Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Caught on Film

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Caught on Film

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

Photographer Craig Ames tells David Whetstone why a soldier's life is not always as exciting as you might imagine.

We've all seen the Army recruitment campaigns on the television - those rat-tat-tat bursts of adrenalin-pumping action.

In wartime it was sufficient for Lord Kitchener to proclaim: "Your country needs you!" But in peacetime, sustaining the ranks has hinged on the promise of travel, excitement and learning a trade.

Craig Ames, from Bishop Auckland, joined at 18 to escape what he feared would be a lifetime of dull factory work: "I thought there had to be more to life than this. I suppose I was very much seduced by the Army's PR machine - see the world and live life to the full.

"I did kind of enjoy it but it wasn't at all like it was perceived to be. A lot of the time is spent just milling around, waiting for orders and hanging around in barracks. In peacetime the Army has to keep the guys occupied."

In 1991 Craig did a six-month tour of duty in West Belfast - but before he went, he was put on a crash course in photography.

He recalls: "It was extremely rudimentary, the training we had. Take a 35mm camera, stick a roll of film in and that was it. The first Gulf conflict was under way so there was a shortage of manpower. Things started kicking off again in Northern Ireland so each company had to get a couple of photographers trained up."

One intention was to use the resulting images for recruitment purposes, but photographers were also expected to record weapons or explosives finds. Craig, whose vague interest in photography was enough the get him "volunteered", started to take a hidden camera out on patrol, concealed in his chest webbing. As he was going about the streets of Belfast in an armoured car, he would press the shutter. The result was a body of photos recording a soldier's eye view of the troubled city.

After three years, Craig left the Army and went straight back to Bishop Auckland and factory work. "It took me so long to adjust to it, having left such an institutionalised world where everything is structured and laid on for you," he says, smiling at the irony of it.

But he finally got his act together and took up photography again. He studied for a diploma at Cleveland College, Middlesbrough, then a degree at Kent Institute of Art and Design in Rochester.

In 1997 he went to London to see an exhibition by celebrated documentary photographer Eve Arnold and it inspired him. Suddenly he wanted to take it up professionally and wondered if he could do something with his Belfast pictures.

He went back to the Army, a decade on, to ask if he could spend time with them again, taking photographs this time as an outsider. Because he'd been one of theirs, they agreed. …

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