An analogue adventure in Iraq

My work involves a fair amount of travel but usually it is not particularly glamorous. The M25 is a well worn path for me. I do however get presented with an exciting opportunity for travel abroad where I always try to make the most of any free time I get. When my company asked me if I was happy to work in Iraq for a week the thought of bombs, shootings and kidnappings entered my head. Not exactly where I saw my career (or life) progressing. Thanks to British media all I knew of Iraq was war, Saddam Hussein and oil, lots of oil. Begrudgingly my work were extremely keen on me going out there so after some (a lot) of persuasion my flights were booked. I was travelling to a city called Sulaymaniyah in North Iraq. A quick google search was in order to see what was in store for me. (It’s not worth searching on youtube unless you want to scare yourself)

The modern city of Sulaymaniyah was founded on 14 November 1784 by the Kurdish prince Ibrahim Pasha Baban who named it after his father Sulaiman Pasha. Because it was founded as the capital of a powerful Kurdish principality, Sulaymaniyah has developed into a large city with a population of about 1.500.000 people. It is the cultural center of the Sorani-speaking Kurds and an important economic center for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdistan you say? I thought I was going to Iraq. After more Googling I discover Kurdistan is a region in North Iraq. Kurdistan refers to parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Kurdistan roughly encompasses the northwestern Zagros and the eastern Taurus mountain ranges, and covers small portions of Armenia. I appreciate a lot of you more clued up people will have already known all about the Kurds from the heinous attacks Saddam committed on them (mainly) in 1989. I have to admit I was only 6 then and it’s not really come up since.

It’s fair to say the region is extremely hostile bombings still happen almost every day in Baghdad and Basra and relations with their Syrian and Iranian neighbours aren’t exactly at the stage of borrowing a cup of sugar. I traveled by myself to Istanbul to catch my connecting flight to Sulaymaniyah, looking around at the holiday makers in Istanbul made me want to change my flight plans and get the first taxi to the beach instead after an hour’s wait I was on a small plane bound for Iraq. Nerves and tiredness were starting to set in it didn’t help that it was pitch black when we landed so I couldn’t see what was awaiting me.

I arrived at about 4am to be met by our driver “Alan” not a very Iraqi/Kurdish sounding name but I was tired and just accepted it. He took me on a short tour of the city on the way back from the airport and we stopped at a tea shop. The Iraqis have more of a thing for tea then British do, everything stops for tea and it must be administered every 2 hours. It’s served in small glass shot glasses and poured into the saucer to cool it down quicker and slurped. There were a lot of people about even at 5am; it’s so hot there a lot of the construction is nocturnal. There were a lot of quizzical looks when I entered this sports orientated tea shop. It was a mecca to football stars past and present and pride of place were two big pictures of the great Messi and not so great Frank Lampard. It may have been the tiny tea (no milk 4 sugars) they bought me or the familiar faces that calmed me down but as I looked about I remember drawing comparisons to a builder’s greasy spoon.

The next morning I awoke from my hotel and surveyed my surroundings through the window. I was in a fairly residential area but had a great view of the city. All of the houses were built in compounds and I could see so many new builds under construction. It was dusty, busy and 48 degrees at 8am.


The first few days of my trip were mainly work, the business hours here go long into the night. I must have consumed the volume of the atlantic sea in tea and water. I saw so many great photo opportunities whilst I was there but unfortunately I was driven practically everywhere and my schedule so tight it made shooting without a flash impracticable. I had recently procured a delicious Olympus RD that I was itching to take but it had suffered a minor mishap and the aperture blades had jammed. I was going to take my Olympus OM1 but this is a heavy SLR and not exactly inconspicuous. The following is a massive advert as to why twitter is amazing. A guy I was following @Leftofnever a great photographer and expert with all things analogue, after hearing my predicament and impending photo op offered to lend me one of his Olympus Trips. This camera was perfect for my needs, lightweight, fixed zone focusing and an awesome lens. (Thank you Martin).

I have a small stash of Kodak Elitechrome that I was saving for special occasions. This was the time to break out the film most analogue photographers would sell their Grannies dogs’ favorite toy for. (My Grandma does not have a dog)

I fired off a few shots through the car window but knowing it was only 100iso I fully expected blur and the odd 4×4 bonnet in the way. Luckily towards the end of my trip our hosts had arranged a few small excursions to see some of the sites. Sulymaniah is certainly a beautiful area. Surrounded by mountains it is mainly an arid land but has a great sense of history in it views. We were taken out to Lake Dukan, it was an hours drive west and was a great chance to get out of the City. We encountered many check points on the way (and oil tankers) without a problem until one of the larger ones where we were pulled over. In Iraq is fairly common to see guns, big guns too. These aren’t the nice shiny guns you see cradled by police in Airports in the UK. These guns were quite obviously used; you do what the guards say.

After a search of the car, a host of questions about what we were doing and a long look over our passports we were off. Alan was completely calm during all of this, I was not so good and it’s fair to say the 5.31pm Friday night drinking club my friends and I partake in seemed a very very long way away. It all comes down to what you are used to. These check points are there to protect you; it is good that they stop you; it is good that they are thorough. After a few days in Iraq I realized that they have a lot of Europeans coming for business and actually a lot of Middle Eastern people vacationing.

What feeds Lake Dukan is the coldest river imaginable. I was dared to have my feet in it for 5 minutes. Coming from a race of people who don’t think 49 degrees is hot to me who is used to British weather I was more than up for this challenge. I wish I hadn’t, stubbornness and the National Anthem going through my head was the only reason I kept my rapidly turning purple feet in that water. Alan explained throughout the summer the river is cold and in the winter (where they have snow) the water is hot. I’m not sure why this happens but it seems to.

After a couple of photo ops we carried on to Lake Dukan, I was amazed when I saw this massive expanse of water in what is predominately a country of desert. The surface area of the lake is 270 square kilometers (100 sq mi) and has a lovely island in the middle. There were quite a few people swimming in the clear waters of the lake and some small boats drifting about with fisherman using big nets. I got some strange looks carrying my telescopic fishing rod down to the banks.

Alan explained why they were giggling. Iraqis are very practical and effective if you have a task do it the quickest way possible. If you want to catch a fish do it the quickest way you can. They use dynamite and nets. Hence why my tiny rod and fake lures seemed ludicrous to them. After an hours or so fishing with temperatures soaring, the swimming was becoming more and more appealing. We were encouraged to have a dip so we stripped down to our pants and took a plunge.

This felt amazing, the sun was setting, there were some young men singing a beautiful song and it felt great not to be dusty for once. After a while of splashing around and teaching Alan to swim backstroke thoughts of my preconceptions of Iraq were making me chuckle. I thought I would be dodging RPGs and hiding in shadows yet here I was in the most beautiful lake swimming in my pants.

Due to a cancelled appointment we had some more time to kill the next day and I was keen to learn more about the city and its people. Alan had proved to be a most knowledgeable guide and his story of fleeing of Saddam Hussein to Nottingham is an incredible story that needs to be made into a film. I wanted to know more about the war(s) as there was very little damage to sulymaniahs buildings.

Saddam had a compound within the city where he was run out of Kurdistan by the local people. The siege lasted all day, the local people a powerful emotional force and Saddam’s compound extremely well fortified and armed. We were lucky enough to be allowed to a take a photo of this building through the gates. This building is littered with bullet holes and is a scar on blossoming city. I guess it serves as a constant reminder of what has happened and the pride of the region.

They must have been extremely brave to stand up to Saddam and eventually make him flee by helicopter to the safety of Southern Iraq. Many many crimes to humanity were carried out within this compound and it was an eerie site. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to take a photo of these buildings but in a way the buildings use had turned from a centre of evil to a badge of honor for Kurdistan.

We were then taken to the local Zoo. There aren’t many recreational things to do around here but I was told that this is extremely popular with people of all ages. After awaking the young ticket seller and buying our tickets we were told it was out of season but we can still have a look about. I’m not a great fan of zoos and wasn’t expecting the greatest level of animal comfort. We were taken to the first enclosure and as I gazed through the locked gates I saw the bizarre site of a Labrador looking back at me. The next enclosure housed a few cats and a recently born litter of kittens. Alan loved them and was awfully impressed when I showed him a picture of my cat who not only a looker I have no doubts he would go for a rhino if it looked at his treats.

