The winners of the 2012 US Military Photographer of the year award has been announced. With all of the freelance photographers currently risking their lives in war zones across the world I am always interested to see how military personnel are allowed to publically portray themselves in competitions like this. Having served in the military myself I am acutely aware of how easy it is for these events to be hijacked as a public relations or political exercise.
The image above is my favourite from the whole competition, I guess it appeals to the documentary photographer in me. I investigated further into this shot. The photographer is Jeremy Lock, grandson of the subject. He is currently a U.S. Air Force combat photojournalist stationed at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron. Over the years he has had seven winning entries in the Military Photographer of the Year competition. Whilst serving as a photographer in Iraq in 2006 he was taking pictures of a group of marines that came under fire. Several marines were hit and Lock put down his cameras, picked up an assault rifle, and helped provide covering fire as the injured were dragged to safety. For his actions he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Lock, shown left, has worked around the world with the military. His work has been published in Time and National Geographic magazines as well as major newspapers across the United States including The New York Times, The LA Times and The Washington Times. His work has also been published in books including “The War in Iraq” and “A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces.”
What special precautions and/or equipment do you take when you’re going to a combat area?
Well, lucky for me, I have a lot of military training that is required before we step foot in the war zone. And on this trip it has definitely worked. The training just kicks in which in turn helps you complete the mission. When I go out for a shoot here, I wear a Kevlar helmet, body armor, shooters vest with one lens (17-55mm) extra batteries and film cards, note pad and pen and some essential first aid supplies. I have a 9mm pistol strapped to my leg and carry 2 cameras (D1X with a 80-400mm lens and a D2X with a 12-24mm lens) At times I do interchange the lenses with different bodies depending on the effect or situation. With my photography I do not use flash unless I am in a studio. And for night missions I carry a night vision lens adapter, but don’t use it. I use all natural light. And I always pray for my safe return!
What ethical considerations do you keep in mind while shooting in combat zones (civilians and military)?To capture the truth! When editing my photos I do not do anything that can not be done in a darkroom – unless I’m creating an illustration.
What are some of the ethics issues in conflict areas?Knowing when to shoot and knowing when to put the camera down and help out with civilians or military. I have not really had any problems in this area yet. I did have to put my camera down and help give first aid to a civilian who was shot because there was only one guy helping and he needed help. In my experiences the people I am photographing know I am there, so act accordingly. If something did go amiss I would like to think I would stop it or shoot what’s going on and let the higher ups deal with it. Until you are put into that situation, you don’t know.
How did these instances affect you, and did your emotions impact the way you approached a photo?
I have not encountered any ethical issues over here. I did, however, have one when I was working on a story in a neo natal intensive care unit very early in my career. I was shooting a family that gave me permission to shoot them and their baby died. Although I had permission I couldn’t bring the camera to my face. Later I talked about the situation with my fellow photographers and we all agreed, as long as I wasn’t obtrusive to the family, shooting from a distance, the family probably would of loved to have the last few moments with their baby captured on film to remember. Again you just never know until you are put in to these situations. I believe if you are a good person you will do the right thing.
A very short clip with Lock in action is HERE
Lock learnt his skills at the Defense Information School. Some details of the courses run there can be found by looking through some of the links from the page ie for the Intermediate Photojournalism Course – the references page is useful, it seems that actually taking pictures is a very small part of the course.
Lock is currently the chief photographer for the Airman Magazine, the official magazine of the USAF, and some of his images for that publication can be found HERE.
More images from this year’s competition can be found at: