Anyone for Polo ?

I was covering The opening of The Field of Remembrance (the crosses with poppies laid every year by The British Legion) at Westminster Abbey, which this year was by Prince Harry, when I first heard about his trip to Oman and Dubai.The Telegraph’s Royal correspondent Gordon Rayner was down to go and I explained how happy I’d be to accompany him. A few forms later and I was on the list to go. Not a big list but a very manageable one for the Palace press office. John Stillwell from the Press Association, Chris Jackson from Getty, Time Rooke for Rex Features and Darren Fletcher from The Sun.
Harry was arriving on Tuesday night and I got there Tuesday morning having flown through the night. The arrival was pooled , covered by Tim and Chris but Darren and I still turned up at the rather plush hotel just in case we were allowed to crash the pool. We weren’t so we retired to the bar for a beer then met up with the others to travel back by minibus to the hotel we were staying in. It was “National Day” in Oman and the traffic was horrendous. All the locals seemed to be out in there cars wearing masks and hooting and beeping their way around Muscat. We ended up having to walk the last few hundred yards to our hotel which gave us the chance to take a few frames of the festivities. Everyone seemed really friendly, they were having a great time, though a few had had their exhausts adjusted to make a sound that was very similar to gunfire, which did throw one particular reporter to the floor of the bus when we heard it for the first time.

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The following morning was a 6am start for the minibus journey to Nizwa Fort. Charles and Camilla visited earlier this year and took part in some local tribal dancing involving swords so obviously we were crossing fingers for a repeat royal performance.

We retired for several coffees whilst we awaited Harry’s arrival and took the opportunity to take some pictures of some of the children and some of the locals who were waiting to meet the Prince.

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I did a combination of pictures on my iPhone 5S and my normal Nikon work cameras (D4S D3S and D3)

The picture of the man with the walking stick was then put through ‘Snapseed’ and ‘Instagram’…the version that looks warmer was not. I do like to use my iPhone for work pictures but I’d never have the guts to shoot an entire assignment on one….unless of course I was asked to.

A lot of photographers complain that filter Apps like ‘Snapseed’ and ‘Instagram’ make everyone capable of producing “great” photographs. I tend to disagree. If you haven’t got the right image there’s nothing an App can do for you. So far Apps can’t find a picture for you, yeah they can polish a turd but it’s still going to be a turd.

Apps are tools as is the camera on your iPhone. You still need to know how to use the tool to get the most out of it.

Anyway, Harry played ball. Not once but twice. He had a go on the sword then went for a tour , then had another go on the sword. Our local Omani embassy chap did a brilliant job of positioning the dancers in front of Harry twice. We all got what was required.

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The next day was going to be a long one. Harry was visiting The Grand Mosque in Muscat first thing then we were flying to Dubai followed by a bus-ride to Ghantoot Polo ground, Abu Dhabi, for Harry’s ‘Sentebale’ charity match. We were told all sorts of celebrities would be attending..in the end it was only Geri Halliwell and her new fiance that anybody recognised.

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We went home and Harry stayed to watch the Grand Prix…a few people cynically commented that that was in fact the reason for the visit.

Anyone for a pre-Christmas shopping trip to New York ?

Max Cisotti CEO of Xclusivepix.com writes…

In another of our occasional series of guest posts Max Cisotti CEO at Xclusivepix.com. A hugely experienced agent and photographer, he has allowed us to re-post something that he wrote around the time of the Leveson Inquiry about who and what the paparazzi are and about the symbiotic relationship between good photographers and the celebrity industry.

I believe that as an almost accidental byproduct of the Leveson Inquiry into criminal wrong-doing by other elements of the press, I and my colleagues have been utterly traduced, painted as morally unscrupulous scavengers feeding on unsuspecting celebrities.

