Army Photographer. This was hopefully going to raise the profile of our trade, and entice potential recruits to get in touch. Secondly, I was engaging my off-road driving skills and heading onto Salisbury Plain to shoot the First Fusiliers training in one of the purpose built villages.

I think the interview went well, but I was much more content with a couple of naturally lit shots of the guys.

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier gives orders over the radio

A soldier gives orders over the radio

 

Wednesday:

Another early start and this time back up the M1 to Sheffield. It was 1RHA again marching through their recruiting ground. I was shooting it on my own this time. I scoured the surrounding buildings for a vantage point, but I was hit with ‘health and safety’ a lot. You would think a ‘roughty-toughty’ soldier would be allowed to stand on a balcony without fear of purposely climbing over railings to make a jump for it, but sadly I was saved from ever having to suffer a fall. I appreciate it, Sheffield. I did however manage to find a window in a pub that was closed (for health and safety reasons) which was clean enough to shoot through to get this.

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Parade over, images downloaded, edited, uploaded again, packed up, M1 Southbound.

Thursday:

An important part of any parade (or event for that matter) for a photographer is knowing where it will happen, which way it will go, how it will unfold and any other details which may be useful. Fortunately, the Army have a saying for such necessities:

“Time spent on recces is seldom wasted” A military cliché, but very true.

As 2 Regiment Royal Tank Regiment were planning to march through Bristol in a week’s time, I headed off to Bristol on a recce with one of the Regional Press Officers, Tammy Dixon. The Press Officers take control of the media surrounding such events and are key to understanding what’s going on. It was an early start to avoid traffic. Such is life.

We were ‘Bristol’d-and-back’ by early afternoon, which was handy. 1 RHA (who’d have guessed it) were due to parade through another UK town on Friday. Was it Bedford? Bath? Farnbourough? Nope! I wasn’t that lucky. It was Doncaster; even further North. I had a choice to make. As it was around 1500 hrs, I could go home and prepare myself for an even earlier start or make way up my favourite motorway. What to do?

Friday:

Waking up to a beautiful crisp Doncaster morning was the only choice I could make. A lazy coffee and walk into town for my breakfast meant I could do a little ‘elevated position’ recce again. Unfortunately, Doncaster had been hit with the same curse. I was to be ground level-bound again. The parade went off without a hitch and the photographs where much the same.

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hal

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hall

It was a late finish for me on Friday night. I had to head back to Tidworth to drop off the contract car, pick up my own and head back to Aldershot. In total I racked up 1380 miles in the week. Some going, I thought, but I had enjoyed seeing some towns I hadn’t visited for a few years. I was glad it was all over though…until next week. It wasn’t going to be that bad; a General planting a tree in Winchester and 2 RTR’s actual Parade in Bristol to cover.

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

2 RTR march through Bristol

2 RTR march through Bristol

So there you have it. UK Yo-Yo. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Back to now.

Typing on an aeroplane isn’t the easiest of things to do. We still seem to be at 44000 feet. Probably a lot further South West though. Luckily I have a fellow photographer with me for company; Sergeant Russ Nolan. The other good thing about having another photographer with you is you actually get pictures of yourself, like this one he took of me working, using my new Fuji X-Pro 1. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. A Fuji. Well folks, as a ‘compact’ camera and a backup, this thing ‘rocks’. I will talk about it another time because now that’s two more blogs I have promised you.

me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

Me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

See you all on the return journey.

More TC

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

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. 

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

I’m Sergeant Paul Shaw. I’m 28 and having served 11 years in the British Army I have now been one of its professional photographers for over a year and have enjoyed every minute of it. The very day I passed my Defence Photographers course I volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team in the Electronic News Gatherer ENG role (The Video Guy). It is my job to collect moving footage for the media and have also filmed for other productions such as The One Show, Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan and Top Gear.

During my time here I have seen some amazing sights and had the opportunity to visit a variety of areas including Kajaki dam and Kabul, the country’s capital city. It has been a fantastic journey so far and although my job is moving pictures, my true passion lies with photography and I have been trying to capture ‘my world’ for the last six months as often as possible.

