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In the last few weeks of my Yemen time I’ve been spending some more time working on my project on cinema in Yemen. I’m currently finishing my long article up.
A few people have asked why I’m bothering with this kind of thing. And my answer to them, is that the loss of cinemas might seem anecdotal in a country that constantly teeters on the verge of crisis, the story of cinema in Arabia-Felix is a metaphor for the country’s recent history. The influence of imported culture, terminal economic decline, social strife and internal political unrest; all stoked by stakeholders outside of Yemen’s borders, have had consequences well beyond the big screen. It’s the perfect Yemeni story.
Way back in April 2012 I wrote about Ali Khousrof, the country’s judo champion who had been wounded in the Arab spring. Ali had taken to the streets to protest against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh despite his training schedule for the London 2012 Olympics and been shot in the hip, ruining years of conditioning, training and costing him any hope of a medal. When I met him, he had pretty much recovered from his wounds and had just started training again. It was a wonderful story about hope, struggle and determination. Yet in reality his coaches confided in me that they didn’t actually think that Ali would qualify for the games thanks to the amount of time out he had spent out, (although this is something that I omitted from my original story in the Guardian!) Personally I felt that there was something in Ali which made me believe and for me that was enough.
Over the last few weeks i’ve had a few people tweeting in my direction, asking why I live in Yemen.
It’s an honest question, yet my honest answer is that I don’t know and its something i’ve thought about for a long time. The world’s media doesn’t care hugely about the country. An interest exists in terrorism and security related stories stemming from the Arabian Peninsula, but its very difficult to actually offer any real reportage on events involving Al Qaeda. In fact I could probably offer as much of an educated opinion on events in the badlands of Yemen as a determined observer sat in London.
The vast majority of Yemen stories sadly break from Washington, leaked by embassies, diplomats and spooks to journalists on “defence desks” of the world’s great newspapers. Arab officialdom’s obsession with the power of television, has also vastly limited the amount of camera gear I can haul into the country which means my video work has suffered terribly; the vague lingering thought that I might be subject to deportation at any moment also menaces my mind during lulls in the day.
On top of that, the security situation isn’t great (A trip to the cash machine has begun to feel vaguely like a game of kidnapping Russian Roulette), I complain bitterly about my plumbing, my electricity, the speed of the internet and the food. I’ve lost very good friends to my determination to make a base here and on trips home often promise the rest of my beleaguered friends that I just need to make “one more trip” to tidy some loose ends. Then i’ll be home with them and be more responsible. Sometimes I even find myself bitching a little too bitterly about some of the eccentricities which make Yemeni people so kind and endearing.
Then last night, with a cheek stuffed full of Qat I sat on top of a friends roof. A rare silence hung over the Old City and I enjoyed a fifteen minutes of quiet ecstasy. I had one of the moments which reminded me why I wasn’t sat under a set of fluorescent tubes somewhere in Farringdon, watching the rain pitter patter on the office window whilst eating yet another fucking pret-a-manger sandwich. I was probably slightly flying from the mushy green wad of amphetamine in my cheeks, but it didn’t matter all the same.
So yes @lennon8t2 I am always looking over my shoulder and no to the others I’m not a lunatic or on a mission to be martyred. But hopefully, the above will serve as some explanation.
I’ve just come back from a trip to Fortaleza shooting creative video footage for Vita Coco. It was my first creative job abroad and was a huge learning curve for me; I haven’t seen much in the way of anything but news work for a while now, and it took me back to the couple of jobs I worked on with Stamp Films as a second camera/b-roll operator where 2 minutes of footage often took a full 14 hour day to get right. I’ll come out of it with some key lesson’s learnt:
This project has polarized a lot of my friends, who have questioned why I’m spending time chasing traffic wardens round London on my motorcycle. It’s been a little bit of an eye opener in real terms actually, because I spent a full two hours in Westminster on a busy Thursday, driving round and round in circles without finding a single warden. Sods law? I don’t know, but on Thursday London wasn’t the hornet’s nest of ticketing men I think of it as.
The project started out as a piece of social documentary. There is something quite grand about the way each London borough dresses its parking attendants, as if they were some kind of quasi-police. I like the way in the rain, wardens pull little elasticated splash hoods over their caps and some dress in floor length waterproof trench coats; there’s something archaic about it. I thought it would be easy to spin round town, snapping a warden in each of the city’s boroughs and getTING a story from each of the wardens in the process.
This is Ali from Karachi in Pakistan. He’s been living in Kilburn in the borough of Camden for some time. He was one of the few wardens who didn’t need persuading to be photographed (out of the 20 or so traffic wardens i approached, few were willing to be photographed; some even had little bits of paper on them with scribbles prescribing that they would face disciplinary action if they voluntarily talked to the “press” without seeking permission). He told me didn’t mind his job because he liked walking, although he was tired of people shouting at him. He couldn’t really offer me much of a story from Pakistan, but I think the portrait is telling enough.
In 2008 Canon released its 5D mkii camera and almost by accident turned a new page in photo-journalism. The mkii turned photographers into film makers overnight, enabling photojournalists to produce cinema quality content in full HD for a reasonable price. The 5D has now spawned a hundred different imitators with similar HD features and the proportion of journalists with the physical capability to produce a regular stream of captivating “multimedia” has sky rocketed.
The trend hasn’t gone unnoticed and this year the World Press Photo awards recognised the global shift away from still photography’s visual dominance in newspapers. The Amsterdam based organisation created new categories for two multimedia prizes, one for traditional linear productions and secondly an award for non-linear interactive multimedia productions.