Life's last moment on earth / by Dawn Webb

Being involved in an individuals last moment on earth as a photographer is quite a surreal feeling.

I have covered a number of repatriation ceremonies, both here in the UK and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan for me was the toughest because its there where the soldier was working and living in close proximity to all of their friends, sometimes even working with me.
One minute I was out the ground working with a fellow soldier, perhaps collating images and messages for him/her to send home to family and loved ones the next I am being informed to halt the sending process because they have been killed! What follows in the next few days is a sunset vigil service then a ramp loading ceremony, where we load the Union Flagged coffins destined for the UK.

It was my responsibility to capture the whole service, not only for archive purposes but more importantly for the family back home.

One particular service that hit me was a young guy in the Rifles regiment, I snapped his image along with a xmas card I handed out as a prop for our "Christmas messages" feature that we did every year in conjunction with GMTV.  I stopped him in Camp Bastion and asked how long he had been in Afghanistan, "I arrived last night Sarge" - he was straight out of the factory as we say, 18 years old and barely old enough to shave!  He was destined for Sangin, a notorious location during Operation Panthers Claw for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED"S)
Once I got a few posed portraits of him writing my "Dummy card" I dropped him to the Helicopter flight location so that he could jet off to Sangin - two days later I got a call "what did you do with Rifleman  ?/?/?/?/?/? xmas message"     erm it's sat here ready to send I said why?
He was blown up yesterday!!!!! say no more.
36 hours I was covering his repatriation back to the UK.

Two weeks later I was back in the UK covering his remembrance service in a cathedral, with his parents asking me if I still had the card he wrote to us....I had to explain it was just a prop, I felt so bad.

Its only years after it starts to hit you as a photographer, because at the time you are just wrapped up in the moment doing your job.

I guess Pens funeral last Friday highlighted a lot of this for me, ok so the emotions were way higher at Pens funeral because I had a very personal connection - but the procedures are just the same, the task on hand as a photographer are the same, the responsibilities to get it all right with dignity and a level of sensitivity are the same.

I feel now I could give my photographic skills back to members of the public, I have had more than enough experience.  After all why should we frown upon those last moments together not to be photographed, capture those celebrations of life on film.  I want to be there to see it through my lens, producing lasting documents to hand down through generations.

So to all of you reading this please pass my details on to friends and family - I can be there no matter how far, how short notice to grab a few shots .

Woody









Gun salute at a sunset vigil, Camp Bastion.