With the odd exception – and no profession is perfect – I simply don’t recognise this description. In private, I am bound together with the same celebrities that in public complain about us, all part of the complex modern marketing dance. Paparazzi are not parasites living off the famous, but both essential to each other. We are not the buzzing insects that the film director Fellini named us after, although as a fan of La Dolce Vita I suppose I should be flattered that my job is named after a character in such an iconic movie.

I became a paparazzo because it was more exciting than news journalism. You start out by waiting outside restaurants and clubs. In my day – and I’m no longer a full time photographer – it would be San Lorenzo or The Ivy. No one famous goes to these places without expecting and hoping that they will be photo- graphed. There are thousands of restaurants in London where you’d never find a photographer, so you only go to the few that do have them if you are in search of the spotlight.

But there are still examples of hypocrisy. Just before Kate Middleton’s wedding, her mother and sister had lunch at San Lorenzo. Three photographers were having a sandwich out- side and saw them go in. When they left, they walked a few yards down the street and into Bruce Oldfield, where they were obviously discussing dresses for the wedding. They could be easily seen through the window and some pictures were taken. The Middletons then made a huge fuss about their privacy being invaded, but honestly they almost went out of their way to be recognized and followed.

The next stage of the journey to becoming a paparazzo is building contacts. If you stand outside anywhere long enough and you are pleasant enough you build up a relationship. Myself and a few other colleagues, we wore out the pavement outside San Lorenzo. So we did build up a relationship with the restaurant. That’s the first step to building your network of informants.

Then you need to learn to fit in. I always tell my photographers, be as smart as you possibly can. Some years ago I was photographing the Spice Girls outside Dolce and Gabbana in Sloane Street. They came over to talk to me and told me how well I scrubbed up. I’ve chatted to Victoria Beckham on other occasions too, and my relationship with most celebrities was positive and not at all antagonistic. You become part of their landscape and they don’t mind at all.

Paparazzi are not parasites living off the famous, but both essential to each other.

Of course, in the evening, getting photographs outside the clubs, it can be a bit of a scrum, but that’s largely for technical reasons. With flash photography at night, you have to get very close to someone to be sure of a decent photograph, which makes it look a lot more aggressive and nasty than it is.

Of course there are occasions when you don’t want to be seen by the celebrity and they don’t want to see you. The public want to see famous people behaving naturally, to have the illusion that they have a window on their lives, that they are not just posing for the camera, and that’s the reason for most of the long lens work, so that they don’t change their behaviour. Of course, it could be that they are having an affair or have something else to hide, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

If the photograph is taken on public property, then it’s fair game. If you are on private property then we’ll walk away.

That’s also the appeal of holiday photos, partly it’s seeing good looking people in a bikini, but also the public want to see them in their natural state, it’s a similar sense to seeing animals in a zoo or on safari. All famous people know the deal, and if they don’t want to be photographed with their kit off, then they don’t go topless.

Of course I feel sorry for Kate and William, and I would never have taken those pictures as they were clearly somewhere where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is the hurdle we have to jump in Britain. But honestly, they must know that there are photographers everywhere and as we can see there are always going to be media outlets somewhere in the world that will publish photographs even if they are an obvious invasion of privacy.

Most celebrities, however, are more likely to invade their own privacy than have someone else do it for them. About 40 per cent of apparently snatched paparazzi photographs are actually setups, organised through an agent or sometimes directly with the celebs themselves, a process that in America they call mockerrazzi. It’s partly about marketing – they’ve got a new car for free and need to promote it, they have a film coming out and so on.

And in part it’s about money, the photographers will share the proceeds with the subjects. I’ve often done this, even with major A-list celebs, and the money can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s a major source of income and everyone is a winner. Not that this is a new concept, it was invented by the Hollywood studios with Clark Gable and Rudolf Valentino in the Twenties and Thirties.

Now there are celebrities who from time to time don’t want any coverage. But when I listened to Hugh Grant’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, I’m afraid I did think he was a hypocrite. Here is someone who became famous for what his girlfriend was wearing at the premiere of a film, then a few years later was arrested with a prostitute in Los Angeles. Now today he’s more than happy to talk about his private life when it suits him, but not when it doesn’t. But I don’t see why the media should only cover the famous when given permission to do so.

I’m often asked what my ethical red lines are, as a photographer. Everyone in the industry will give you a different answer, but I have always abided, even before the Press Complaints Commission existed, but the rule of reasonable expectation of privacy. If the photograph is taken on public property, then its fair game. If you are on private property then we’ll walk away. And sometimes you just know that a photograph, even in a public place, is unfair.

Perhaps the single most traumatic moment for my profession was the death of Diana, paparazzi were blamed for her death at the time and her sons still blame us.

My business partner and I were in Hyde Park some years ago, we’d had a tip that Lady Helen Taylor was regularly taking her kids to and we’d been waiting there for three days. Then there she was, pushing her youngest in a pram when she hit a pothole and the child fell on the pavement and cut its head. We could have sold the photographs for ten of thousands of pounds but it wouldn’t have been right, we both just looked at each other and walked away.

The profession is changing, however, and not always for the better. There are far more photographers than there used to be. I remember travelling to Los Angeles in the late Nineties, and there were only 20-30 photographers covering the entire area. We went one day to Malibu and there were so many many celebs I didn’t know which way to turn – should I shoot Cindy Crawford or Rod Steiger first? People were making fortunes, but now the market has changed completely, there are something like 3oo-400 photographers covering the la area and competiton is intense.

Partly, it’s about technology. Back then, you actually had to know what you were doing with a camera. And it was much more expensive, because you had to buy and develop the film. Today really good digital cameras have made the process much more accessible, anyone can get one and set themselves up as a paparazzo. I think we should consider making some kind of training compulsory – as in Italy and France – before you can get a press card.

The other big change, of course, is the market. There are many more outlets, both online and in print, for celebrity photographs. When I began, there were just the papers, then there was Hello magazine, and now there are around ten weekly women’s celebrity magazines in the uk alone.

But that doesn’t mean that we are all making more money, because not only are there more photographers out there working, but celebrities now often publish candid photographs of themselves on Twitter.

This summer, Rihanna was touring the Mediterranean with friends on a yacht, they went to Sardinia and St Tropez, and of course they were followed by photographers, but she also posted lots of her own photos on Twitter, and when the Daily Mirror published a spread on her, they used her photos, not the paps’ shots. It kept their costs down, and of course she had chosen the photographs that they used.

Perhaps the single most traumatic moment for my profession was the death of Diana. Paparazzi were blamed for her death at the time and hers sons still blame us. And there is no doubt that she was hounded by photographers, but no one forced her to speed through a tunnel without wearing a seat belt, and she was staying at The Ritz where she could expect to be followed when she left. I think time has given us more of a perspective on what happened.

At that moment, however, it looked like my profession was finished. For three to four months, newspapers didn’t publish a single paparazzi photograph. But then the News of the World, may it rest in peace, broke the taboo, and we all went back to where we had been before. Which was a relief for us of course, but also for the celebrities who hadn’t been getting the coverage they were used to.

Now something similar is happening again in Britain, as a result of the Leveson Inquiry. Newspapers are buying far fewer celebrity photographs, and the price for those that are bought has fallen as well.

I do feel some resentment about this. My business has suffered because of a limited amount of illegal activity by people I had no connection with at all. Now this inquiry does seem like a sledgehammer to crack a nut – after all, there haven’t been similar inquiries into far greater disasters like the banking crash.

Unfortunately, my profession has done a bad job of representing itself to Lord Leveson, so much so that I doubt he has a clue how our business works. The trouble is we are so fragmented, with lots of small companies, agencies and freelance photographers.

