Saturday, August 02, 2008


Many years ago when I was a young airman in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, I found myself serving as a photographer at RAF Tengah in Singapore.

One day we had a visit from an Air Marshal. An Air Marshal is an officer of “Air Rank” You can always tell officers of Air Rank because they have the word “Air” at the start of their rank title, a slight give away. In addition, they have lots of “scrambled egg” on the peaks of their hats. They also get paid a hell of a lot more money than most people – consequently they tend to smile a lot, especially when visiting the bank. On this particular occasion I was tasked to take publicity photographs of one such esteemed guest.

At the time, I used a Rolleiflex T twin lens reflex camera. Sometimes I would use my own camera which was a Mamiyaflex C3. The RAF hadn’t discovered colour photography at the time, so my camera was loaded with Kodak Tri-X Pan black and white film. The great thing about this film was that it didn’t matter how badly you cocked up on the exposure, you always seemed to get a good print come what may.

My modus operandi for photographing such visits was to follow the visitor and his entourage fairly closely behind with my camera and flash (Mecablitz 502) raised close to my eye with my finger twitching lightly on the button ready to fire off a shot the moment anything which looked remotely like a half decent picture presented itself in the viewfinder. If I saw they were heading into a certain room I might leap ahead and get a “head on” as they came in the door. This was also a good position to be in if the visitor was glad-handing the incumbent peasant workers, because the alternative was a wonderful photograph of people’s backs. Such shots might be useful today for the highly pretentious “art-house” (fart-house) fine art market, but not good enough for the “Tengah Times” or the RAF News.

The visiting group walked into a hanger. I seem to remember it was the hanger of 74 “Tiger” Squadron, which flew Lightnings, the most fantastic aircraft ever. I am a little biased towards Lightnings because I had a flight in one – but that’s another story. Anyway, I was not terribly familiar with the various rooms hugging the walls of the hanger, so I followed on, taking photographs until I had fired off the twelfth shot on the roll, which meant it was time to pause, and change the film. Keeping an eye on the visiting group and their escorting officers, I noticed they disappeared into a side-room just across the hanger. Hurrying to catch up, I made my way to the doorway with my camera up to my eye ready to take the next picture. I entered the room. In from of me I was confronted by the sight of the Air Marshal et al, relieving themselves at the urinal!

“I don’t think we’ll bother with any photographs in here, photographer” said the Air Marshal somewhat startled.

Maybe he thought I was taking the piss. Even so, I was certainly not pulling his plonker!

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