Britannia Herself.

Rangers fans depart Galabank Stadium after the Annan Athletic FC v Rangers FC, Annan, Scotland, on Saturday 23rd September 2012. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2013, all rights reserved.


My image (above) of a Rangers FC fan, is this week’s ‘Why I Took This Image’ over on the Document Scotland photography collective website. The article explains a little of the background to the image, how it came about and why I took it.

The ‘Why I Took This Image’ series is a weekly article in which the various photographers exhibiting as part of the Document Scotland-curated ‘Seeing Ourselves’ photography show discuss their work. ‘Seeing Ourselves’ can be seen at Fotospace Gallery, Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, until July31st 2013.


Catfish Tales, part 1.

Shot during the initial tremor…People run for wide streets in Tokyo, as the Magnitude 9 earthquake hits the north east of Japan. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2011, all rights reserved.

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the Great East Japan earthquake, which happend at 2.46pm on Friday March 11th 2011. Approximately 19,000 people died and many thousands are still missing, and hundred’s of thousands now displaced from their homes. The earthquake, the 5th largest ever recorded, triggered a massive tsunami which washed away whole communities. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant suffered damage and over the next few days 3 reactors exploded.

I was based in Japan, for my work as freelance photographer working for editorial clients worldwide. I wrote the below a little time after the first weeks of the quake, when I began jotting down all my memories of that time.

Here you go, 2 years ago exactly, today…

Catfish Tales, Part 1.

Spanish David wanted to meet at 3pm. But I was away out in the east of Tokyo, near the new SkyTree, shooting on assignment. A beautiful day, sunny blue skies, crystal clear. The day had gone well, the shoot was finished, all the pictures were taken. So I crossed the city, two trains, over to Shinjuku.

Spanish David and I hadn’t arranged a specific spot to meet, but we both knew where it’d be. I got there early, ambled around, went into shops, checked out the prices of some things I need and the prices of some things I don’t need. Killing time, checking the watch, and with no way to contact David, I awaited his call, or message.

Then I saw a woman, dressed in black, standing in a doorway, hands on lintels, looking left, looking right, looking agitated. I watched her for a second or two and at that moment I felt it.

Something wasn’t right. Perhaps I was light headed, it’s happened a few times recently. But no. Other were beginning to notice also. The ground was moving, things were beginning to rattle, to make noise. Earthquake.

A man near me pulled his jacket over his head, to shield himself from any glass, or debris, which was about to fall. I was thinking fast, almost automatically now- run to open space. I was in a street, either side of which was festooned with neon lighting, advertising. The last thing I wanted was for those to fall on me. I started to jog to the open road up ahead, not a wide open space, but wider and more open than where I was. As I ran others around me began running also. It was obvious this tremor wasn’t a minor one, the momentum of the tremor seemed to be mounting, as did the momentum of the runners now all headed towards the open road.

In front of me a man, a salaryman stops running, I’m inches behind him and have to push him slightly as he becomes an obstacle in my path. He moves forward a little, and I realise how easy it’d be for someone to fall, to be pushed, to become an obstacle in a stampede and to get hurt. All this I realise in lightening fast time.

My bag is on my back with all my cameras in it. I want one out, I want to be shooting. The quake is still rumbling. I make it to the wider street, straight out into the middle of the road. There are many people now heading there. People were pouring out of restaurants, out of doorways, out of buildings. The traffic was stopped. I get my camera bag, grab my camera of choice and immediately start shooting images around me. Anything. People. Just shooting, trying to capture some sense of the ongoing, some sense of urgency, some sense of fear. I see a woman with fear or panic on her face, leaning on the shoulder of another. I’m straight in, bang, bang, two frames. The woman shields her face to hide herself from me, but it’s fine I have it. I keep moving. People are on phones, trying to talk, trying to send messages. People are pointing skyward, I glance up to see what they’re looking at but see nothing, so I turn back to shooting images.

I’m trying to shoot and also to phone my wife at the same time. But the lines are busy. My iPhone keeps coming up with some button I don’t quite understand, will it call them back automatically or do I need to do it ? I keep trying, but the battery I note is already going down. A whole day of walking and photographing on assignment in the east of the city, and listening to Bob Dylan incessantly, has taken its toll.

Things have steadied out. The ground isn’t moving. But still people are flooding into the street, looking unsure, looking nervous. Everyone on their phones. People are still pointing and I still have no idea at what. (although later I was to find out they were pointing at skyscrapers swaying from side to side.)