Almost by definition, paparazzi are not joiners, not mainstream, most of us have thrived in the profession because we like working alone or with a very limited number of partners. So we haven’t managed to put across our viewpoint at all. So I’d like to suggest that Lord Leveson, and anyone else inclined to judge the paparazzi, consider the complex media ecosystem he is attempting to reform, and ensure that if he is going to try to wreck our livelihood, he does us the credit of trying to understand it first.

Who has what’s required ?

Here’s what the late, great Sir David English, who created the modern Daily Mail, had to say about newspaper photographers. (thanks to Dave Parker)

” Press photographers are a strange breed. Moody, enthusiastic, temperamental, excitable, humorous, self-deprecating . They are in many ways the most interesting collection of people to be found on any national newspaper. More interesting frequently than the star bylined writers. More interesting than the gossip columnists with their fund of inside chatter. More interesting even than the showbiz kings with their stories of rubbing shoulders with the great and their `all life´s a cocktail party´ philosophy. Photographers are the shock troops of journalism. They cannot muse. They cannot pontificate. They cannot sit in the office and get their stories by telephone. Nor do they pick up their scoops over lunch. They have to be where the action is. They have to be there! “

And here’s what Roy Greenslade Professor (no less) of journalism had to say about newspaper photographers.

“Everyone can, and does, take photographs as a matter of rote nowadays.No event occurs – fires, fetes, road accidents, cats up trees, whatever – without someone being on hand to snap a picture. In the real sense of the word, newspaper photographers are therefore redundant.

I concede that standing outside court for ages to capture an image of a defendant or witness may still require a professional (enter the experienced freelance). Otherwise, for the general run of the news diary, anyone can do it.”

I think we all know who has/had the better understanding of the qualities required to do the job .

The idea that because almost everyone has a camera and takes pictures means you no longer need photographers has a logical conclusion. Almost everyone can write and has a pen.

Newspapers are always on the look out to cut costs… to make a few more quid for the shareholders. I mean you wouldn’t expect them to have last year’s reg car would you. But no business will ever profit by making cuts. That’s short-termism. You have to speculate and invest to accumulate. That’s not just my opinion. Ask billionaire Warren Buffet. Stupid managements make stupid cuts which affect their product the newspaper. The product suffers and the advertisers leave in droves driving profit further down. Stupid management then implement more cuts to increase the dividend which affects the product and the advertisers leave in droves driving profit down further. It’s a cycle of stupidity.

The demand for visuals is higher than it has ever been. More photographs and videos are used than ever before. Newspaper websites need photographs, 360’s, time-lapses, videos, slideshows….these are the things that attract an audience and advertisers.

So who are the best people to deliver these things. Easy answer really. It’s not the columnists.

It’s us. The photographers.

Commentating on the race to the bottom

Yet again The BPPA finds itself responding to a piece by Professor Roy Greenslade on The Guardian’s website. Yet again Professor Greenslade adds his influential voice to the drastically mistaken notion that anyone can take a picture good enough for a newspaper these days. Seriously? Have you looked at some of the utter rubbish that gets used in some of our newspapers? To assert that anyone with a camera can take a picture isn’t only an insult to the skilled photographers who make silk purses out of sows ears on a daily basis it also invites the bean-counters who are behind the decisions to axe photographers jobs to question the need for written journalists too.

I can just imagine the conversation between the accountants and the owners with an editor sitting there listening to the conversation;

Owner: We need to save some more money. Sales are still in decline and sacking the photographers hasn’t saved us enough.

Accountant: Well, members of the public are providing all of our visual content so maybe we can get them to supply the words too.

Editor: But…

Owner: Brilliant idea. Let’s start with all of the senior reporters who really know what they are doing. Editor – we need you to sell this to the staff.

Editor: But…

Owner: They’re all scared for their jobs anyway. Accountant – you are a genius and you will be rewarded for your work with a big pay rise.

Editor: But…

Accountant: Thanks Owner, maybe we should discuss a few other money-saving ideas that I have over a drink or two. Do we NEED editors?