Geography and the weather

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Most of my time has been spent in and around Helmand, one of the country’s largest provinces. For those who don’t know, it is an arid region in the south of Afghanistan covering 22,619 square miles, half the size of England and it is believed that civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3,000 BC. Being such a dry region it is often subject to sandstorms and even rainstorms, during the winter months. I am however still waiting for my thunderstorm.

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

Always on the move, one of my first major trips out of Helmand was a job in Kabul. 3,500 years old Kabul is situated in the North East of the country. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is home to over 3 million people. It is also home to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy ANAOA, the Afghan equivalent of our own Sandhurst. The academy is surrounded by Western Kabul and sports some amazing view points on its southern side, which is lined by high peaks and mountains.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Modern-day life

In the present day, compared to that of our own, the people of Afghanistan lead a relatively simple life. They are generous and honourable and although not possessing all the technology that more developed countries may have, they have ingenuity and a way of making things work. They do things their way and in their own time and for them, it works.

Afghan workers

Afghan workers

It is quite easy for the western world to judge the Middle East and especially Afghanistan as it has played such a big part in our British Military life over the past decade. It is easy to think of a war torn sand pit whose people care little for their neighbour or their country and simply allow themselves to be overrun by extremists. I think you would be amazed if you ever have the opportunity to pass through its streets. Granted, it does seem like there are two worlds colliding but that is the Afghan culture, their way, not ours.

High rise flats dot the skyline, electricity pylons, cars… as many cars as any busy city centre, even billboards advertising broadband internet. Ironic when our own country still sports areas out of reach of ultra-fast fibre optics.

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

School children in uniform on their way to school.

School children in uniform on their way to school.

Packing up and moving out

Back in Helmand the British Army are well under way with their redeployment of kit to the UK. We are no longer actively conducting offensive operations within the province. To the north at the Afghan National Army Academy we mentor officers who will lead the fight against the insurgent and are proud to be doing so.

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

I am now nearing my six-month mark and it will soon be time to leave a remarkable country, one that has seen so much turmoil. Until we come to leave we will support the Afghan forces as much as we can. Before I go, I leave you with a video I have filmed and produced of the Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter entitled ‘The Shout’.

Thanks for reading. 

Images © MOD/Crown Copyright

Photography: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

Video: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

‘Bottled in Afghanistan’ – water, weather and women at war

‘Bottled in Afghanistan’ – water, weather and women at war

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter. They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

Diamonds are forever

Goodbye 2013 and hello 2014!  My last blog ended with Christmas festivities around Camp Bastion and highlighted the last few weeks prior to our RnR which we were very fortunate to get over New Years Eve. So not only did I get a Christmas Day in Afghanistan, I got to eat Turkey and stuffing all over again, drink mulled wine, and open more presents when I got back to the UK thanks to my parents.

It was so nice also to remind myself that there is still a bit of femininity lurking beneath the Army greens having worn no make-up and had my hair scraped back for the last 4 months.  So time to get out the little black dress and dancing shoes, and welcome in the New Year.

And what a great start to 2014! My boyfriend, or as I should be referring to him these days, my fiancée…. popped the question on New Year’s Eve.  So now I am the very proud owner of a beautiful diamond ring which is safely locked up in the UK ready for my return in March.

Transformation. It’s amazing what a bit of make-up and a black dress can do to ones image and self confidence!

Transformation. It’s amazing what a bit of make-up and a black dress can do to ones image and self confidence!

So back to the desert on a high, head buzzing with lots of wedding ideas (the real planning will have to wait until the tour finishes) and 8 weeks left until the end of tour.  I wonder what stories are waiting to be discovered upon our return.

International Women’s Day

The first tasking we are given is in preparation for International Women’s Day on 8 March which celebrates the role that women have played and continue to play in conflict resolution and peace building.  We’ve been asked to collate a list of women in the military involved in such roles and collect supporting imagery and footage.

Having spoken to a number of units around camp we have a list of potential candidates all lined up ready to be interviewed and talk about their roles in theatre and civilian roles if they are Reservists.  After several trips out the data and images are recorded and a short list is compiled with an array of interesting stories ranging from a Movement Controller from Hong Kong who has a Masters in Crime Science but enjoys the military life and is thinking of becoming a Regular soldier, to a Senior Insurance Underwriter who is out here as a Troop Commander with 2 Close Support Logistic Regiment and is responsible for planning and implementing the Combat Logistic Patrols to and from the remaining bases.  Both have very different roles but at the same time they are both contributing to the withdrawal of all British troops by the end of 2014.

