I am often asked “How many photos does it take to capture a “good” one?” As though the more photos you take increases your chances of capturing something iconic. Some would argue that in a way the more photos you take the more experience you gain, the more technically competent you become, and the more creative you push yourself.
I would agree that by taking more photos you are honing your craft and therefore working harder to capture something special. However, I don’t believe that the above question is asking how you develop your creative side to capture an award-winning image. I understand it as a statement about a monkey and a typewriter. This is of course the old theory that if you take enough monkeys and typewriters and set them to work, eventually one of them will produce the complete works of Shakespeare.
In the run up to the Siena International Photography Awards I thought it would be interesting to show the images surrounding my award-winning photo.
I am often ‘in the moment’ when photographing so it is only afterwards that I understand how I arrive at the final image.
I always favour photos that when I look at them there is no formula. There is no algorithm to construct what I am seeing whether that is the raw emotion of a person or the aesthetic “balance” of the picture.
The photo was taken in Liberia for the peace organisation “International Alert”. I was awarded “Photographer of the year” in 2019 by Siena International Photography Awards. Whilst the award ceremony has been cancelled this year, winners will be announced on the 24 October 2020. Good luck to all the shortlisted photographers.
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 –