War coverage: 'We're the ones who stick our heads out'

Camera operators are mentioned last in reports of casualties, but they take the greatest risks, says Sholto Byrnes

Simon Cumbers. Taras Protsiuk. Mazen Dana. The list of camera operators who have been killed while working to capture the images that fill our TV screens is a long one, but it consists of names barely known to a viewing public more familiar with the war reporters in front of the lens. Kate Adie and her flak jacket and the white-suited Martin Bell gain the attention - it was noticeable that many newspapers covering the shooting of BBC journalists in Riyadh last Sunday began their reports with the injuries of the corporation's security correspondent Frank Gardner rather than the death of Simon Cumbers, the Irish cameraman who accompanied him - although the crew who record the despatches are often in even greater danger than those who sign off from Baghdad or Jenin.

Simon Cumbers. Taras Protsiuk. Mazen Dana. The list of camera operators who have been killed while working to capture the images that fill our TV screens is a long one, but it consists of names barely known to a viewing public more familiar with the war reporters in front of the lens. Kate Adie and her flak jacket and the white-suited Martin Bell gain the attention - it was noticeable that many newspapers covering the shooting of BBC journalists in Riyadh last Sunday began their reports with the injuries of the corporation's security correspondent Frank Gardner rather than the death of Simon Cumbers, the Irish cameraman who accompanied him - although the crew who record the despatches are often in even greater danger than those who sign off from Baghdad or Jenin.

"The people facing the greatest dangers are cameramen and photographers," agrees Andrew Marshall, Reuters' chief correspondent in Iraq. "They are the ones who have got to be where it's happening." Elizabeth Jones, who has filmed extensively in Africa, says: "We are the ones who have to stick our heads above the sandbags."

But among the small community of mainly freelance camera operators who film in war zones concern is rising that their job is becoming more dangerous. "Camera people are particularly at risk because holding a camera can look like holding a gun," says Tina Carr, director of the Rory Peck Trust, which was set up in memory of the war cameraman killed during the attempted coup in Moscow in 1993. Just such a misapprehension led to the death of Mazen Dana, a Reuters cameraman killed by US troops near the notorious Abu Ghraib prison last year; the troops said they thought his camera was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

With Western crews increasingly being targeted, the camera operators are even more exposed than reporters. "Anything in visuals is particularly dangerous," says David Schlesinger, the global managing editor at Reuters, "because you have to get so close to get the good shots."

Tim Lambon, a cameraman who works mainly for Channel 4, says the difference in risk is huge. "A reporter or even a snapper can go out there, get what they need and then move out," he says. "I have to get a sequence. The shortest I can do is four seconds, and you'd be surprised how long four seconds can take when the shots are going down all around you."

Lambon has been held up at gunpoint in Iraq, almost lynched in Mali, and dodged Israeli tanks in Jenin. In Palestinian territory, he says, it used to be best to film from the Palestinian lines during a firefight. "It's better to be on their side because they're not great weapons handlers and their fire goes all over the place. At least the Israelis are accurate."

Recently, however, he worries that the attitude of the Israelis has changed. "They seem to have taken on a policy of targeting camera people and journalists." A year ago the award-winning British cameraman James Miller was shot by Israeli forces in Rafah, even though witnesses said he was waving a white flag while filming an Israeli tank.

Last week the BBC announced that it was considering employing armed guards to protect teams reporting from dangerous areas.

James Brabazon, who once filmed for 28 days under combat conditions in Liberia, does not believe this would help the cause of good reporting. "Security is one thing, and telling a story can be another. In Somalia and increasingly in Afghanistan the dynamic of the situation is that you have to have armed locals. But if you were to arrive in Mogadishu with an ex para toting an AK you wouldn't even get off the plane. If you alienate the people whose story you're there to tell it's just self-defeating." Neither does he feel it would be welcomed as regular practice by any but a minority of camera operators. "I feel very strongly that journalists shouldn't carry weapons, and if it becomes an industry norm I will stop working." The hazards of filming in war zones are something camera people get used to, says Elizabeth Jones. "You build a tolerance. The first experience of gunfire is scary, but you survive and you know you can survive it again. I've never got used to being shot at, though."

Lambon says his colleagues are more aware of risks than other journalists. "We're looking for shots all the time, so we tend to see." In Iraq with a producer from Channel 4, Lambon put this to the test, disappearing from the stationary van they were both in, walking around a corner and then returning. Once in the van, he put two fingers to the head of the producer, who was still not aware that Lambon had moved. "He nearly died of shock. You have to be aware."

That's certainly true of those who contend that the best results are often achieved only through the maximum risk. "The people who win awards are those who hang in there," says Lambon. Sometimes that results in injury - Brabazon reports having had "a lump taken out of my arm by a crocodile while in Zimbabwe" - or worse. As Lambon, who was a friend of Cumbers, says: "I've lost too many of my mates in the last 20 years."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Guru Careers: Product Design Engineer / UX Designer

£20 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a tech savvy Product Design Engineer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor