laurence

Articles, Long Exposures, Places

Wildfires of Madeira

My family and I were last week among the hundreds evacuated as wildfires tore through the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira, leaving three people dead and many more injured and/or homeless.

I have been at the scene of too many domestic fires in my role as a journalist – often at very close quarters (with permission of firefighters).

But wildfires are different – you can feel the intense heat from many meters away, they spread faster as a result of the enormous swarms of burning embers they spew out and can charge in different directions at once. And then change direction, seemingly on a pin head.

They are terrifying.

These are my before and after photographs of last week’s fires.

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

wildfires

wildfires

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

People

Faces of the Airwave Voices

I am a lodger in a radio station.

Yes, I occasionally attempt to translate my projects for telly and/or online into something worth listening to, but most of the time I sit in the middle of a frenetic, creative office watching those around me endeavour to conjure audio gold.

I’ve come to a conclusion: Radio presenters are a funny bunch. I’ve yet to meet a presenter who is an out and out egomaniac. And those you may on first sight suspect are a little full of themselves tend to hide a secret vulnerability and tenderness about them.

What I did not expect, when I was commissioned to do environmental portraits of the entire presenting cast at BBC Essex, was just how many presenters – these people who boldly go one-on-one with the world over the wireless – were intensely camera shy. It has been a joy to team their interests, senses of self and programme, with locations or moods of shoot.

Dave

Dave

Rob Jelly

Rob Jelly

Sadie Nine

Sadie Nine

You might think camera shy = bad news for a photographer. Not at all. I love people who wear their souls on their faces (even if the subjects do not).

Actually, its that last point (the bit in brackets), that I find most interesting. Why do so many of us want to look like George Clooney, have whiter teeth or a slimmer figure? Why is a photograph that shows flaws and imperfections so worrying?

Cath Melandri

Cath Melandri

Tony Fisher

Tony Fisher

Mark

Mark

Personally, and especially in these days of apps that bring re-touching into the hands of all smartphone users, I believe portraits of people as they are have never been more important. And if you can be at the top of your game (and in the public, erm, ear?) and proud of your imperfections then even better.

Peter

Peter

Ollie Winniberg

Ollie Winniberg

Places

Walking the Canal after the Calder Valley Floods

Last December, a string of villages just a stone’s throw from my home town of Halifax were flooded. Villages whose impossible-sounding names you may never have heard of – Luddenden Foot and Mytholmroyd among them – were battered by flood waters of up to 6ft.

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Four months on, and while you know strife remains behind many of the doors, outwardly things seem pretty much back to normal.

Calder Valley is beautiful. All the more so because it is a working, often unkempt, beauty where renewal lags into decay.

oil drum planters

I hope I’ve captured some of that beauty in these images taken on the canal route from Sowerby Bridge to Mytholmroyd.

White bags caught in the trees

Colourful roof panels on an industrial unit

graffiti

decaying timbers

Large digger and small digger

Old flooring from an exposed former works site

Traffic cones on the bank

Riverside Camping shop

Diggers at work on a house near Luddenden Foot

rubble

People

Treasure finds in England

“Walking with a purpose.”

What a great phrase! It came from a metal detectorist called Stuart Eldon while I was producing an Inside Out film about treasures in the east of England with presenter Ben Robinson.

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

The piece was great fun to make. Photo-wise, my favourite was the one of Andy Long, the national intelligence lead on Operation Chronos (pictures top).

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

Uncategorised

Unidentified bodies, Cockley Cley and the people trying to give the unnamed dead a name

I couldn’t believe there were more than 1,000 people in the UK who were dead, unnamed and with nobody to mourn them.

In this age of social media where we know what a celebrity has for breakfast, where all our movements in public are apparently covered by CCTV, how is it possible that something as significant as the death of somebody could pass so anonymously?

At first I was concerned my suggestion of investigating how this might be so might fall on deaf ears, dismissed as overly macabre. It didn’t. My colleagues and superiors at the BBC embraced the idea. More importantly, the Great British public found the situation as appalling as I did.