We were getting hungry so were taken to the local markets, a massive souk not dissimilar to any you would find in and around the African/middle eastern region. What was pleasant is that you didn’t have the same pestering sellers that go hand in hand with markets in places such as Egypt. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere and I was free to browse where I liked without fear of hearing “lovely jubbly”. There were plenty of shops selling ironmongery and watches but one stall selling a 2004 copy of the Argos catalogue made me look twice.

I left Iraq having had a nice time, it was a beautiful place, has a lot of culture, the people are lovely and it’s hot. Without all of the fighting I have no doubt that this would be firmly on the backpacker’s route. It’s surprisingly a very safe place to be. Strict laws and even stricter religion means that you are never going to get mugged, abused or any of your possessions stolen. Yes there is always a chance of more serious events but they are very keen to separate themselves from places like Baghdad. Bar some protesting violence at a local TV station there hasn’t been trouble on that scale here for many many years.

My impression and knowledge of Iraq has changed immensely and I hope you see from my photos that this is a normal region. Iraq is a country full of different beliefs shoe horned into borders which when you add in the vast amounts of black gold hidden beneath its land unfortunately has led to war.

I met a young man my age whilst I was over there that had also had to flee the country at time of trouble. He spent a few years in England until returning to his country. We got on great and he was keen to tell me his shoes were from River Island, Shirt from Marks and Spencers and Trousers from TK Maxx. We went out for some lunch and I was keen to impress on him how my vision had been blurred by the likes of the BBC and was glad to of come here and experienced it for myself. He liked English people and had enjoyed his time over there. After teaching me some basic phrases in Kurdish I asked him to give me his best English accent. He said (in the best North London accent) “wot you lookin at?” A common enough phrase that spells trouble for the listener. I thought that about sums it up, In Iraq I was treated so well and everyone was so polite to me I took away some nice memories whereas when pushed to recount his ideas of England he came out with that!

The rest of my photos can be viewed here


Lomography Swap Shop!

I have in my possession a brand new, in box, Coloursplash Lomography camera. It is the snazzy looking chakras edition and comes with a great book, film and a cardboard box (perfect for making a hat with).

You can take some awesome shots with this camera.

This sleek Lomographic camera will re-cast your world with a gorgeous riot of color. Its patented colorwheel system puts several tinted flash filters at your finger tips for instant selection; with an additional 9 filters included to exchange. Just select your color, put it in front of your flash, and fire a burst of colored light at your subject! Long exposure capability creates dreamy streaked backgrounds behind crisp, color-flashed foregrounds.

This special limited edition has been customized by Staple Design with a rubberized surface and Staple’s signature pigeon graphics. Inspired by the ubiquitous bird of New York City (and countless other urban locales), this special edition is outfitted in a slick grey & red color scheme. It uses regular 35mm film that can be developed anywhere.

The camera retails for £69.99 and it can be yours for a swap! What I would like you guys to do is…

Step 1. Comment below telling me what you would like to swap this camera for and why I should swap with you.

Step 2. Sign up to the email service for this blog so I can let you all know when a new post is published. (Your details will not be passed on to any other people)

Step 3. Tweet ” I have entered the swapshop competition for a #lomography camera at @tomwelland ”

If you don’t have a twitter account, you should get one, its fun. I guess you could maybe blog or facebook it but you will need to post me a link or screen grab of you saying it.

The swap shop will be open from now until the 1st April 2012 and a winner will be picked in early April. I will pay for the postage to get the camera to you but likewise you will be expected to pay for the postage of whatever you swap to me! I am based in the UK but will happily post overseas.

Please do not think this swap is all about monetary value or that I am after something specific, I want to see all kinds of suggestions. It could be anything from a left footed flip-flop once worn by Winston Churchill to a pigeon’s toupee and everything in between.

Good luck, everyone is in with a chance and I hope the camera goes to someone who really wants it.


UK Analogue Awards 2012

I have just had a great email and thought I would share it with you.

I recently submitted some photos for the UK Analogue Awards.

This new award aims to celebrate film photography in all its glory, reclaiming analogue photography as something that’s more than just an effect on your iPhone, or a vintage filter on photoshop. This new award champions film photography as a powerfully creative medium for artistic expression. Photographer’s from all across the UK are eligible to submit their work, whether young or old, professional or amateur, and the winning submissions will be selected by Lomography and this year’s committee. All those who have made the cut will have their photographs displayed as part of a weeklong exhibition hosted by DONT WALK in Edinburgh, where members of the press and the wider public will be invited to browse through and purchase prints of the best submissions. Though prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place, the winning photographer will be interviewed by a number of blogs and magazines including Pictures Music and Lomography amongst others.


I am hugely grateful and proud to say I have been shortlisted. There were 650 entries and they shortlisted 10 people. So I am very happy. Thank you for all your kind words and support. Sorry to all of my friends for probably boring them about it!

Its been a great day as not only has this all been confirmed but a photo from my dishwashed roll made it on Flickrs explore page.

Thank you!



Dishwashed Film

I have long been an admirer of distressed film techniques. There are various ways of distressing film such as dishwashing, soaking in salt water, silicon gel, rice. All can lead to great shots but what I love is that it is a massive experiment and the results are bespoke and unknown. You cannot guarantee what results you will get as you are playing with the chemical balance of the film and the reaction will be different each time.

I have recently purchased an Olympus OM1 and I decided the first roll to go through this awesome camera would be a distressed film. There are a number of people who have written about these techniques with deliberately misleading information and missing out vital steps. I had tried this technique before without success due to following someones recipe who thought it was clever to not tell people the full story. Analogue is not always a great community, some people do not want you to succeed contrary to what some marketing schemes would have you believe.

So here it is the Dishwashed Soup Technique (DST).

1. Get a film, any film would work but remember what you are going to shoot with it and in what camera and adjust your speed and type accordingly. From what I have seen they will come out darker than what you would if shooting without DST.

2. Load into your dishwasher! Take it out of its canister and its best to load it into a cutlery tray to avoid it flying about.

2. Once finished leave the film for a couple of days to relax. Somewhere nice and dry and out of the sun unless you wish to distress the film even more. The reason for leaving it to relax is because step 3 is applying a lot of heat and that may just tip the chemical reaction over the edge.

3.  Find yourself dark room and a hairdryer. You will need to pull the unexposed film out of the can and carefully dry it. Use nice big sweeping motions to avoid prolonged heat contact. When you pull the sticky film out I found it curls up a lot so a top tip is to attach a clothes peg to the end of the film, this will keep it nice and straight.

4. Shoot it.

I knew that with this film it’s not great for creating detail so I wanted to try to shoot some shapes. So I rang up another aspiring photographer, Mike and asked if he fancied coming on a photo walk through the countryside. We decided upon a nice 10 mile walk in Lower Crawley following an old disused railway line. The route is called Worth Way and I highly recommend it. Details of the route can be found here. Mike  (@Mikey_AbsentElk) was great company and walked at a good pace which was nice as I like to walk fast! He was shooting digital but don’t hold it against him. We saw wild deer, llamas, pigs, pheasants, squirrels, pigs and various birds. Was all going swimmingly until we met the main road and didn’t know the right way to go so asked an old lady which way. She pointed us in the (wrong) direction. It started raining. We walked about a mile down a really busy 50mph road which was a bit sketchy. After deciding the old lady had sold us up the garden path we turned round and did the mile again. We decided to escape the rain and headed to the nearest pub to sample the local ale. (God I’m old).

So here are some of my results from that day. If Mike is kind enough I will show you some of his shots later.

Would appreciate any feedback on the shots. I know they are not everyone’s cup of tea. The rest of the shots can be viewed on my flickr page. A word to the wise putting these types of film through a commercial lab is naughty. It can ruin their chemicals so either ask permission and be prepared to be shot down, send it away to a mass lab or give it to a lab you are not fussed about using again. I won’t disclose where I got these developed.

Shoreham Cement Works Shoot

I have never tried an actual modeling shoot and fancied giving a go.

