Photographers' Blog

Streets of Wootton Bassett

A historic market town with a distinctive 17th century town hall, Wootton Bassett is worth a visit – but the crowds that gather here with grim regularity are rarely interested in the tourist sites. Instead, as British troops face a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Wootton Bassett, west of London, has become synonymous with the repatriation of soldiers killed in action.

After they arrive at a nearby air base, the bodies are driven slowly through the town en route to a hospital. For the past two years, townsfolk have joined grieving relatives in paying spontaneous tribute to the passing dead.

Covering the repatriation cortege is an uncomfortable assignment. There is always awareness that some people think photographing and filming mourners at a moment of emotional vulnerability is a thoughtless intrusion. Even after scores of similar ceremonies, this feeling of awkwardness is evident, including at the latest one I attended on July 22. Friends and family of soldiers line one side of a narrow road in Wootton Bassett while photographers and television crews face them from the opposite side.

The timing of the procession of flag-draped hearses is always an uncertainty. Participants on both sides of the narrow street usually arrive early, often ending up standing face-to-face for hours with little or no interaction. Such was the case as we waited under brooding storm clouds, and blazing sunshine. The bereaved fidgeted in their heavy dark attire, as photographers perched on stepladders and shifted their heavy cameras in aching arms. I believe it is out of respect that very few pictures are taken before or after the procession. However, in the few minutes as the coffins pass and flowers are laid, photographers snap away, capturing raw and painful emotions.

It is often only as the cortege rolls past that the grief hits home for many of the families present: when it begins to sink in that their brother, father, best friend, son, daughter, spouse will never come home. And it shows. Even as I shoot I’m aware this grief is only the tip of the iceberg of what they will experience over the years to come, long after the press attention has moved on.

Something for nothing?

Everybody likes something for nothing. Better still if that something is actually useful. Last week was all about a little extra content for just a little extra effort and how it pays dividends.

Babysitting
My guess is most Reuters photographers have a camera in their hand most of the time. You know, just in case. My journalist wife had to drive to the world’s largest coal port last weekend. I was babysitting. A new emission trading scheme was slated to be the following week’s main story in Australia so I grabbed toddler and cameras and off we all went. I ended up with a good carbon emissions file including an Asia picture of the week (below) in between splashing in puddles and chasing seagulls…with my son of course.

Drive-by
Two days later I headed in the opposite direction, to Canberra for the arrival of Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. On the way there the clouds lifted from some distant hills framing a new wind power farm. Pulling over on the freeway, a few quick frames out the other side of the car…and an image (below) included in the Best of the Week file.

4.25 – who values a news picture?

ATTENTION EDITORS: GRAPHIC CONTENT

A nice number 4.25, seems to sit easy on the eye, or should do except its 4:25 a.m. and the numbers are from my digital clock.

As Reuters’ chief photographer in Asia, I have a lot on my mind. The threat of conflict on the Korean peninsula after Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan, floods in India and Bangladesh, a bogus trial of Suu Kyi in Myanmar, crashing economies, H1N1, claims and counter-claims of corruption and racism, insecurity in Nepal and Sri Lanka, global warming, the risk of unrest in Tibet and of course, China, where just about anything can happen at any time.

With the decline of the traditional news market, however, I sometimes wonder who still cares about news pictures and why should they be paid for.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

MEMORY OF THE PRESENT

I have just received the first copy of the new book Our World Now 2. The title page reads “Executive Picture Editor: Ayperi Karabuda Ecer”. But besides pleasing my parents (my teenage daughter does not care), what does that mean?

On the one hand, everyone at Reuters is an editor. News flows between photographers, regional chiefs, global editors, picture deskers, keyworders and specialist editors. All are absolutely vital to deliver a daily output of some 1,700 images for the international media. My efforts are only in addition to what has already been produced.

On the other hand, within such a rich, global production there is no such thing as one final edit. Working with Reuters imagery is, like the book’s title, opening a window to our world now – it is live and constantly changing.

Remember the days of black and white film?

Do you remember the days of black and white film?
Life before digital and the preview screen?
How about shooting one frame per minute?

I have made several trips with U.S. President George W. Bush to his ranch in Crawford, Texas over the last couple of years.

Crawford is a small, sleepy town, population 705, a place where time has seemed to have passed them by. There are no hotels, one small flashing traffic light, and definitely not a Starbucks to be found.