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

My online work on this was viewed by more than 1million people, while my radio efforts were listened to on radio stations across the country and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and our Inside Out film, much of which I had the opportunity to film and direct myself, reached a far higher audience than usual. And there was a short film called “How do you reconstruct a Human Head?” which was well received, despite (or perhaps because of?) its unusual title.

And the story was taken up by others in the days that followed, including the regional and national press and other broadcasters including ITV and SKY. Such things don’t matter to me in terms of ego, they do matter to me in terms of a subject’s importance reaching as wide an audience as possible.

One of the cases we looked at was that of an unidentified woman, whose decapitated body was found bound and covered in a dustsheet off a rural path in Cockley Cley, Norfolk 41 years ago.

Cockley Cley is a beautiful, though other-worldly, place. I wanted to spend some time in the area off the beaten track before meeting the detective trying to solve the case. These are some of the pictures I took that day.

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

Articles

Fertility and aphrodisiacs in the 17th Century

I‘m a bit old fashioned. I grew up on letters rather than email and I can still remember the excitement of opening my first ever, proper, letter. It was from my grandfather and he was responding to the first letter I had ever written.

I feel a little sorry for kids today. I doubt their first ever email will be quite so memorable. And it’ll probably not be from somebody they love and admire. It’ll probably be from Google.

I digress. My problem is I still treat emails a bit too much like letters. I still read every single one I receive at work, however dull they might appear. This has downsides. Time wasted on spam, lengthy ploughing through an inbox after a holiday.

But.

There was this email from Wellingborough Borough Council some time ago. It was a decent little local ultra story about repairs to some town centre mosaics.

About two thirds of the way down (yes, I really do read them) it emerged one of the mosaics (dated to the 1980s, so not very old) depicted the town’s ancient Red Well. Its what? Well, turns out this well had mysterious properties which aided fertility. And they were famous enough to attract the attentions of Henrietta Maria, wife of the ill-fated King Charles I.

And I was hooked. As an occasional escape from more serious investigative pieces about education and homeless London families being put out to pasture in Luton, my time was spent exploring this peculiar world of fertility tourism.

The result was a piece called Fertility Towns: Is there ever something in the water?

It seems to have been fairly well received, with more than 500,000 people reading it on the first day of publication.

And I got to reveal that “powdered womb of a rabbit” was once an aphrodisiac.

Sometimes, being a little old fashioned has its benefits…

People

The asylum seekers, migrants and refugees in search of legitimacy

This is the scene. A BBC crew arrives at a Red Cross refugee drop-in centre with a large camera and a long furry microphone. Is anybody willing to go on camera to speak about their experience of being a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant? The room quickly empties. Not one is willing to bare their face to the camera.

This makes for an interesting proposition for a photographer.

So I put my cameras down in a corner and joined a table to talk, listen and learn.

For an hour or so, as it turned out.

Speaking out, I learned, rarely works out well for them. They fear repercussions either from officialdom or from those who may wish them harm. Not just fear actually, because sometimes talking out has turned out bad for people they know.

It makes me think about those examples of ‘good’ journalism where people have been coaxed into spilling all to the camera or mic, being named and so on. But when the journalist moves on to the next job, the contributor can be left to face the music.

“What about if we are not shown?” a man, sat next to me, asks.

“In pictures?” I ask.

“Yes, for sure.”

“That could work. Portraits without the faces.”

The idea creates a bit of a buzz around the table and everybody is willing to take part.

It’s more than a compromise, says a young woman opposite, who dreams of university. It is a statement of being. They exist, they say, in an incomplete and faceless way on Home Office documents. Then I did portraits of the Red Cross workers who help provide clothing, food tokens, advice or, in one case while I was there, a caring shoulder to cry on.

Here are the results of that day.

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker

migrant

People

Great Faces: A personal reminder of the honour of looking people in the eye

Today I am taking stock, laying an anchor in time.

For the past couple of months I’ve been leading a hybrid work existence – writing for the BBC news website and trying to learn how to bring large-scale journalism projects to the wicket for television, radio and online. The latter – in the role of producer – has now become my primary role for the next nine months or so.

