Fighting has erupted once more over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh which is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, & its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia.
9 years ago I was assigned by International Alert to photograph in all three countries to capture a series of peace conferences and the borders, as well as a series of portraits which came to be called “Conflict is not the division of land but the division of people”.
The portraits capture faces of different people from different states in the region & vividly represent the human side of conflict, where each individual remains above all a human being with his or her right to be what they are, wherever they live, with dignity and in peace.
In 1988, the break-up of the Soviet Union led to a series of armed conflicts in the South Caucasus, as different nationalities used the opportunity to press for independence. Azerbaijan troops & Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state of Nagorno-Karabakh in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994. Over twenty thousand casualties and almost one and a half million refugees created a refugee flow which has resulted in a considerable crisis especially in Azerbaijan, with the number of displaced persons numbering close to one million.
Following the announcement of Project Natick’s Phase 2 results on Monday, the “wild experiment” has seen increased attention as influencers continue to recognise the research is “less crazy than it sounds.” Called a “bizarre idea”, ”wild and creative”, and even “Davy Jones’s data-centre”, the effort has driven articles around the world, spanning a variety of audience types including top press, tech forums, business platforms, policy focused communities, sustainable media and channel press.
The photography and film have also featured on the Microsoft website –
and performed strongly on their blog, YouTube channel, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn feeds.
Across all audiences the reliability of the underwater solution was a key point and overall, articles highlighted the project’s overall success and “promising findings” while illustrating Microsoft as an innovator with a customer-led focus. The “high-quality imagery” was noted as a contributing factor to the success of the coverage. Steve Clayton’s (Chief story teller at Microsoft) Friday report commented that “There are a ton of lessons we’ve learned from this experiment that will improve the sustainability of datacentres on land and underwater in the future. I share the story for two reasons beyond the tech though – the first is, it’s just beautifully told story that embraces the power of visuals to draw you in. The second is to celebrate the audacity of the idea”.
Not every assignment has me photographing a research project that is developing a revolutionary approach to an ever-increasing requirement with a sustainably responsible solution. Not every assignment is on the coast in a beautiful part of the world. Not every assignment has me working alongside extremely talented and creative individuals (and teams), that are appreciative of myself.
Microsoft Project Natick was all the above and more. We were working out at sea, on the dock side and in an energy park, on the Orkney Islands and mainland Scotland.
Microsoft assigned Photobanks to capture the retrieval of the underwater datacentre and data analysis with stills photography, drone, and film. Do not get me wrong this was not all plain sailing. Logistically we were at the mercy of the weather, there were major travelling and working challenges to overcome with the current pandemic, and technically this was extremely difficult to capture; flying a drone from a boat out at sea, photographing inside the vessel with a portable flash system and filming interviews on the key side in between ferry horns, seagulls and fishermen.
However, despite all these niggles, I returned to the Airbnb every evening throughout the shoot thinking … I love my job.
To read about the project and see the photos, film and drone pictures –
Two years ago, Microsoft approached me for an assignment in Orkney Scotland, to photograph the deployment of Project Natick, an underwater datacenter. Frustratingly I had to decline because I was due to have a minor operation a couple of weeks before.
In June I was contacted with the news that Microsoft would be retrieving the vessel shortly and would I be able to capture it? They had me at “Orkney”!
Project Natick is Microsoft’s research into the feasibility of an underwater datacenter – it’s a pretty far out concept to begin with, but the more you learn about it the more you begin to see the genius behind it.
A sealed vessel on the ocean floor does not have any of the issues that the equivalent land datacenter does, with corrosion from oxygen and humidity, temperature fluctuations, and bumps plus jostles from technicians who monitor and replace broken components.
Project Natick also supports Microsoft’s sustainability goals with the vessel in Orkney consuming no water for cooling and being powered by renewable energy sources.
I worked with Spencer Fowers and Mike Shepperd, alongside the Natick team and Microsoft News, with Photobanks supplying all the photography, film and drone photography.
To read more about Project Natick check out