Ex soldier, war photographer and Fuji photographer Andy Bush has travelled the world’s hotspots to bring back some iconic images or war. In an exclusive interview Andy tells us about his inspiration and let’s us in on some of his experiences.
RP: Hi Andy, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks for the invite to your blog, Robert. It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to talk about myself or my work in a public forum so a little nervous but thank you for the opportunity.
So, I’m 47 years old and live in the beautiful city of Bath with my wonderfully understanding wife, Min, and 20 month old son, Sebastian. I’ve been shooting professionally since about 1993 when I started doing jobs for my local newspaper, The Bath Chronicle, but my first published images were in the Bath University newspaper, Focus. They were some black and whites I took of students during rag week getting up to their usual crazy stunts. I think they paid me £15 and invited me to to come and photograph their fashion show. Seeing my pictures in print gave me such a thrill and it still does.
RP:what inspired you to become a photographer?
I kind of fell into photography by accident, not something I planned. From a young age I was always going to be a soldier and I joined the army at 17. Unfortunately, I had a massive climbing accident, breaking both my knees, my ankle, an arm and my jaw, which pretty much put an end to my career. After I left the army I was going from job to job doing whatever I could to make some money. I never enjoyed what I was doing and missed the excitement of the army. After being part of a heliborne assault group everything seemed so boring. A year or so after leaving the army I was working two jobs, labouring on a building site during the day and pulling pints behind the bar of a pub in the evening. The building site was local and every day on my way to work I walked past a camera shop. I remembered my days in the army when all I had was a crappy disk camera, Remember those? Well, the one I had was particularly bad as it would continue to take pictures even when the disk was complete, so would double expose all the frames unless I kept track of the number of shots I’d taken which, most of the time, I didn’t.
I used to do some pretty exciting stuff in the army and would have had some great pictures if I’d had a decent camera. So, one day I decided to stop by the camera shop and look in the window. On the shelf, in the used gear section, was a Minolta 7000 camera with a 50mm lens. I remembered the model because a good friend of mine from the army had this same camera and he always had great quality photos. So at lunchtime I walked back down to the shop and, after a bit of bartering, I walked out with the camera and a couple of rolls of B&W film. That afternoon at work I loaded the camera, set it to Program and started blatting away ’til I’d used up both rolls of film then dropped them back into the shop for processing. That was it! I was instantly hooked! From then on pretty much all of my spare time was taken up reading photography books or in the local public darkroom processing film and printing. I practically lived in that place and was constantly being kicked
out at the end of each night.
RP: what project are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished a self funded personal project in Laos that I had wanted to do for quite some time. During the Vietnam War, Laos became the most heavily bombed country per capita in history and has a huge problem with unexploded ordnance to this day. Around 100 people each year are still being killed or injured from this stuff over 40 years after the war ended and nearly half the victims are children. I only had a very limited time on the ground there as I was supposed to be on a family holiday in Thailand, which I interrupted for a week. I wanted to do so much more with this project but because of the remoteness of the location and the time it took just to get there I didn’t get the chance to visit the hospitals or clinics dealing with the victims or UXO. There is also the fact that Laos is a communist state and as such not a free country where journalists can operate as they please. This trip was all done under the radar from the Laos authorities, limiting what I could do and who I could talk to so I kind of felt like I only came back with half the story. I spent a few days with a team clearing UXO in Sekong Province in the south of Laos. The area being cleared was right out in the jungle covered mountains near the border with Vietnam and well off any tourist routes, so it was a fascinating to see how these hill people lived their daily lives in such difficult conditions. I really enjoyed the experience.
As for the future, I don’t know yet. I have a few ideas kicking around and I never know what will get thrown my way in the way of work. I’m toying with the idea of going to South Sudan as I have a friend working out there at the moment but that’s definitely a pipe dream faze at the moment. I’ve also wanted to visit the south of Thailand which has been in the grips of a violent insurgency since 2001. But it’s something that will take a lot of planning and will most likely need government approval to do, as I’d like to embed with Thai troops if possible.
But again, that’s just an idea for the moment. I think I might also like to try and find something safer and closer to home for a change. Who know!
RP: Whats inspires your photography?
Anything and everything is the short answer. But the people who have inspired my photography the most are Sebastião Salgado, Don Mcullen and Tim Page. Just look at their work and you’ll see why. But it’s more than just their work, it’s their sense of adventure and their willingness to walk into the lion’s den to take those amazing pictures.
RP: What does photography mean to you?