Then it started again. The ground moved. Shaking. More angst in the street, more pointing. I have no idea yet where the epicentre is, or how big the magnitude of the initial quake, but I know one thing. Someone, somewhere is dying.

I walk the streets for what was perhaps an hour. Looking for signs of the quake. I photographed people watching a TV screen in the doorway of Kamo Sports. I photograph a broken kerb step into a building, with tape over it. People on phones. And just beside the station, I photograph in beautiful sunlight, with dark skies, ominous skies, people standing still waiting. Waiting for the next tremor perhaps, waiting for the train lines to reopen, waiting for it to be all over.

After a while the momentum has passed. It seems there’s not so much left to shoot, other than people waiting. I try the station, all train ticket gates show no entry signs. People mill around, people sit politely on the stairs at the sides leaving way for others to ascend and descend.

I still can’t get through on my mobile to home. We’ve had one successful text message each way, and then nothing for over two hours since the last tremor. I’m beginning to worry. I consider my options. I’ve images, timely images, and they need to be transmitted. There’s nothing much else to shoot. Soon, all of mankind will pour out of their offices and be looking to get home.

I decide. It’s time to go. I aim for a bus which will take me to near my home and to my surprise I manage to get on the first bus out. Standing room only. The air is heavy with worry and heat. A pregnant woman soothes the unborn child inside her. The window is opened and brings fresh air. People have lost their inhibitions about speaking on their phones and do so freely. A woman watches the disaster on her phone, and holds it in such a way others can see it also. Another woman holds up the already slow moving bus by trying to pass her travel card through the passengers to pay for her journey, unable to reach the ticket machine herself.

I check my phone, emails are beginning to get through. From Getty Images I receive emails asking about my safety and about my availability for assignments in the quake’s aftermath. From The Times bureau, “can you head north with us ? Call us as soon as you can”. From another client, “are you available?” Skype is working and I try having one or two chats via that.

The bus finally arrives and empties it’s cargo of worried passengers. All along the route there’d been others walking their journey home. I run to the train station, still 4km from home, from family. The trains are off. I return to the main road and miraculously find a taxi. I hold the door as a woman pays her bill and exits it. A Japanese guy beside me wants to share the cab.

We enter and decide on our route to our neighbourhoods. He doesn’t speak English and my poor Japanese makes for a quiet journey, but bar directions and which route to take no one seems to care. The taxi inches along, and knowing the roads well I contemplate putting my marathon training to good use and running home. I watch the roads, I watch the taxi’s navigation screen, 4km to home, 3km to home. Should I run? I wait until after the train line. But then things begin to move more freely, and then they slow again.

Finally the moment comes where it makes more sense to get out and walk, or jog home. And I do so. Into my home, to my waiting and worried family.

Somewhere a catfish lays exhausted, contented.


©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2011, all rights reserved.

Both Sides of the Debate

So recently here in Scotland, working as a photographer for clients on a variety of assignments and stories I’ve encountered a lot of flags, and a lot of discussion on whether we’re Scottish, British, or both. Photographic assignment jobs are coming in now asking me to go out and photograph both sides of the independence referendum debate, the Yes Scotland side, the nationalists, and the flip side of the debate, the Unionists and the Better Together campaign.

I thought I’d present a couple of images from this set so far.

The above image was taken in George Square, Glasgow, a couple of weeks back, at a demonstration showing support for the protests in Northern Ireland at the decision to only fly the Union Jack flag above Belfast City Hall on limited occasions. The demonstration that night, in Glasgow, was of about 100-150 people, a few police, and quite calm. A few renditions of Rule Britannia and other Unionist songs, and the glow of the orange sodium street lights gave the images some atmosphere. Not quite a demonstration concerning the upcoming independence debate, but it does have relevance. The protesters unfurled a banner that read “Don’t Break Our Unity”.

Having been photographing Rangers Football Club in the 3rd Division this year, I’m quickly amassing a large collection of Union Jack flag images. Almost beginning to dream in red, white and blue.

The below images comes from an assignment last week, to photograph to illustrate an article on next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. The original brief was to drive up to Bannockburn and Stirling to photograph, but after chatting with the picture editor we decided to compliment that idea with images of some street campaigning in Glasgow. Thankfully that day there was a lot of campaigning going on, from boths political camps. The below picture comes from the Yes Scotland, pro-independence campaign, out on the streets of Govan, Glasgow. A small campaign team, with no banners, no table, not much for me to shoot, but thankfully the winter sunlight helped give it a certain ambience.

After photographing the Yes Scotland campaign in Govan, I headed quickly into the city centre, to Buchanan Street, to photograph the Better Together campaigners at work, out handing out leaflets. Talking with the commissioning picture editor we’d chatted about trying to keep the images wide, showing some sense of the city, not just focus on the campaigners or the leafleting. Thankfully, knowing the city, I knew there was a good chance that the statue of Donald Dewar, the 1st First Minister of Scotland, might appear in the shot, and thankfully, Donald, up on his pedestal, obliged, setting the scene in the image for Scottish politics and the parliament nicely.

I’ve no doubt that over the next year or so, as we head towards the referendum on Scottish independence, that I’d better get used to seeing and photographing flags, Union Jacks or Saltires, and better get used to photographing the campaigning out on the streets of Glasgow, or Edinburgh, or further afield in the country. It’s going to be interesting, an excuse for me to travel the country, listen to the arguments, to photograph Scotland.

‘In The Zone’ – interview.

Yesterday I showed a new tear sheet from ‘O Mundo da Fotografia Digital’ magazine, in Portugal, who were reprinting an interview with me and set of my images from the story of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Tohoku, Japan. The article and images originally ran in the Digital Camera magazine in the UK. The magazine had originally contacted me and wished to interview me about my time in Japan as a correspondent, and what it was like to work on the Fukushima story. This interview took place, in late 2012, just as I returned to live and once again be based in Glasgow, Scotland, as a freelance photographer.

Click here to see more of my photographs of Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Tohoku tsunami/earthquake, Japan.

The interview from the magazine, done in 2012 via email, with journalist Marcus Hawkins is below:

How long were you based in Japan for?
I was there for 9 years, until moving back to Scotland in early August 2012.

Can you briefly tell me why you spent so much time there?
Like many who go there, I was there for love. I’d met a girl, who became my wife, and I went to Japan to be with her.

And why you came back?
After 9 years I wished to be back in my home country of Scotland, it’s an exciting time here with lots going on, and I wished to photograph here again. Also, last years triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe made my wife and I think about where we wished to be, what we wanted to do, and also about safety for our young daughter. There were many reasons for coming back, both personal and professional.

What are the most pleasurable and not-so-pleasurable aspects of being an editorial photographer in Japan?
It was great being there for 9 years exploring, through assignments, the country and the nation. It was great to travel to all corners of Japan, and into Asia, on client’s money, and also highly educational to sit through interviews and work on stories and learn about the people, the culture, and the region.
Traveling by bullet train was also an easy and enjoyable way to zoom around the country, and made life easy. I never tired of those journeys, they were always exciting.

Where were you and what were you doing in Japan when the tsunami hit and the Fukushima disaster began unfolding?
I was in downtown Tokyo when the earthquake hit, and I immediately knew it was larger and more serious than any I had previously experienced. Luckily I had my cameras with me and I was shooting images in the street before the earthquake even finished. For the next two hours or so I photographed people as they flooded from buildings into the streets, and found they could not go anywhere due to all public transport being stopped, before I slowly made my way home to my family and to send out my images.

The next day I travelled north heading to the tsunami area with some journalists, but as we neared Fukushima we heard the nuclear plant, a little up the road from us, had exploded. Some of the team travelled onwards, but myself and another colleague turned back for Tokyo, unsure of the immediate circumstances of the explosion and expected radiation fallout.

The photographer’s instinct must have kicked in immediately – what did you take pictures of?
As I had returned to Tokyo I tried to cover the story from there, not the tsunami devastation obviously, but the effect of the triple disaster on the capital city- the blackouts, the turning off of lights to save energy, the public panic buying batteries and water, food being cleared from supermarket shelves. There was work to be done in Tokyo also.

You’ve been back this year (2012) to document how the people and places are surviving. Can you describe what it’s like now in the exclusion zone?
I’ve since been back to Tohoku area many times, to the tusnami hit areas and also to what has become known as the ‘exclusion zone’, or ‘the zone’ as we came to refer to it.

In the tsunami hit region each town has dealt with the disaster in their own way. Some towns managed to get the debris cleared relatively quickly, and rebuilding has even begun. In other towns the rubble still remains, and it seems little progress has been made. But the people have all shown formidable character and tried as best they could to immediately carry on, and deal with the situation.

In the nuclear exclusion zone which is a 20km ring around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant there is now no-one living, it has been evacuated. Within that zone it is as if time has stood still. There are still cars sitting upturned in the middle of fields, carried there by the tsunami wave, or newspapers with the date of March 12th 2011 sit outside newsagents shops. It feels a little spooky.

Many people had to move to temporary housing, due to their house being lost to the tsunami, or due to having to evacuate due to radiation. I photographed and met with many people who were in the temporary housing and for them the situation is still far from resolved- what do you do when you’ve lost everything ? To pick yourself up and carry on is hard, and some people are not coping well with it. The news situation in the world may have moved on, but for those people the disaster is still unfolding, or still far from resolved.

What sort of access were you given? What restrictions did you have to work under?
It is freely allowed to travel to the tsunami region, it’s so large, but access to the nuclear exclusion zone is controlled by police road blocks, and threats of criminal proceedings and fines should you enter the area without permission.
I managed to gain access three times on assignments, each time through different means and courses, for clients The Times and The Guardian. You have to be taken in with people who have the permission or authority to take you. I once entered with a resident of the area- a farmer going back to check on his cattle, and another time I went with police on patrol. It takes time to gain the access, or to find the right channel to get the access. It wasn’t easy.

And if you do gain access it is only for a couple of hours at a time. After all it is highly contaminated, and I wouldn’t really wish to spend too long there.

There’s still radiation fallout there, what does that mean in terms of working safely?
You have to keep your time short, and also go with suitable protection. I wore a Tyvek suit which goes over my clothes and which gets disposed off properly on exit from the zone, you wear boots which can be easily washed. I would carry a geiger counter to tell me the radiation readings of where I am, and also a dosimeter which records how much radiation I am being exposed to, I would carry this dosimeter on all assignments there and it would thus keep a record of my exposure over time. The dosimeter was kindly given to me by one of my clients, Greenpeace, and they would keep a tally of my exposure.
I tried also to stay on tarmac, or on hard surfaces where the rain may have washed away some radiation fallout. Stepping onto sand, or dusty gravel, or into mud, would lead to higher levels of contamination on your shoes.

I guess you had to travel light – what camera and lenses did you shoot with? How did you ensure these were ‘clean’ after you’d been in the zone?
I travelled light as I always do, with as little equipment as possible. I would carry two Canons, a 5D and a 1Dmk3, a 17-35mm, and a 70-200mm. I made sure that these cameras never touched anything, or sat on the ground, where they could be contaminated with radiation. And after exiting the zone they were thoroughly wiped with wet wipes which were disposed off, and if I was at a checking station where I could have geiger counters passed over me and my equipment I would have them scanned also.

As a photographer, confronted by such a scale of wasteland, how do you begin finding the shots?
In the nuclear exclusion zone it is quite hard to tell the story. Radiation can’t be seen, tasted, smelt, or heard… But I tried to find the human angle, I photographed a farmer going back to lovingly tender to his cattle which he couldn’t bare to destroy. Or I photographed police on patrol, searching beside broken homes or walking amongst the swings and slides of a children’s play park. Even though the area is deserted you still have to get across the sense of loss, the loss of people and the community life. Newspapers dated from the time of the disaster sat yellowing outside a newsagents, little things like that can convey much.

It’s a strange question, but what does the market for ‘disaster anniversary photographs’ demand? How much influence does that have on the type of pictures you shoot?
Earlier this year as the one year anniversary of the disaster approached I was very, very busy with assignments. I was travelling up to Tohoku region on a weekly basis to shoot stories and portraits for clients, as they prepared the stories they would run at the anniversary time in early March. So January and February were busy as everyone prepared for the March 11th anniversary. There was also a lot of competitiveness amongst the journalists and photographers to find unique and original stories on the lead up to the anniversary, and many people were looking for ways to get into the nuclear exclusion zone.
There was no real change of the types of images asked of me, I did what I usually shoot, reportage stories and portraits.

The people you met, the stores you heard – which ones stood out the most for you?
All the stories were so fascinating to hear, but also so sad. Perhaps the saddest was from the Okawa Elementary school, a disaster in which the kids and teachers survived the earthquake, but then due to the indecision by teachers of where to evacuate the children to time was wasted and the tsunami raged in, killing 74 children and their teachers. I had to visit there 2 or 3 times to meet with and photograph 2 mothers who were still searching the mud for the bodies of their children, 1 year on from the disaster. It was an incredibly sad story to cover, and certainly many journalists felt it was the saddest story they had had to cover.
I stood in the January cold one afternoon, in the mud, as snowflakes fell and listened to a mother who was searching with a JCB digger for her child’s body say how cold her child must be at the bottom of the river. It was a heart wrenching moment, and one which brought me to tears during the assignment and afterwards. And then after that moment the mother gave myself and journalist colleague, Justin McCurry, hot cans of coffee from her car, her generosity and friendliness was remarkable.

A lot of your job is all about people skills, how do you connect with people who’ve lost so much, particularly when you’re covered by a face mask and protective clothing?
In the tsunami zone there was no need to wear protective clothing, and that is where you could meet people. In the exclusion zone there isn’t anyone, bar the people you were with. And on those exclusion zone stories, the interviews were really done outside the zone where it is easy to sit and talk and you do not have one eye on your timer and dosimeter readings. You would then go into the zone to do the photography and look around.

Were there any situations where you felt uncomfortable about photographing people?
No, none that I can think of. For people who have lost so much, then to be photographed is the least of their worries, and generally I could photograph freely.

You’ve been photographing the nuclear protests as well, they seem a bit more, ‘colourful’ than protests you’d get here – is that the case?
The nuclear protests were also fascinating to cover in Tokyo. For a lot of Japanese people it was their first time to protest, and certainly some of the demonstrations were colourful or encouraged to have a happy atmosphere in order to attract families or young people out to protest, people who may not normally have had the courage to attend such a demonstration.

Are you still one of the photographers for Greenpeace? What kind of work does that involve?
I’m lucky enough to still photograph for Greenpeace, and obviously the nuclear disaster kept them busy and as such I would have assignments to photograph radiation testing as the Greenpeace staff monitored the radiation readings of parks or streets, nursery schools etc in Fukushima city. Or, on another assignment I was aboard the Rainbow Warrior II ship as the crew did testing of seawater and seaweed samples off of Fukushima to look for signs of radiation contamination. My job was to photograph and document the work, and the images were used for media, website and internal publications, as well as just being a document of the activities.

What does it mean to you to get your work published in the papers, and books?
Even though I have been photographing for media for many years I am still proud to have my images published, and I hope that they help explain a situation, or let someone know what is happening in a far off land. I felt passionate about the Fukushima story, as the media moves on so fast sometimes to the next big story, the next big disaster, and it was important as someone living in Japan to let the world know that for the people of northern Japan the disaster is still something very real. It is still something they are coming to terms with, and dealing with, and some people felt that even now, 1.5yrs later, that the reconstruction work still hasn’t really begun. It is an important story still, and I always hope that my images, and the stories of the journalists that I work with, keep the story alive and go someway to helping inform and educate people.

Does it bother you if the pictures that you’ve carefully framed get cropped by designers?
No, not anymore. Perhaps occasionally I get disappointed at the use of my images, but over the years I’ve grown thick skinned to it and once I send them out I let go of them to an extent. It isn’t my newspaper or magazine, once the client has them it is up to them how they crop them. But of course you hope for a good show!


Text: ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

A Brutal Death.

A Brutal Death. (written in 2006, whilst on assignment in the Southern Ocean).

I saw a whale get killed today. Sadly these days this is not an uncommon scene for me.

I’m one of the two photographers here on Greenpeace ship M.V. Esperanza and as such I either go out in the inflatables or up in the helicopter to document the protests of the activists, and to put these images on the website or out to the media. So in the past few weeks I’ve seen a few whales be killed. Whilst it hasn’t been pleasant to see any whale be killed this killing today was particularly unpleasant, it died a horrible death.

©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/ Greenpeace 2006.

(See my archive of photographs of Japanese whaling industry, Greenpeace anti-whaling protest, and Sea Shepherd anti-whaling protest.)

The ‘Billy G’ boat had already gone out, and was following the Yushin Maru catcher ship of the Japanese whaling fleet. The ‘Orange’ boat, we have never settled on a name for it, was going also, and Hernan, Greenpeace videographer and I, went in that. We were a little slow is setting out, but the crew did a good job in getting us beside the catcher and the ‘Billy G’ relatively quickly, and without getting wet which is always nice. Odin drove us fast, but swerved the waves, only occasionally a little spray, but on the whole we stayed dry.

We reached the scene quickly, and immediately were in the midst of it all. Alain, in the ‘Billy G’, tells us the harpoonist had been deliberately aiming the harpoon at their boat. Minutes later as we round the front of the catcher the harpoonist does indeed swivel on his green deck, pointing the ominous yellow harpoon with it’s black explosive tip in our direction. It is frightening. It is plain intimidation, but it works. I want to react, but don’t want to provoke the guy. I try to turn away, to look elsewhere, but it’s scary to not know what is happening behind you.  Where to look, what to do? We radio the Esperanza, our ship, to tell them, perhaps subconsciously hoping that somehow this will be a guarantee of safety.

Continue reading “A Brutal Death.”