Martin John Lars Adler, photo-journalist and cameraman: born Stockholm 30 October 1958; married 1992 Katarina Ekman (two daughters); died Mogadishu 23 June 2006.
Martin Adler was an award-winning photo-journalist and television cameraman who worked in over 20 war zones on four continents. For 15 years he was a freelance photographer and foreign correspondent for the Swedish daily Aftonbladet. Since 1996 he had also worked as an independent film-maker for Channel 4 News. "He put himself, his hand-held camera, his intellect and his sense of humour in the way of the world's meanest people and most horrible situations," said the BBC journalist Paul Mason. Adler was shot dead in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, while covering a peace rally.
He was born in Stockholm in 1958. His mother Nancy was from Sheffield and his Swedish father Lars was an economist. Sandwiched between two brothers, Martin was an energetic and adventurous child, interested in everything from the circumference of his nanny's big toe to the people of Africa.
After school in Sweden, Adler studied social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and then began his career all over the world. "I want to cover the places that nobody else cares about," he said, "and listen to people that others don't listen to." His reports included the training of Liberia's child soldiers; acid attacks on ex-lovers in Bangladesh; and the kidnapping and sale of women in China, for which he won an Amnesty International Media Award in 2001. He spoke six languages and got by in many others.
He was one of a small clan of élite world-affairs journalists who can shoot, write, produce and edit. "Every work by Adler was an act of authorship," said Paul Mason, who collaborated with him on a report about Nigeria for Newsnight in 2004:
The people of the Niger Delta had revolted against the oil companies whose wealth has so con-
spicuously not trickled down. Martin went in on a tourist visa and shot an incredible film.
In late November 2003 Adler spent 10 days with the US Army's Charlie Company in Iraq, filming the shocking behaviour and attitudes of the soldiers as they attempt to combat insurgency in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. On the world's most dangerous stretch of road, Adler wore a keffiyeh head-dress and a khaki jacket. "In Baghdad," he wrote,
you were constantly aware of being a potential target, and all too visible. So posing as a local sheik along Highway One was rather like snapping one's fingers and disappearing.
His film was broadcast by Channel 4 News and won the Rory Peck Award for Hard News in 2004. The judge's view was that it was the best embedded piece he'd seen from Iraq:
He shot it, voiced it, edited it: it genuinely was his creation. It spoke volumes about the situation in Iraq.
Adler had worked for Channel 4 News as an independent film-maker since 1996. He was renowned for his humanity and integrity, qualities apparent in his photos and films. "Martin had awesome courage which he used to reveal an intimate understanding of the human predicament," said Deborah Rayner, Senior Foreign Affairs Editor:
He was always honest, loyal and precise. On the road he was revered for his knowledge, experience, and generosity with his contacts and advice. Martin never left stories: he kept in touch with fixers, translators, drivers and characters he encountered.
While filming Taliban prisoners of war in northern Afghanistan in 2001, Adler's Swedish colleague Ulf Strömberg was shot dead in the next room. Adler realised it was sheer luck that he survived:
You can never be 100 per cent certain anywhere. But to succeed as a warco, safety is vital. The fundamental rule is: never take unnecessary risks.
Although Adler lived by Robert Capa's maxim "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough", even he had his limits. The Swedish foreign correspondent Staffan Heimerson remembers an incident on the Syrian-Iraqi border in 2003:
Hadi, a people-smuggler, had promised to take us over to Iraq. "Tonight I let you off in the dark. I'll give you an inflatable truck tyre, for you to get across." Martin looked at the River Tigris: brown, fast, wide, cold. "With that current we will get to Baghdad in a few days," he said. "But we will have frozen and drowned before that." He turned to the people-smuggler and I saw him thinking, "You slimy bastard." But he gave Hadi a $10 bill and said: "Shokran . . . thanks for guiding us here."
Adler ran a course on security for journalists where he emphasised the importance of preparing for the unexpected. Heimerson recalls his order:
Water-tight backpack, Staffan. Bring five kilos of oatmeal. Mixed with water, you can live on that for a long time.
His wife Katarina, and daughters Isabella and Rebecca, provided the stability and love in their Swedish home that made Adler's work possible.
Last month he returned to Somalia, where no journalist had been since the BBC producer Kate Peyton was shot in February 2005. Thousands of people gathered in the capital, Mogadishu, to support the Union of Islamic Courts who had brought peace after 15 years of war. An unknown gunman stepped up behind Adler and shot him through the heart. He died instantly, still holding his camera.
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