Airtrooper Lauren Morgan is an ‘Apache Gunwoman’ responsible for re-fueling and  re-arming the aircraft. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

Airtrooper Lauren Morgan is an ‘Apache Gunwoman’ responsible for re-fueling and
re-arming the aircraft. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

 

Private Chelsea Herberts is helping with the redeployment by preparing vehicles for their return to the UK. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

Private Chelsea Herberts is helping with the redeployment by preparing vehicles for their return to the UK. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

Change in weather

We have been very lucky with the weather during this tour having been told that the winter is pretty wet and miserable in Afghanistan.  Most days we have been waking up to a clear blue sky with just a slight nip in the air, and some amazing sunsets.

Sunset over Lashkar Gah. Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

Sunset over Lashkar Gah. Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

 The good weather seems to running out though and over the last week there has been a couple of storms with snow forecast over the next few days. A great opportunity for both Dan and Paul though, and some stunning images I’m sure.

A storm is brewing. Photo credit – Sgt Paul Shaw, RLC

A storm is brewing. Photo credit – Sgt Paul Shaw, RLC

Ten green bottles

Not many people know that the water we drink in theatre comes from Afghanistan.  Everyday approx 48,000 litres of water are pumped to the surface to quench the thirst of the troops in Camp Bastion and the remaining bases.  Not all of it is treated and used as drinking water though, some of it is used to supply the toilets and bathrooms with running water, or as a dust suppressant around camp.

When we were initially asked to capture footage of the Camp Bastion water bottling plant I wasn’t too interested in the tasking, especially once we arrived and were told we were going to be given the full tour of the plant.  I felt like we were going back to our school days with the random trips out that were supposed to be educational.

But having donned a hairnet, boot covers and a white lab coat, Paul and I headed off with video camera in hand to find out how the tiny plastic test-tube shaped containers that arrive in Bastion end up bottle shaped and filled with drinking water with their own ‘Bastion Drinking Water’ labels.

CCT at work capturing footage of the bottling process. Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

CCT at work capturing footage of the bottling process. Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

 

By having this water bottling facility in Bastion it has meant that money can be saved by not having to send truck loads of water across the desert. The plastic used to produce the bottles is a lot tougher than commercially produced bottles and gives them a longer shelf life (2 years rather than 12 months). They are also more robust to allow them to be air-dropped when supplying the forward operating bases.

Made in Camp Bastion! Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

Made in Camp Bastion! Photo credit – Lt Claire Jackson, RLC

Success for British-mentored Afghan soldiers

The focus over the past year has been for the Afghans to take the lead in operations in preparation for the withdrawal of ISAF troops. As part of this process British troops have been mentoring and training the Afghan National Army (ANA) in a number of ways.

The Kandak Liaison Team (KLT) made up of soldiers from 3rd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment and a number of attached Reservists from the 6th Battalion, the Rifles deployed alongside the ANA on an op to drive insurgents away from populated areas.

The CCT were offered at short notice a couple of seats on the op to capture the ANA at work.  Sadly there were only two seats so I had to stay behind whilst Dan and Paul headed off in anticipation of a few days out on the ground.

Kandak Liaison Team enroute to an ANA lead op. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

Kandak Liaison Team enroute to an ANA lead op. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

 

The op was a great success all around with the ANA seizing and destroying a vast quantity of illegal fertilizer which is used for making explosives, and with them requiring minimal support from the KLT having taken advantage of the ISAF training they have received to lead the operation from start to finish.

Afghan Sunset in Nahr E Saraj. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

Afghan Sunset in Nahr E Saraj. Photo credit – Sgt Dan Bardsley, RLC

As we draw nearer to the end of OP HERRICK it’s very rewarding to see how much we have helped the Afghans in terms of winning the fight over the Taliban.  The ANA have improved in leaps and bounds from the memories that soldiers have recalled from previous tours.

View Claire’s page