Once the commission had been won it was down to briefing and liaison meetings, the first being me and 18 officials from the department all with their own agendas for the imagery. It became apparent the main lead on the job was a word smith or press office official who had wonderful phrases to describe what they wanted but none of these related to pictures and it became a very interesting meeting as I tried to pin them all done to what their
It’s very interesting and something that all photographers must understand is how to take a brief from a client, words often have different meanings to different people and two peoples ideas of say a “soft romantic image” or an “edgy feel” let alone the constant cry for a “modern” image really do test a photographers skills to take a brief.
The schedule was to cover shoots in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan and China all within a six week period. Visas had to be ordered and even a second passport was rushed through for me so my passport could be at different embassies at the same time.
Each shoot I was to be accompanied by a different member of the press team, not something I agreed with as I felt we would have had better consistency if I’d had the same input for each trip, but that was not in my control.
Brussels, Belguim EEC shoot
The Brussels shoot was to cover the staff working for British interests in the EEC and I got to sit in on Ambassadorial press briefings as well as a sitting of an EC legislation meeting. In-between set meetings it was time to top up stock shots of EU buildings and flags and general filler shots that could be used generically trying to make the best of a short 2 day visit.
Istanbul, Turkey Shoot
Next came Turkey with some fantastic chances for shots around a trade delegation to Turkey and then a visit by the Ambassador to Turkey meeting with the head of the Turkish national church. Security was high but I had been cleared to get right in there where the action happened. We also had a chance to go out and visit one of Istanbul’s major football team’s venue to illustrate embassy involvement in the smooth running of British fans overseas.
Again Istanbul had some amazing panoramas and doing images of some of the staff’s life styles was a great way to see the city. After three days in Istanbul it was back home to prepare for Nigeria.
Abuja, Nigeria shoot
We were to land at night in the capital Abuja and cover the general work of the high commission and passport office and then quickly move on with an overland trip to Kano a major town 465 k north and a good six hour trip.
Scheduled for this trip were visits to two different schools sponsored by British Overseas missions, a meeting with the representative of one of the ruling princes of Nigeria and a trip to an army base to see British military staff in an adversary role to the Nigerian army.
With a long journey like this the gear packed has to be suitable for any situation whether it be lighting a room set or a creative portrait, yet it also had to be light to carry and easily recharged. Many years of experience have resulted in me knowing how to get a good range of equipment in to a very small space.
The army base gave fine opportunities for some real action shots on the rifle range, even getting a chance to fire an AK47 myself! Further images at some of their road blocks really helped confirm the differences in this world to my own. Images and imagery that once seen can never be forgotten. After three days in Nigeria I had only two days at home to catch up with the normal flow of work before heading off again this time to Pakistan!The whole experience was mind blowing from being met at the airport and being escorted back to the hotel by
armed guards to being mobbed by children wanting to have their picture taken at schools that had nothing more than a dirt floor and a blackboard. To compare that with the wealth at the Princes Palace was so extreme. Even journeys from one location to another were filled with photo opportunities, the poverty in the street and people sleeping rough on the pavements.
Islamabad and Kashmir, Pakistan shoot
The FCO had decided that the best person to accompany me to Pakistan was a young lady from a British born Pakistani background, someone who had never seen her forefathers’ country. This as it turned out was a big mistake. Her youth and sex were not treated with the respect and authority that her position deserved. We were there to photograph mainly the rescue of a young British female who was being forced into marriage against her will.
Having travelled nearly 500k up into Kashmir all of a sudden the young lady and I were dumped at the local police station as it was deemed too dangerous to continue on, our only reason for being there! I was left to get as many useful images in the surrounding area as possible and then try and mock up something with the rescued
lady back in Istanbul. Sometimes the best laid plans of a corporate photographer go astray.
I’d got the main Embassy shots and a passable coverage mock up of the shots I had gone there to get so no time was wasted when back in Istanbul to get out on the streets and cover as many useful generic shots as possible including a trip to the Blue mosque for a night shot.
Beijing, China Shoot
A long trip home and only another few days before it was off again, this time to China and the capital Beijing.
Embassy staff had to be photographed in recognisable locations like Tiananmen Square and around the Forbidden Palace but unfortunately we didn’t have time to get out to the Great Wall.On arrival after an overnight flight there was plenty of embassy shots to cover to start with and a few civic receptions but in a spare hour between programmed shoots my associate and I managed to get out and explore one of the local parks. The photo opportunities were wonderful, not only was there a public event going on with a stage show of both
children and adults performing martial arts skills there was the chance to catch the faces of the happy on lookers plus the many people who use their parks for their own hobbies ranging from a male singing group to a lady exercising with a ribbon on a stick – beautiful to photograph.
Annual Report Photography Foreign Office
Other interesting shoots in Beijing included an interview with the Bishop of Beijing and a visit to the first Tesco store opened in China so covering everything from trade to religion.
5 locations around the world within 6 weeks, it was an exhausting time but an experience I was being paid for because the client trusted me to come back with the images they wanted and I’m pleased to say the letter of thanks I got after proved that trust hadn’t been misplaced.
The difference between the experience of a professional photographer and an amateur is that an amateur can take a good photograph but a skilled professional will make a good photograph.
Copyright Brian Russell BRD Associates