From the Edge
The Satya Interview with Gavin
Gavin Newman is a photographer and videographer
whose work has been invaluable to many activist campaigns of Greenpeace,
the internationally renown environmental organization. Originally trained
as a photographer and filmmaker in the U.K., he worked for several magazines
before going free-lance, specializing in adventure sports and expedition
photography and filmmaking. Satya caught up with him recently
What exactly does your work for Greenpeace entail?
I was originally approached by Greenpeace to document a fisheries
campaign in the Mediterranean. This involved diving on driftnets in
the middle of the night, measuring the nets and documenting the by-catch.
It was an interesting introduction to Greenpeace, diving in the middle
of the Mediterranean in the dark whilst surrounded by fishing boats
somewhat less than pleased to see us! My early work was almost exclusively
photography work both above and below water, whereas these days I now
do more video. I find that versatility is the name of the game when
it comes to making myself useful to the various campaigns. On campaigns
that are of a documenting nature rather than action-based, its
often possible to shoot both stills and video. My interest in computers
and digital imaging, as well as my background in adventure sports and
expedition photography where we constantly have to invent new ways of
getting interesting shots and then often as not design and build the
gear needed to get those shots, has proved a real bonus in working for
Greenpeace. Greenpeaces public image is based largely on its
media image and we constantly need to provide the media with interesting
of the work that we do, often shot under very difficult circumstances,
in order to get that public exposure.
How has your work been used?
My work gets used in a number of different ways. Obviously news/current
affairs is the biggest target for the images. Greenpeace needs to get
its message out, to show the world what is going on, often from behind
closed doors or very remote locations where certain organizations feel
they are away from the public eye. Greenpeace tries to be that public
eye. The advent of digital video and stills imaging and satellite communications
has revolutionized the way we work. We are equipped with the latest
imaging and communications technology. Its expensive but in an
increasingly technology-led world, to fall behind the capabilities
other media organizations would effectively gag the organization. These
days news is expected to be instant.
Beyond the news aspect, we are increasing use of the Internet to spread
information. All the campaigns have websites linked through the Greenpeace
website (www.greenpeace.org). These websites carry all the background
information and images about the various campaigns as well as live
and even video as big actions unfold. Webcams and streaming video are
increasingly being used to exploit the immediacy of the web. The technology
to do this from remote locations can often be quite challenging but
thats what I most enjoy about the jobdoing the impossible on
a daily basis!
On a recent campaign we were working on a nuclear waste discharge pipeline
on the bottom of the English channel. The nuclear company had been making
a big issue of the fact that they had 10 webcams placed around their
site and were open about what they did. But, they omitted to show the
world how they dumped a large part of their nuclear waste into the sea.
So we went and put a webcam installation on the end of their nuclear
waste discharge pipe. We designed a special underwater camera and mount
to fix to the end of the pipeline that fed the images up a cable to
a platform 35 meters above. From there, the signal was transmitted via
a solar-panel powered microwave link over six kilometers back to a receiving
station on the shore where it was processed and sent via satellite to
the Internet. The signal was also sent live to a major government conference
on ocean dumping that was taking place in Copenhagen.
This is a classic example of how our images can make a difference.
Its very easy for people to talk about dumping nuclear waste into the
as its such an unseen thing, but live video images of nuclear
waste pouring out of a seabed pipeline projected onto a big video screen
are a pretty powerful reminder of what it means in reality.
What inspired you to do this kind of work?
Originally it was purely just another interesting job, a challenge.
However, the more Ive worked for the organization the more it
becomes far more than just a job. I still get paid for what I do (I
have to earn a living) but Ive become far more involved in the
campaigns and what the organization stands for. When you actually go
out and see first-hand whats going on in this world, its
very hard not to become involved.
Have you ever found yourself in any difficult, dangerous, or illegal
situations? What happened? How do you cope?
I guess that depends on what you consider to be difficult, dangerous
or illegal! Diving on fishing lines and nets in the dark in a rough
sea can get pretty interesting and obviously diving around
nuclear waste discharge pipes needs to be done very carefully. However,
Greenpeace is aware of the risks involved in coming into contact with
many of the substances we may encounter during such actions and appropriate
safety protocols are strictly followed. Equipment is always of the highest
standard and safety is never compromised to save money. For an organization
with such an open public image to be seen to be taking "kamikaze" risks
would only be self-defeating.
Obviously sometimes things go beyond our control and you can never
be 100 percent sure of the reactions of those we are seeking to expose.
Ive been threatened with knives and guns and been shot at with
rocket flares from a few feet away which can be pretty scary, but my
job is to get the image and thats what I always try to do. In
nine years of working with Greenpeace Ive never been arrestedits
always a difficult balance between getting in a position to get the
most exciting and intimate images of the action without putting yourself
in an arrestable situation which then means we lose the images. We always
have to consider that if we are in a remote location away from the eyes
of the regular press and the cameraperson gets arrested, the images
wont get seen. Then in the eyes of the worlds media and
subsequently the public, the action may as well have not happened. Here
again versatility is often the name of the gamewatching the situation
and knowing when to leave and then being able to get away. Being a
a diver and being able to drive fast boats can often become an advantage!
What effect do you think the videos have? What do they achieve for
the environmental cause that maybe words alone do not?
The images that we produce often make the difference between a
story hitting the headlines or not. Often a political story about an
that the public had never even considered can be brought right into
peoples living rooms. Nuclear waste barrels on the seabed are
something that most people know about but dont give much thought
to. If we can present them with images of these things lying on the
seabed, broken open with their contents spilled all around, people start
to realize that maybe there really is a problem here that could actually
affect them. One of the Greenpeace slogans is that Actions Speak
Louder Than WordsI firmly believe the same is true of our
Any particularly memorable/special/inspirational moments on-the-job
that you would like to share?
So many! Free swimming with whales in the Antarcticseeing
them free and wild, how they should be. Seeing the aurora borealis (Northern
Lights) in the Arctic and realizing that despite all our techno wizardry
we still cant match such naturally produced visual images. Moments
on campaigns when things have been hard but we then get either political
or public results which make you realize that it is all worth it. On
a personal level I get an immense amount of satisfaction from getting
images from places which most people believed we could not do. Finding
ways of getting specific images, such as mounting radio controlled cameras
on kites to get close-up aerial images of installations where there
are no fly zones for aircraft or helicopters. Recently Ive been
working a lot with radio and microwave video transmitter systems to
enable us to get images out of potentially very difficult situations.
Ive always had a passion for bolting remote controlled cameras
onto things! People have become used to the standard images of environmental
activists whizzing around in inflatablesits my challenge
to keep coming up with new anglesthose seemingly impossible images.
Visit Gavin Newmans website at www.action-photo.u-net.com
to see samples of his work. To learn about Greenpeace and current campaigns