Fire, camera and action!
Fire, camera and action!
It became obvious to me, that most of the posts on the blog so far, show me working in a rather slow way – observing, documenting those who seem to be out of public eye. I call those people “The Invisibles”. I want to bring their stories or their struggles to light. I hope I have been making progress on that front. But you know something; photographers also have a wild side! Today I’d like to tackle that aspect instead.
I have mentioned before that cameras took me to some interesting places. I may not be the most prolific shooter out there but I have been around the block and I’ve seen a thing or two. From being an impromptu wedding photographer to a lucky voyeur at concerts, from photographing a vigil to marching at night though a bad neighbourhood with a small compact Sony in hand and an “escort” of half a dozen neo-Nazis. I could go on for hours and some of the things I went through with my cameras can be classified as “unreasonable behaviour” as Don McCullin would put it.
Sometimes photography is not for the faint of heart. You have probably seen dedicated individuals who would lie on the ground or climb high to get their shot. Been there, done that and walked an extra mile. I had run towards situations that others run from, like miners demonstration where pieces of sidewalk were flying in the air. I have photographed a state funeral for 9 hours straight in the scorching sun and fainted of dehydration afterwards. I have been dragged around by six police officers and threatened with an arrest (for taking photos). Although I see myself as a balanced shooter, I will not shy from a potentially crazy situation if I believe I can get some powerful shots out of it. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but there is something alluring in running alongside a street demonstration and being in action. That doesn’t mean I can’t wait to get a right shot. On one occasion I nearly came down with pneumonia, after spending two hours in a freezing rain, trying to take one particular shot of a fountain!
My Canon goes with me even into situations where I have to take an active part. Then I pull a double duty (that of an observer and participant) and the crazy-o-meter goes high. Add some unlikely accessories like work gloves or unfitting uniforms or crash helmets or smoke goggles and you will have the idea of my usual shooting spree. When I mean action, it is often stranger than fiction.
Let me tell you about a day when I underwent fire prevention training and came back with “reportage”. And yes, full protection gear was in place.
In October 2009, my company decided that volunteers were needed to be trained in fire protection since we were rapidly growing and our offices became bigger and bigger. One person wanted to go by herself, the rest was convinced to sign up after facing a threat of having their quarterly bonus confiscated. In the end five of us were transported to Marsa Industrial Estate just outside of a detention centre for irregular migrants. I won’t deny that it was additional incentive for me; I planned to see if I could sneak in and photograph. Once there, I quickly realized that there would be no time to sneak away. We were rushed into the building and given the worst set of clothes I have ever seen: something that looked like a cross over between acid house baggy pants (a la early East 17) and a horror Halloween costume. Crash helmet, smoke goggles, loose military boots and workman’s gloves completed the outfit. When we emerged from the toilet (our “dressing room”) we looked like Village People. Defiantly, I put a camera round my neck, if I had to be a clown for a day, at least I’d take photos.
My shoes were three sizes too big and the gloves were so thick that I could hardly operate anything, but our instructor hardly had mercy. We had been running around with horse pipes, spraying water on the fires and on each other, carrying heavy blankets to put out fire on mechanical appliances and using different sizes of fire extinguishers. When I say running, I don’t mean kidding around. After four hours of military drill, we were soaked in sweat, bruised in all possible places and our lungs were filled with smoke.
If my colleagues were just concentrating on the practice, I was circling around, to get a shot. I crawled when I had to, jumped on old barrels, and was coming so close that my eyes were watering, despite wearing goggles. When it was my turn to practice, I was going in with a camera dangling from my neck. The instructor joked I was training to become a photographer in a fire department.
At some point, it became very windy and it started to rain. We had to stop the training but I was on the roll, taking portraits of my colleagues. No rest for the wicked. When it was hailing, we went inside to have a short lecture, before finishing.
Back in the changing room I discovered that my feet were covered with blisters and were bleeding (due to the bad shoes). It was a discomfort to walk around for a week. Also, once safely at home, I have slept eleven hours straight.
Although I have painted rather a bleak picture of the training, it was a very safe environment. Our instructor knew what he was doing and would not push us to the extreme.
The photos were done with a Canon 450D and 18-35 mm lens, the camera was on sport mode with automatic AF mode. ISO was around 400, I believe at that time, with images taken at aperture between f3.5 -5.6. I won’t say what the shutter speed was at that moment, surely over 1/250. Photos were edited in Photoshop with the high pass/overlay of 40 stops.
This post is actually also a proof that sometimes it is good to look though your old photos and surely you will find something interesting. I am quite proud of this set, actually. I have some good shots here.
All in all it was a crazy day.