Danielle Moss

Danielle Moss

I’ve been very aware that photography, an aspect of my work I treasure so deeply – has been sidelined. I’ve been filming contributors using camcorders and then having to remind myself to get a still image afterwards. That really grates.Legosubmission (15 of 21)

Looking back over the portraits I’ve made over the past few weeks with people, I’m reminded just what a privilege it is to look people in the eye and capture their image.

So today I’m making a self-pledge to put photography back in the heart of my waking days, if not in work then in play.

Dr Paul Jerram, of E2V, with an example of the technology on board the New Horizons Probe

Dr Paul Jerram, of E2V, with an example of the technology on board the New Horizons Probe

Caroline Woodley

Caroline Woodley

People, Projects

Amputees: how people adjust to life after limb loss

Being the odd one out is strangely invigorating, a good-for-the-soul experience.

I experienced it being the only white man on a Tanzania-bound cargo ferry, I experienced it working at the no longer extant Disability Rights Commission and I experienced it a couple of weeks back with an inspiring and no-nonsense group of lower limb amputees.

By being the oddity – in the most recent example, by having two lower limbs – your sense of group identity is challenged. So these were a bunch of amputees. So they’re a group, right? But then they’ve all got their individual stories – and you hear how a below-the-knee amputation is a very different experience to an above-the-knee one.

Surprise, surprise – the people grouped by society into an amorphous block turn out to be individuals too. A life lesson that’s always worth a reminder – and being the odd one out gives that same lesson a mallet to hit you with.

The most striking story was that of Sandra, because she did what most of us might find unimaginable – she asked to have her lower leg removed.

Sandra Staffiero

Sandra Staffiero

Aged 20, Sandra was involved in a moped crash which caused a double compound fracture that prevented her from walking properly and left her in excruciating chronic pain.

Operations were carried out but the pain remained.

In 2011 she went to her doctor.

“I said ‘I cannot carry on like this’,” she  told me. “I had no quality of life. I just asked if he could do a major operation. I did not even mention the word amputation.

“When I made the decision I just felt as though a massive cloud had been lifted.”

Graham Facey

Graham Facey

And then there was Graham, who went into hospital with a sharp feeling in his foot and he woke up to find his lower leg gone. And there was a blue marker line higher up his leg. If the swelling reached the line, he would have had to have more of his leg (above the knee) removed. Terrifying. Only not, it seems, to Graham who had already experienced going blind over a single weekend.

And the incredible Frances who you cannot possibly believe is in her 60s. She had a full limb removal aged 13 months and so, in her words, has never known anything different.

Frances Collins

Frances Collins

She reminds you that she was a teen in the 1960s.She’s searching your eyes to see if you’re getting her point. I’m not.

“Mini skirts,” she points out. “Wooden leg.”

Ah.

“Horrific,” she says.

The enormity of this hits you and you’re struggling to find the words. Then she smiles and says:

“But I have brought up three children and had a successful career as a teacher.”

Throughout her career, she was employed as able-bodied.

“I only got a blue badge five years ago – and that was for my other knee which is getting creaky, not my prosthetic limb.”

She said having a baby was like “having a baby” adding: “It changes everything. But everything does not stop, it just changes.

“You can do the things you want, but you just go about doing those things differently.”

Wow.

People

From weird polling stations to VE Day anniversaries

The past few weeks have been hectic and eclectic.

I’ve had the privilege of recounting the extraordinary story of a Hurricane pilot who first use a parachute when he was on fire during the Battle of Britain, pondering the ways in which the Second World War changed the countryside and taking a glance at the most peculiar polling stations in England.

The latter was ‘reversioned’ into both Thai and Chinese for the BBC’s audiences there.

On a more ‘hard news’ front, I’ve been looking at ‘never events’ in hospitals and – linked to the polling stations – the issue of schools no longer wanting to be polling stations.

Now, I’ve noticed how during particularly busy periods of work (which the elections are for all people in news or features), I tend to seek out tranquillity through my photography. Enter the white clematis.