The obit picture


Recently, I was having some of my black and white archive scanned. A lot of this work had been rather rushed (by me and others) during the process that saw my old agency Network Photographers digitise as fast as we could. It’s clear that some really interesting images were missed but I suppose that was entirely inevitable. Anyway, looking through the work now, it allows one to examine past images in a new light and with fresh eyes. As I looked through the innumerable contact sheets, I saw that on each assignment there was always one or two of me usually taken in a hotel room mirror, just before I went out to work. I suppose that these were a kind of early ‘selfie’ but I realised that I’d been doing it ever since I photographed the Croatian conflict in the early 1990s. I’m not superstitious but on that trip, I stayed with a chap called Paul Jenks about who I’ve written about before here and here. I noticed that he’d often take an image of himself in a mirror – he called it the obituary picture – an image to be used in case anything unforeseen were to happen. Despite what did happen to Paul – or perhaps because of it – I adopted the habit and kept taking images of myself in hotel mirrors. At some point in the last several years, perhaps because I started to feel daft doing it and was simply deleting the images as soon as I got home to edit – or simply because I no longer recognised my ageing self – I stopped.

There is of course a great tradition of making images of oneself. Many have done so throughout Lockdown from sheer boredom I imagine but artists from Artemisia Gentileschi to Nancy Floyd (who photographed herself every day for forty years) belong to an honourable and significant tradition.

Looking through the black and white contacts made me realise that I had frozen myself in time in episodes that revolved not so much about significances in my own interiority, but in my brief appearances in other people’s countries and larger narratives. Certainly not in any pompous sense and certainly not quite Zelig-like, but worthy of further thought.

Here’s one from a grim Basra hotel in Iraq in 1999 (yes, I did used to wear one of those multi-pocket jackets) and one from a hotel in Zamalek in Cairo in 2013.

Similar (battered) cameras, less hair. Same odd life…


Tearsheet – Renegade Magazine


I’m delighted that one of my images is featured in a new travel magazine called Renegade. It’s small, beautiful and full of interesting stuff. Here’s my double page – an image The Tree of Life in Iraq.


Iraq - Basra - Boys climb the tree of Adam at Al Qurnah near Basra. The tre, according to legend marked the Garden of Eden, at the convergence of the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers
Iraq – Basra – Boys climb the tree of Adam at Al Qurnah near Basra. The tree, according to legend marked the Garden of Eden, at the convergence of the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers

Iraq Inc. or how a withdrawl is really not…

Today’s newspapers are full of jubilant American troops leaving Iraq after completing their mission to bring peace, democracy and their ‘way of life’ to the uncivilised. A tremendous success. The ‘surge’ worked and all those Allied soldiers didn’t die in vain.

Well, not true. The war, born of a lie, born of greed and evil has been a disaster for America and for the world. There is also no end to the violence: more civilians died last month in Iraq than in Afghanistan. There is no political settlement and the Iraqi Resistance is as strong as it ever was. The Occupation hasn’t ended, it’s just been privatised. Apparently there around 10000 armed mercenaries in the country working in the State Department’s interests and the American’s want this increased (Blackwater helpfully calls this ‘the coming surge’). Of course the advantages of having cheap mercenary armies made up of contractors (notably from the Developing World) are clear: cost and (non) accountability. In any case, someone has to patrol the oil fields under (long, probably illegal) contract to the Americans and their friends joyfully raping Iraq’s natural resources.

Still, we haven’t really seen this. What we have seen is the war as viewed from the back of American and (sometimes) British armoured cars. It’s rare to see or hear Iraqi voices despite the war lasting seven years and we’ve generally had to endure the war through embedding and spin. The few cracks in the information blackout have been enlightening but as rare and as elusive as peace itself.

Iraq - Baghdad - Two women wearing chador gossip and laugh on the street

Iraq- Basra - Boys climb what is know locally as the tree of Adam at Al Qurnah near Basra. The Holy Tree, according to the legend marked the Garden of Eden, at the convergence of the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers

Iraq- Baghdad - A man in the Oum Kalsoum cafe

Iraq - Babylon - The restored walls of the Temple complex. Babylon, an ancient city when mention in the Bible is dated at around the 24th Century BC. In 1985, Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city on top of the old ruins (because of this, artifacts and other finds may well be buried under the city), investing in both restoration and new construction. To the dismay of archaeologists, he inscribed his name on many of the bricks in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. One frequent inscription reads: "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq".

Iraq - Mosul - A Yezidi priest lights a lamp in a religious service at a Yezidi temple. The Yazidis believe in God as creator of the world, which he placed under the care of seven angels the chief of whom is Melek Taus - the Peacock Angel. Speculation that worship of Melek Taus was worship of Satan (who fell) have resulted in Yezidi's being persecuted as 'devil worshippers' throughout their history and persecuted.

Iraq - Mosul - An old Yezidi woman

Iraq - Ur- A man walks past the ziggurat at Ur, supoosedly the city of the prophet Abraham's birth. Ur was a principal city of ancient Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat was dedicated to the moon and was built approximately in the 21st century BC by king Ur-Namma. In Sumerian times it was called Etemennigur.

Iraq - Basra - A shepherd boy and his flock
Iraq- Basra - A shepherd boy and his flock

Iraq - Samarra - A man climbs the minaret of the Al-Mutawakkil mosque. The first mosque, built in 836, has now disappeared; it was replaced in 849-852 by a new mosque built on a grand scale, which for a long time was the largest mosque of the Islamic world. It continued to be used until the end of the 11th century.

Iraq - Basra - A boat on the River Euphrates at sunset