How long will it be before expensive columnists get their marching orders in favour of a few blokes with word processing software who “can write a bit”? Who will those people actually be? Will they be honest and concerned citizens or will they be people with an agenda and an axe to grind?

We are already at the stage where a large percentage of the ‘supplied’ images being printed in some papers are not properly checked for honesty, accuracy or ownership (not to mention quality). Beyond that, nobody seems to care whether members of the public are putting their own or other people’s lives in danger to get the pictures that they are giving away for free. Even Professor Greenslade has to agree that journalism stands or falls on its honesty and accuracy even if he has already thrown the towel in on quality.

One of the numerous responses to his Media Guardian article points out that very few people remember the words after the event compared to the number who remember the images. You might think that newspaper owners would forget this at their peril – unfortunately they have forgotten and their newspapers are in peril. Another response points out that newspaper decline could well be a chicken and egg discussion. Which did come first – the fall in sales or the loss of photographers?

This is rapidly becoming a race to the bottom and it really doesn’t help the case for quality newspapers and quality journalism when one of the highest profile commentators on the industry has given up on any notion of defending the simple idea that quality products have longevity and cheap ones don’t. We’d wonder if The Guardian’s own Picture Desk team would agree with The Professor’s odd logic or if its own sub-editors would approve of his fact checking.

Losing reporters would be the largest and most recent nail in the coffin of local and regional journalism. National newspapers, radio and television get a lot of their best people from the superb training ground that is (or maybe was) local journalism.

If I were contemplating training as a journalist right now I think that I’d have second thoughts about it. If the learned Professor is right maybe those currently on his course should consider switching to accountancy before it’s too late.

The Copyright Fight – David Bailey weighs in…

Today is the day when the UK Government could vote to include a seemingly innocuous clause in an otherwise largely uncontroversial piece of legislation that will not only harm our industry but also place this country at odds with a vital international treaty. It is upsetting, bizarre and unnecessary to the point of being farcical.

The BPPA has been trying very hard to get the Government to see sense and drop the copyright clause from the Enterprise Regulatory Reform Bill for a while now. In a world where the intervention of a celebrity can unclog jams and open doors we decided to ask UK Photography’s biggest celebrity, David Bailey, to write to cabinet members on behalf of all owners and creators of intellectual property. He decided to write to George Osborne MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer personally and he has given us permission to circulate that letter as widely as we wish – and here it is…

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David Bailey’s letter to George Osborne MP

The text of the letter in full:

Dear George

I am writing because I am appalled at what the government is doing to our rights in the ERRB (Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill). Why the ERRB by the way? Why can’t copyright be dealt with properly in a proper Copyright Bill? I’m told everyone will be able to get their hands on our so-called “orphans” so libraries and museums can publish old photographs whose authors have long been forgotten. But never mind what’s lying around on dusty old shelves, what about the millions of “orphans” that are being created now every day!

Why? Because social media, and everyone else for that matter routinely strip our names and contact details from our digital files. They simply should not be allowed to get away with this. They can because our government refuses to give us the right to our names by our pictures (Moral rights). So now commercial organisations will be allowed to make money from our “orphans”, but not us, the creators.

This legislation should never have been even considered without first giving us our moral rights, and is contrary to our rights under the Berne Convention. Why the rush? A scheme, the Copyright Hub – a scheme backed by the government – is being developed to ensure that those who wish to find our pictures can not only do so quickly online, but also find the contact details of the pictures’ owners. You are about to put the cart before the horse.

I’m told the real reason for speed is that “releasing” orphans will create growth. We all understand the need for growth. But where’s the evidence? The seemingly impressive financial figures presented originally in the Hargreaves Review have mysteriously had to be revised – down by 97%! Which now apparently amount to no more than 80p per taxpayer per year. Given the damage this legislation will now cause to taxpaying creators, damage no-one has so far taken into account, the effect of this legislation on economic growth will in fact be negative.

It’s not too late to think again!

