Thursday, April 29, 2010

Front Line Cameramen

I've been privileged to work with many great war photographers in my career, sending them off to cover 11 wars from the safety of my cushy desk in Fleet Street. Some are sadly not with us today and some still active around the world's trouble spots. Apart from a few war junkies they were mostly staff photographers and freelances thrust into the war zones by their newspapers and news agencies during times of conflict. They were not fearless individuals, careless with their lives but family men and women, dedicated to recording the true face of war with the front line troops. All were eyewitnesses to history in the making, taking the same risks as the soldiers, sailors and airmen alongside them.

Usually they came home to headlines and awards but, every so often, they paid the ultimate price for their dedication.

Since 9/11 nineteen photographers and journalists have died in Afghanistan, most recently Michelle Lang, aged 34, from Canada's Calgary Herald and Rupert Hamer of the Sunday Mirror in the UK. His cameraman, Philip Coburn, was badly injured and lucky to escape with his life.

Today I begin an occasional series called Front Line Cameramen which will honour one of the top men and women, past or present. To co-incide with the launch of his new website I begin with Mike Moore.

Mike has been a Fleet Street photographer for over 30 years with the Evening Standard, the Today newspaper and, currently, the Daily Mirror. He has won the prestigious British Press Photographer of the Year 3 times, Royal Photographer of the Year twice and News and Feature Photographer of the Year. He's also won 2 World Press Awards.

His conflict coverage reads like a map of the trouble spots of the world and include Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Rumania. He was embedded with the 4th Armoured Brigade in the Gulf War, spending two months as the only cameraman with the famous Desert Rats, living with them in the front line trenches. Penguin produced a great record of his time with them called Desert War. ISBN 0-14-016513-4. If you want a feel of what it's like going to war with the First Royal Scots it's on at an impossibly bargain price and worth a hundred times more.

In quieter times he lives in England with his wife, Helen, and two children.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nature's life forces with your breakfast read

Living beneath the Icelandic volcano

Spirals of dust swirl about star V838 Mon. across trillions of kilometres of interstellar space, 20,000 light years from Earth. NASA

The pollen from a mallow flower. It's spines help it cling to bird's feathers.
Micronaut, supported by Pruftechnik Uri GmbH

Those awesome pictures at the very heart of the volcano I brought to you in the previous post drew an eruption of comments from around the world. The Boston Globe site was engulfed by over 7,346 of them in many languages. They also make fascinating reading, if you have the time. (click on the link if you want to read them.)

All interpreted them differently, as you would expect from such a diverse audience.

Some ‘saw’ the face of Jesus in the cloud, of course. Some praised Allah. Others praised the farmers who struggled on under its emissions. Many feared for the animals wandering lost in the darkness. The cynics dealt with it through corny jokes such as, “where are the virgins when we need them for sacrifice.”

All were stunned by the magnitude of Nature.

For myself, I was also thankful for the skills of the photographers and the brilliance of the modern equipment that made it happen, as you might expect given my background. Modern image technologies bring us closer to Nature. Using it we can try to understand the forces that go into evolving life itself. With the volcano it was lava landscape gardening the Earth.

This week two more brilliant sets of images showing life’s evolutionary forces were published. Each as different as they were similar. Firstly, NASA celebrated 20 years of the Hubble telescope with a release of some of its work. Secondly, the advent of Spring hay fever allowed the brilliant Dr Martin Oeggerli to show us close up one of the culprits causing it, using a Scanning Electron Microscope.

NASA’s Hubble is now an old lady, having been in space for 20 years. Dr Martin Oeggerli received his first camera from his dad only in 2004. Martin’s day job is in the University of Basel Pathology department in Switzerland, doing cancer research work. Hooked on photography he began using his own techniques to colour interpret the wonderful close-ups created there by the Electron Microscope. Now he is a world leader in the art with a company called Micronaut and many exhibitions. Chances are, if you see a close-up of some bug or micro specimen it is Martin’s work.

To me these two diverse images share a common bond. They are the use of science technology to reveal the beginnings of life itself. The pollen in creating the flower. The solar system in creating the stars on which life can live. And that is thanks to the skilled people who use it.

This brings me full circle to the volcano pictures.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Up close and personal with the volcano

I am an old newspaper picture editor. In the modern world of budget cuts and redundancies I often despair of my profession's passing. Today my heart was lifted by The Boston Globe's coverage of the volcano. I can't print them for copyright reasons but Here is How it's Done.

Settle back, click on the link, and enjoy this brilliant portfolio. Well done, the Picture Editor of the Globe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why I don't trust Election Polls

The UK is in the middle of a hard fought election. Each new TV bulletin features the latest public opinion poll results. They are supposed to show us where the parties currently stand with the voters. Independent litmus tests of our polling day intentions.

I don’t trust them from personal experience. Back in May 1979, with the Labour Party in power, amid a general disillusionment with James Callaghan as PM, the Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, was campaigning against him. She was the new leader of the Conservatives. As polling day grew closer the poll predictions had Maggie leading by a canter. It was going to be a landslide.

I was then on the Daily Mail, a UK Tory paper. They set up an editorial Election Desk, a separate ‘mini’ editorial room. I sat with the election desk news editor as picture liaison man. As the political stories rolled in I picked out the picture worthy ones. Come the eve of polling day the news editor’s phone rang, just before print deadline time. It was Lord Rothermere, the paper’s owner, with his nightly check on the poll prediction.

The news ed. told him, ‘Thatcher’s running away with it.’ The good Lord paused and reflected, then issued his instructions. In his paper, on polling morning, there would be an overnight ‘shock’ swing to Labour of 7%.

And so, as the voters finished their egg and soldiers and prepared to go to the booths, the 1st Edition ran with that prediction.

Cannily, he didn’t want the Tory faithful not bothering to come out and vote, assuming Maggie had won it easily without them. So he gave them a shock headline, and it worked, as we now know.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chalk dust on your knees

I’m not a fan of graffiti. I don’t consider it art, just trick typography. It doesn’t bring the satisfaction that art does. It's more a cry for attention. I like street photography and street art, just not four bloated letters filled in with a silver aerosol. That’s just my opinion.

But 3D Pavement Art or Chalk Art which uses anamorphosis to create the illusion of three dimensions, that’s something else. Magnificently transcending when done by the master exponents like German artists Edgar Mueller and Manfred Stader or American master painter in chalk, Kurt Wenner, who worked for NASA as a scientific space illustrator before his love of the Italian Renaissance painters took him to Rome to study them. The UK has Julian Beever who now works all over the world drawing evocative pavement scenes from his vivid imagination.

Anamorphosis has been used since the Romans to induce optical height and width. It was widely used in Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

But these modern masters in chalk create wonderful illusions on our streets and terraces. So successful are they that major companies employ them to spice up their product launches and their work often moves inside galleries now.

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign runs the Young Pavement Artists Competition, an annual event with a nature theme for budding new chalk artists with great prizes to be won for the kids who enter. Who knows, maybe one of them will go on to greatness like the top exponents of this brilliant art form.

Here are just a few of the greats: