Gary Trotter: My Life In Media

'I was in Cambodia on the back of a motorbike with fellow photographer Tim Page driving. I had dysentery. Let's not go there'
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The Independent Online

Gary Trotter, 49, is one of Britain's leading news photographers and is the director of the Images sans Frontières picture agency. He recently took the photographs of John Prescott playing croquet at his Dorneywood residence. He is campaigning for the release of his friend Tarik Ramadan, a photographer jailed in northern Iraq. He has a son, Luke, and lives with his partner Liz and two border collies in Slough.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I taught myself photography. From early on I was interested in photojournalism. This was the era of films such as Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now which no doubt had an influence on me. I have to admit I was drawn to the adrenalin rush and the unconventional lifestyles photographers seemed to have.

When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Daily Sketch, which closed when I was 15 and, yes, I did read it.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Old Grey Whistle Test, Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Describe your job

Firstly, I'm a news photographer. I am probably best known by picture desks for photographing wars, riots, and risky situations, but I cover all sorts of news issues. I even photograph royals and celebrities sometimes but they don't really interest me personally.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

Flick through the TV rolling news, Sky, BBC News 24, CNN. I get all the national papers and magazines such as Newsweek and Stern as I have to check if any of our pictures have been used.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

I usually have one of the 24-hour TV news on in the office and I get email updates from all sorts of places.

What is the best thing about your job?

Sometimes you can make a difference to people's lives. For example I went to Afghanistan just after 9/11. I came across Awlia, a one-year-old Afghan boy, in a refugee camp in Pakistan who was in a bad way. I photographed him and a picture was used full page in the Express. I recognised the symptoms and knew the child was dying from dehydration and diarrhoea. Fifty dollars, some rehydration medicine and three days later he was a different kid. I'm trying to get an Iraqi friend, Tarik Ramadan, released from prison in Iraq. He has been locked up without charge for a year and a half by the Asayesh Kurdish security service. Tarik's only crime is being a Turkoman, a group which the Asayesh is trying to force out from Kirkuk.

And the worst?

Sometimes you can't. If you are faced with a thousand kids like Awlia at the same time, all you can do is take the pictures and hope they will help to get attention.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I'm not sure that I do.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

I have been covering the landmine issue since 1992 and still do. Before Diana got involved it was almost impossible to get any newspapers to take notice. In 1997 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to everyone in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. I was just one of thousands of people involved in the ICBL. My dad was I hospital being treated for cancer at the time but when I showed him the story in the newspapers the look on his face was something I will always treasure.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

I was in Cambodia on the back of a motorbike with fellow photographer Tim Page driving. I had dysentery. Let's not go there.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I like good documentaries, anything with David Attenborough, Have I Got News for You, South Park, Family Guy, The Simpsons.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

All of them. Private Eye.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

To keep on going round the world, to get better photographs and to keep coming back alive.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

Aid worker, landmine clearance or mercenary.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Photographers Tom Stoddart and Les Wilson, who are great at their job but remain down to earth. Guys like Tarik, who usually never get recognised but would stand by you to the death. I get to come home from war zones. People like Tarik have to live in them.