Best,

David Bailey

Michael Graae : Reporting from Libya

You may think that because the war is over, it is much safer and easier to report from Libya, but that is not necessarily the case. This post is written after my third trip to the country, the first being in February 2011 at the start of the war and the second in November 2011, one month after the death of Colonel Gaddafi.

After waiting almost a month to get my visa, I finally had it in hand. I spent the next few days getting ready and packing. First order of business was to buy insurance that covers war zones through Reporters Without Borders. Secondly, I got my two medical kits together. One contained basic medication such as paracetamol, immodium, plasters, etc. The other was a much more intense emergency kit containing syringes, a blood transfusion kit, extra needles, gloves, bandages, and a tourniquet, among others.

Some of the kit I took with me....Yes I know it's laid out on a duvet - go ahead and make fun!

I also packed a set of body armour. I own a soft armour vest, which protects against any handgun round, shotgun pellets, and most knives. The soft armour is made of Kevlar, which gram for gram is five times stronger than steel. However, you are totally out of luck if anyone shoots you with an AK-47 or any kind of rifle. In order to protect against rifle rounds, you need hard armour plates. As these are £200 plus per plate, I borrowed them from a friend. They weigh 1.8 kg each and you need two of them. Each plate can stop six rounds from an AK-47. I’m sure it could probably stop seven or eight rounds, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to test it! As a whole the vest weighs a bit over 10 kg, and that is using ultra lightweight plates. I also brought a NIJ IIIa ballistic helmet for good measure, also borrowed from the same generous, safety concious friend. Whilst I never wore it, I was very happy to have it!

Importantly, for communication within Libya, I packed an iPhone which was to used for tweeting, shooting video and recording audio, a Blackberry (unlocked to use a local SIM card…), a small Nokia mobile phone as a backup and a satellite phone. I did not pack a BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) which is what the BBC and other networks use to report live from anywhere in the world. Photographers also use them to file, but it is incredibly expensive if you the one footing the bill. It costs £1000 to buy, then £4 plus per megabyte sent or received. Very quickly I could easily rack up a few hundred pounds  BGAN bill in a day or two, so it is best to stick to the mobile/broadband basics.

Once packed it was time to head to the airport. I usually carry on my body armour, but was forced by the airline to check it, fortunately they let me keep my 15 kg camera bag…

Tripoli Airport is semi functional. The gates didn’t work and you needed to use air stairs to get on and off of the plane. It looks like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. And don’t use the bathrooms….by far the worst airport bathroom I have ever experienced! I was quickly through immigration but was unfortunately stopped for a bag search which is incredibly time consuming. One of the passengers who I got talking to on the plane, was returning to Libya for the first time in 30 years and I was kicking myself for not being there for the moment he returned. However, he was very generous and invited me over for dinner and offered me a ride to my hotel.

Once checked into my hotel, it was time to find working broadband, as my hotel didn’t have it. Even if I was lucky enough to have it, the broadband in my last hotel was practically useless to file on. My goal was to find broadband relatively close to Martyr’s Square in Tripoli. It was extremely challenging to file without a BGAN, and almost comically, I reached Plan H before I got success………!

Plan A: Use broadband at the cafe around the corner from my hotel and the square.
Result: Impossibly slow.
Plan B: Find an open wifi network.                                                                                    Result: Found one, but told off by an old man.
Plan C: Use an internet cafe.                                                                                              Result: Can only use their computers and they didn’t have FTP (File Transfer Protocol).
Plan D: Use WiMax (like long range wifi…..)
Result: USB dongle not Apple Macbook compatible
Plan E: Use a 3G USB dongle.                                                                                          Result: Network not working……
Plan F: Pay a business to use their internet.                                                                      Result: 1LYD per hour, but not open on 17/02/2012 (the big day)
Plan G: Use Al-Arabyia’s internet in Martyr’s Square.
Result: Success! Until they packed up and left….while I was in the middle of uploading files…
Plan H: Use the internet at my fixer’s house.                                                                     Result: Working! Though slow and a 10min drive from the square.

