Photography 4

 

Nyhavn 2011 – I went to Copenhagen in December 2009 as an NHK coordinator to report from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15).  I was running around in the mammoth Bella Center chasing a minister from Tuvalu, a small island country in the South Pacific, which was fast disappearing into the ocean due to the rising sea level. The last day, Barack Obama was arriving to talk to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese PM. Expectations were high, many of us hadn’t slept for 3 days and nights. Then the big guns came in private jets and left so quickly, we were only told they had been there but no negotiations had taken place. Just acknowledgment, and that was that. Nothing changed. The whole show was an abject failure.

Two years later I went back to Copenhagen with another NHK crew filming for an astronomy programme about the Sun. I interviewed Henrik Svensmark of Danish National Space Institute. His theory of ‘cosmoclimatology‘ claims that global warming in the last century is to do with increased solar activities reducing cosmic rays reaching the Earth, which subsequently is reducing the Earth’s cloud cover. The Earth’s history has been following this pattern and the correlation between human activities and climate change has been exaggerated. Many scientists dismiss Svensmark’s theory and criticise his method of analysis. This is controversial stuff particularly because climate change is political, it’s an industry, intertwined with business, power and money.  Yet Prof Svensmark seemed so detached from all that.  Early next morning at dawn we were filming at Nyhavn, lovely little street by the canal. The water was frozen. It was Sunday. After drinking all night someone had thrown a chair in the canal.

The Angel of the North 2009 – I was in Newcastle with a Fuji TV crew following the footsteps of the young Crown Prince of Japan (the current Emperor) when he came to Britain in 1953 at the age of 20 to attend the Queen’s coronation. It was a difficult trip for the young prince so soon after the war in which over a hundred thousand British and Commonwealth lives were lost or maimed by the Japanese on the battleground and concentration camps in South East Asia. Although the British media were relatively sympathetic to the young man who had stayed out of politics in his teenage years, when he embarked on a tour of England, people came out in protest and boycotted official events. He stayed at Lord Armstrong’s Cragside in Rothbury near Newcastle away from the public eye and the anti-Japanese sentiments. The tree he planted in the garden at Cragside was still there. On the way back we took a little detour to Gateshead to see Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. The gargantuan man with a wing, who stood on an open field by the motorway, certainly impressed my Japanese colleagues.

Pink Hut in the Desert 2011 – My first trip to Egypt was in 2002 when I was working on a BBC/NHK coproduction ‘Massacre in Luxor‘.  It was a TV documentary about the Japanese, Swiss and British families who lost their loved ones in the 1997 terror attack in Luxor in Upper Egypt. 58 people, almost all tourists, were gunned down in cold blood, 10 of them were Japanese newly-weds on honeymoon. The families visited the ancient temple ruin where the massacre took place, they met and pleaded to the Mayor of Luxor about a memorial to be built near the site. Tourism in Egypt is crucial accounting for over 10% of its GDP.  The mayor was quite willing to oblige to the families’ request but he lost his political clout soon after and the promise he’d made was forgotten. It was one of the first high-profile Islamist terror attacks against civilians but those early incidents were deemed almost insignificant after the spectacular staging of 9.11 by Bin Laden and Al Qaida 4 years later.

I was back in Upper Egypt in 2011, working on a programme about the British Museum and Ancient Civilisations. We flew from Cairo to Aswan and filmed at Abu Simbel, went down on the Nile on a felucca to see the carved rock the Greeks left behind 2700 years before.  I took the photo of the pink hut, a petrol and water station or a prayer facility (a perfect ISIS rendezvous point for a TV series about CIA or DGSE), from our bus on the ‘Mirage Highway’ in the middle of Nubian Desert. No one was around, just the pink lump of concrete on the hot, dry, barren land.

Nauklatis Village Elders 2011 – We flew back to post-Arab Spring Cairo. It was a different place to what I remembered from almost 10 years before. Murderous pollution and crippling traffic jam ruled over our daily schedule. We drove towards Alexandria and filmed in a village called Naukratis, a Greek colony in Egypt in the 6th century BC, with British Museum’s Ancient Greece experts. The villagers followed us everywhere. Essam, our Egyptian fixer, gave the children Japanese biros to keep them out of the camera frame. The elders were complaining about the authorities. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, a large swamp, an area of archaeological importance, was left untouched and infested with mosquitoes but they were unable to do anything about it. Their lives in rural Egypt, as in the quiet villages in Luxor, seemed a world apart from Islamist extremism or radical politics in Cairo.

 

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