I had also just been introduced to a website called 28 days later.  This website is for people to post shots of their urban exploring adventures. The idea is to gain access to forgotton about sites, run down and disused and take photos. The buildings are like a time capsule of the day they were shut.

So combining these two I picked an old cement works in Shoreham to be my back drop.

Looks cool hey? It was a creepy place to be. Next step I needed a model. I have a friend by the name of Newton, Newtdog, Ads, whatever you want to call him, the guy is a legend. He would be up for anything. This guy got naked in a beer tent at Glastonbury. Not that unusal no but it was Thursday lunch time, bands had not started and most people weren’t even there yet. He is a legend and can often be seen working the pubs wearing a “Me and my tiny penis are going raving” Tee shirt.

So we set off to Shoreham and when we arrived we were greated with a reminder of just how creepy this place can be. Readers meet crack fox. It made me think it wasn’t just cement they were making here.

After a quick morbid shot of crack fox we headed down to the main buildings.Unfortunately as it was mid day and on a busy road gaining access was pretty tricky. We walked up a path and saw some guy staring at us from his house. So we came back down and crossed the road to site no.2 which is not boarded up and is just as freeky.

It was all a bit strange and we were getting jumpy. I had decided to pick up some props for the shoot in the way of a gas mask. We were also going to basketball practice straight after the shoot so we were all wearing joggers and had a basketball as an extra prop.

This is me looking for the right backdrop and setting up my cameras. A Zenit E loaded with slide film and a Lubitel 166. I was still nervous of using the lubitel so wanted to make sure I knew what the light was doing and shadows were at a minimum.

Onto the shoot and the results. We were there for all of about 10 minutes before we hear sirens coming our way. It was a busy road so could of been for anyone but either way that led to a swift exit. Below are a couple of the shots but if you would like to see any more please visit my lomohome

Im annoyed as the best shots came from the Zenit. The backdrop looks awesome, the problem is the obvious lack of focusing. That is lomography though! This camera is very old and you need to learn it and not trust it at the same time. What you see in the viewfinder may not be what you get. A lesson learned.

Leningrad Optical Mechanical Union

Meaning of LOMO – “Leningrad Optical Mechanical Union”, or Leningradskoye Optiko Mechanichesckoye Obyedinenie, is an optical manufacturer in St. Petersburg, Russia which manufactures optical scientific, military and consumer products.

They made gun sights during WWI and produced the first Russian camera in 1930. The company exports world-wide and produces night-vision products and telescopes make up 30% of their exports.

The company was founded in 1914 as the Russian Optical and Mechanical Company and became LOMO PLC in 1993.

“…The LOMO camera — a kind of Russian update of the Instamatic, originally developed by the KGB for spying — has exploded in popularity over the past few years, appearing on wall projects in the New York City subway, in blogs and, most recently, as an aesthetic template for bank and car ads.” [Eye Weekly] 

It was established as a French – Russian limited company to produce lenses and cameras. It manufactured gun sights during World War I. In 1919, it was nationalised. In the ensuing years, the state optical industries were reorganised several times. In 1921, the factory was named the Factory of State Optics, G.O.Z. In 1925, camera production was resumed, and several lens designs tested between 1925 and 1929. In 1928, the factory was ordered to manufacture a 9×12 camera, known as the FOTOKOR.

Further reorganisations of the soviet optical factories in several stages finally resulted in that the factory at Leningrad became GOMZ, the Russian Optical and Mechanical Factory.

In the transition period 1932 to 1935 a copy of the Leica camera was developed, the VOOMP I. It was followed by the VOOMP II or the “Pioneer” that was manufactured in small numbers. Simultaneously designers began the development of a single-lens reflex camera for 35mm cine film, possibly inspired by similar work in Germany, especially at Zeiss Ikon in Dresden, since the lens mount is quite similar to that of the Contax cameras of the time. Zeiss themselves were not allowed to pursue their ideas, due to the German armament. The new camera, called the “Sport”, was introduced at about the same time as the Ihagee Kine Exakta in 1936.

Today LOMO makes military optics, scientific research instruments, criminological microscopes, medical equipment, and a range of consumer products. It produced the first Russian camera in 1930.