Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guy Martin: Shifting Sands

Egyptians in Tahrir Square celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters on the streets of Cairo. Note the sticks, clothes wrapped around heads for protection and bandaged protestors.

A Libyan rebel fighter pulls over onto the side of the road to wash himself and pray before re-joining the offensive against Gaddafi loyalists.

Misrata, Libya, April 20th 2011. A rebel fighter on Tripoli Street takes cover behind a tree. Just a few hours later Guy Martin was severely injured and Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros lost their lives in exactly this same place.

If you've ended up here by way of my website and The Surfer's Path article then you're probably after some of the posts below that are a bit more sun, sand and surf. This week's post is a bit more sun, sand and revolutions.

This past week my friend James Allen has been curating an amazing exhibition of images from the 2011 Arab Spring taken by acclaimed photojournalist Guy Martin, and Monday just gone I headed down to the opening night.

It's pretty common to hear of news-gatherers risking their lives to get the story but Guy's story really shines a light on this. During the Spring of 2011 Guy travelled to Egypt and Libya to cover the unfolding Arab Spring, in Egypt he was on assignment for The Wall Street Journal and in Libya he chased his own stories which were later printed in The Guardian and The Observer. On April 20th, whilst photographing some of the fiercest urban warfare in recent history he was severely injured in a mortar rocket attack from Gaddafi loyalists that killed his two friends and fellow photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. He underwent significant surgery in Misrata before being evacuated to Malta and then back to the UK.

The exhibition was divided into three parts; Guy's documentary photography from Egypt and Libya and then an exhibition of large images of some of the many missing persons posters that were posted on the walls of the Bengazi court house as the revolution took hold. Some of these people had been missing since the 1970's.
I was lucky enough to have James show me around the exhibition and talk me through many of the images (all shot with a 35mm fixed lens, requiring Guy to get right in close to what was happening). Some were symbolic, others directly telling a story, a couple were uncomfortable to look at and many which were incredibly subtle. Images like a hand holding a bit of string with a rock tied to the end in the thick of an Egyptian protest, with another hand touching their wrist; a non-verbal request for restraint - for the sake of peace or to wait for the right time to attack? Or an image of two pro-Mubarak Egyptians being interrogated, one arguing and another with his face in his hands whilst they are being photographed by revolutionaries, then in the corner of the image you notice a clenched fist...

I spoke with Guy, now relatively well recovered from his injuries, and we discussed the tight deadlines that photojournalists on assignment are faced with, having to send 12 images up to three times daily via satellite phone which meant racing an hour back to a hotel, do a rough cut and then spend a fortune sending them through to his photo editor in New York. In Libya Guy followed his own leads and told me about the strange state of these modern revolutions, with kids in Nike trainers racing out to the frontline somewhere in desert and running to the top of the sand dunes, pulling out their i-phones to report back and then waiting for a NATO air-strike. His images show young Libyans, some holding automatic weapons and wearing flip-flops (not sure how I'd feel about fighting a war in flip-flops) fighting from house to house, or away from the fighting relaxing and behaving like young people everywhere.

The range of incredible images that he captured, and the price that he paid in doing so, shows just how important it is to tell these stories, no matter how uncomfortable some of the realities are. The truth must out, and it's through brave photographers like Guy Martin and his colleagues from various medias that the often brutal, horrible but sometimes possibly necessary realities of revolution and conflict can reach the rest of us and help us to form our opinions. Having one such internationally acclaimed photographer from and working out of Cornwall is a nice thing too.

Shifting Sands was shown at The Poly, Falmouth from January 10th - 14th. It was hosted by Cartel Photos and University College Falmouth (where he is an associate lecturer).
Guy Martin is represented internationally by Panos Pictures.

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