Photography to me is about influence. Photography has the power to change how we see the world. It has the power to change world opinion and government policy or just change our emotional state, make us laugh or cry. No other medium has the same impact as a powerful still photograph. It’s also about connection. Photography can connect you to the subject in the photo emotionally, you feel their pain or joy. Or it can connect you to a place that you might not every see for your self.
RP: What cameras did you shoot with and why?
My first camera was the minolta I mentioned earlier. But I soon move on to Nikon when I started to professionally. I had an old FM2 with power winder and a few lenses. But then I discovered the Canon eos 1 system and when I could afford to, I swapped to Canon in about 1995. For me at the time Canon had the edge over the Nikon system and I stayed with Canon for almost 20 years switching from film in to the digital in about 2000.
But about 3 years ago I was shooting some old canon rangefinder cameras I have. I love rangefinder cameras. I love the feel of them and the way they operate and of course the retro look, but I got fed up with having to process the film in my bathroom and then scan the inevitably dirty negs that I ended up with. So I started to look around for a digital rangefinder. The Leica was the obvious choice but well out of my price bracket. Then I came a cross the Fuji XPro1. So I bought it along with a couple of lenses, there wasn’t much choice back then so I only had the 18 and 35mm but that was enough for me to play with. I was blown away by the quality of the images that I was getting from this little camera. As Fuji released more lenses I started buying them and at some point that I started using the camera to do jobs on. Just little set up shoots at first where people would be posing for me to start with but in 2014 I was asked to go to Iraq after ISIS had attack the Yazidi in Sinjar. I wanted to travel light so I decided to take a chance and packed my Xpro1. It performed outstandingly. When the XT1 with its superior auto focus system came along I decided to give it a try. I started doing all my work on this fantastic little camera to the point that I wasn’t using my Canons for anything other than long lens work, which wasn’t that often. I had a lot of Canon equipment sitting around more or less redundant so I sold it all and bought a second XT1. I love these little camera they’re so small and light you can take them anywhere. I can get my entire kit in my day sack no problem which is prefect for travel. They’re so unobtrusive too, people barely notice you taking pictures, where as with a massive 1dX in your hand you really stand out. The Fuji does has some limitations but once you get to know what they are you find a workaround until Fuji fixes the issue, which to my great joy they usually do. Tracking auto focus is the main issue for me at the moment but its getting there. I think as the technology progresses, mirrorless will replace the SLR at some point.
RP: Any anecdotes you can share?
Every press photographer has got a thousand stores to tell and its so hard to single one out. Just for instance, on a recent trip to Iraq I wanted to hire a discreet 4X4 to drive to Sinjar so’s not to draw attention to myself. What I ended up with was a big shiny black Hummer, not exactly what I had in mind. On the same trip, I came under fire from ISIS mortars and had to take cover quickly. But to my horror I found that I had dived in to the toilet trench, not fun. The list is endless.
RP: What are you looking for in a photo?
A lot of the time, what every I can get. Sometimes, especially working in conflicts, you have it in your mind what you want, but most of the time it just doesn’t play out that way. For instance, being embedded with the British Army. It is really difficult to get good shots of combat. They don’t want you anywhere near that stuff if they can help it. They do their best to keep you away from any potential action and they also have to have every image cleared for use by them, so even if you do get something good the chances are it will be censored out so you can’t use it on the grounds of operational security or some other excuse. But you still have to tell the story. So what do you do? You shoot whats in front of you. Combat isn’t the only story in a war, there is so much more than all the bombs and bullets. More important for me are the real victims of war, the civilians and especially the children. I photograph a lot of children in war zones because there are so many of them there. In some cases they are the ones doing the fighting. On my last trip to Iraq I met girls as young as 14 training to fight with a YPG affiliated group and boys even younger. Ultimately, I’m trying to tell a story, be it in a single picture or a series of shots. That’s what I’m looking for in a photo to tell the story.
RP: Biggest regret relating to photography?
I’ve got many regrets relating to photography. Why didn’t I shoot this or that. I wish I’d shot it differently. I think everybody has these regrets but my biggest regret was wasting a couple of years of my life and thousands of pounds of my hard earned cash trying to break into video. I went though this faze of total disinterest in stills photography In part due to the some of the boring uninspiring jobs I was doing just to make a living. I still do these job now but to a much lesser degree. I have to say my Fuji XPro1 was with out doubt the catalyst in reigniting my passion for still photography again. So thanks Fuji!
RP: Any closing comments?
Don’t be afraid. If your not prepared to go and look you’ll will never see whats there.
You can read more about Andy’s recent trip to Laos on his website.