On the big day, Friday, I spent much of the day in and around Martyr’s Square alternating between down in the square and up on one of the former intelligence buildings, where I was using Al-Arabyia’s internet connection. It was an amazing experience to be in the square with the 15,000 or so people celebrating. A number of women asked to have their photos taken during the celebrations, which I of course did. It is quite rare to have the opportunity to photograph women in the Arab world, so I took every opportunity I had.

A soldier patrols the rooftop where I edited and most TV networks were setup.

My laptop on top of a building in Martyr's Square. The BGAN you see on the right is the BBC's.

My laptop, card reader, and sat phone near Al-Arabyia's rooftop wifi.

Even with broadband on the roof it was difficult to file…and not because of the connection. Lets just say electrical wiring in Libya isn’t up to any sort of standard. Because my laptop battery was low, I needed to stay plugged in while editing to let it charge. Unfortunately, my laptop is metal and there was only one available outlet, which shocked me every time I touched the computer. It wasn’t bad, but was enough to cause my fingers to convulse and give a nice prickly feeling. I had to work through it though as I had no other choice and was very happy when I was done editing! In addition to being electrocuted whilst editing, I had to keep one eye on my surroundings. There was no gunfire in the air as it has been banned, but people were launching fireworks in all directions and some were exploding just metres from the building! I did my final upload around midnight, which was interrupted when Al-Arabyia packed up and went home, pulling the broadband in the middle of an upload!

While on the rooftop I met a commander in the Army who insisted on showing my photos of special forces training. I asked if I could come along on Sunday and photograph them. He said that was OK with him. However, he neglected to tell me they were on holiday until Thursday and I was to be in Benghazi by then.

Saturday evening, one of my fixers, Mego, took me to a street party in Tripoli. It was yet again a huge party atmosphere complete with western music, lights, homemade flamethrowers with lots and lots of horn honking. I was even offered alcohol, which is illegal in Libya. I didn’t take up the offer as much of it is homebrewed and will likely kill you because it contains methanol! All in all it was a lot of fun and quite the experience to party with them and something that never would have been allowed during Gaddafi’s regime.

My fixer, Mego, having fun at the street party!

Sunday morning, I booked a ticket to Benghazi and then walked around Ba Al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s former compound, with my other fixer, Mo. The destruction was immense. Almost all of it was destroyed by NATO bombing. Surprisingly, the few buildings still standing had been occupied by families and were being converted into homes. After a few hours taking photos, it was time for dinner and to head to the airport on what was the last flight of the day. To say security is lax would be an understatement. Bag isn’t weighed, your boarding pass is blank and it really isnt a problem if you are travelling with loads of liquids and set off the metal detector!

Tweeting via my satellite phone in Bab Al-Azizia, Tripoli

That blank boarding pass issued for the flight to Benghazi, Libya

My trip to Benghazi was mainly to see people who helped me during the war against Gaddafi, who I hadn’t seen in almost a year. But I was also trying to photograph some of the military training I wasn’t able to in Tripoli. After two days of getting the runaround between both militias and the NTC Army, I was allowed to photograph at a NTC base in Benghazi where recruits were being trained and also signing up to join the fledgling force, albeit very reluctantly. They agreed to let me photograph as long as I didn’t disclose the exact location, write any names and show them the photos before I left the base, to which I agreed. The base commander took me and my translator around the base and I got some standard photos of people being trained. However, upon leaving we were stopped by a man other than the base commander and I was forced to delete the photographs in front of him because I didn’t have the correct paperwork. Of course no one could tell me exactly the kind of paperwork I needed, or where it could be obtained…!? I was also threatened by one of the men, who somehow knew who I was, which was a bit disconcerting, saying if I didn’t return with the correct paperwork I would disappear along with the papers. He also claimed to have some of my camera gear, which was taken at gunpoint by pro-Gaddafi forces in late February of last year!? It just got weirder and weirder! It wasn’t covered under my insurance, so of course I wanted to get it back, but after being threatened by him, I decided it wasn’t worth pursuing……

Annoyed, but not really frightened, we left. The photographs have been recovered from the memory card, but won’t be published. I spent the evening at the war museum in Benghazi, letting off some stress and playing around with the fully functional, but not loaded, rocket launchers and other home-built weaponry at the museum.

Need to make a call? Just stick your satellite phone out the window....

Michael Graae attempting to operate an air to ground rocket launcher, meant to be on a Soviet Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter at the war museum in Benghazi.

Michael Graae inside an old but working Soviet SA-8 mobile SAM launcher at the war museum in Benghazi. These crude but very effective SAM launchers caused NATO planes havoc during the Balkans Wars.

My translator told me the same man who threatened me came looking for me to talk to me and I was a bit unsure whether or not I would be stopped at the airport or found when I left my hotel, but thankfully I made it through security and on to the plane. Finally, as the engines roared and the wheels left the ground, I could breathe a sigh of relief…but not for too long as my translator wasn’t leaving the country for another few days. Thankfully, he made it out and his family still in Benghazi are also safe.

You may also be wondering, what does a trip like this actually cost!? Well I’ve totalled up the costs for you below:

Flights from London to Tripoli via Cairo, Benghazi via Cairo, to London : £426.00

Flight from Tripoli to Benghazi : £30.00Flight from Tripoli to Benghazi : £30.00

Hotels : £450.00

Food : £100.00

Satellite phone minutes : £75.00
Visa : £100.00
Total : £1181.00

Note : This doesn’t include costs for fixers, drivers, translators etc, as mine were friends and didn’t cost me anything, besides feeding and housing them when travelling. However, they generally cost around $100 per day.

The BPPA and The Leveson Inquiry in 34 minutes.

Three submissions, a lot of reading and an awful lot of discussion came down to a 34 minute appearance at The Leveson Inquiry today (Tuesday 7th February) afternoon. Was it worth it? Right here, right now the answer has to be a truly resounding ‘YES’. Our case has been outlined before; we wanted to impress on the world that there can be a huge difference between a professional press photographer and a bloke with a posh camera.

We wanted to make Lord Justice Leveson and his Inquiry aware that we are willing and able to be to be part of the process of finding solutions to the issues highlighted in the early evidence at the hearings. Most of all we wanted to highlight the four-pronged plan that we have developed to help ensure that photographs published in the UK news media have been checked thoroughly so that they comply with every law and ethical code that applies to that media in that situation.

Sitting there in the same chair that Paul Dacre, Editor in chief of the Daily Mail had occupied for the best part of four hours yesterday and that the familiar cast list of celebrities had sat in right back at the start of the formal hearings in November was more than a little nerve-wracking. Not so much on a personal level – but representing hundreds of honest, hard working and highly professional colleagues. If that wasn’t bad enough, the editors of The Times and The Sun were up after us!

We really cannot talk about today in terms of winning and losing but it seems that we have made our point and we know that Lord Justice Leveson himself said that

“Mr Turner, thank you very much indeed. Responsible photographers, like responsible journalists, are not part of the problem and they do need to be part of the solution. Thank you very much.”

If, after today, the industry takes us more seriously and if, after today, we are allowed a voice on issues that directly affect the lives, careers and reputations of professional press photographers then maybe, just maybe we can think in terms of a (small) victory.

Of course the 34 minute white knuckle ride was made a lot easier by the quality of our argument and the sentiments in our submissions.

The BPPA’s Board worked hard on this and there are a lot of people to say ‘thank you’ to. So to everyone who contributed, everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted about our submissions and liked our Facebook page. Thank you. It turns out that it was a pleasure to be your representative!

Links to the content of our appearance: TRANSCRIPT VIDEO