Monthly Archives: February 2014

Lt. Col. Cate McGregor: A privilege to make your portrait.

Last week while on an assignment for the New York Times I had the privilege of making a portrait of Lt. Col. Cate McGregor from the Australian Defence Force. Cate is a delightful woman and incredible advocate for the transgender community world over and I had a wonderful time taking her portrait.

It was a rainy Wednesday and I wandered Sydney’s CBD and caught Cate as she wrapped up an official meeting at the Lowy Institute. I walked with her downtown to where she had another press engagement. Cate was deeply apologetic for having another arrangement and asked if I would wait. ‘Of course I will wait’ I replied. I went and found somewhere to hang out and decided to do some reading on the woman I was sent to make a portrait of. Cate is well known for her role in the Australian military in addition to being an author and a cricket commentator. In 2012 Cate decided to undergo gender reassignment and at the time offered to resign to her boss who now head the Australian Military. Brilliant journalist Julia Baird goes on more eloquently than I ever can, so I encourage you to read the full piece here on the New York Times website.

Once Cate finished her interview we met up and she apologised profusely for keeping me. I told Cate it would be good to find some kind of military context for a portrait, she reminded me of the memorial that commemorates the campaigns of the Royal Australia Regiment, to which she happened to belong.  I told her it sounded great and asked if she didn’t mind navigating the wet streets, Cate was totally nonplussed about the heavy rain that beat down around us and we made our way out into the streets heading for Martin Place.  Despite the heavy rain Cate obliged my photos and questions, she showed me the memorial and we shared stories of working in Timor-Leste a neighbouring country dear to both of us.

After some time Cate realised that she was about to miss her flight home to Canberra, totally at peace with the idea we stepped out of the rain for a final coffee. The lighting inside was great so I was able to take a few more portraits as Cate brushed her hair which had become drenched from our time in the rain. As we approached the counter to pay for the coffee, the owner a middle aged Italian man told Cate he recognised her from a recent article in an Australian magazine. He said it was an honour to meet her and they hugged farewell. I walked with Cate until she found a taxi for the airport and then we also said farewell before I made my own way home to file.

I felt humbled and reassured to know that someone like Lt. Col. Cate McGregor is a senior figure in the Australian army. I can only hope that we hear more from her in the future.

Lt. Col. Cate McGregor of the Australian Defense Force. Conor Ashleigh for The New York Times

Lt. Col. Cate McGregor of the Australian Defense Force. Conor Ashleigh for The New York Times

The extraordinary life of Tim Hetherington

Last night I watched Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington.

This documentary was a powerful dedication to the life of photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington.  I didn’t know Tim. I never had the chance to cross parts with him. I still remember being introduced to his work, it was Christmas 2009 when I got my hands on his book Liberia Long Story Bit by Bit  I pored over that work and often return to it. One of the best books I have found when trying to consider how one goes about sharing a long term project. Here Time.com has a dedication to his book and commitment to his work in Liberia. It is written eloquently by Peter Van Agtmael, worth a read if you have got this far with my waffle.

As I watched the film about Tim’s life made by his close friend and long-time colleague Sebastian Junger I was filled with a huge sense of sadness. The sadness wasn’t necessarily concerned with the fate that awaited him at the films end but more a sense of loss that such an important visual craftsman is no longer with us. Tim’s contribution to the world is unrivalled by entire careers of many other image makers, what a benchmark he set. The themes of boys becoming men and masculinity in war, reminds the viewer how personal war is for a combatant. If the themes explored in Tim’s work influenced conversations about wars I wonder if the conflicts and massive foreign troop deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan would have been any different?  Maybe I am naive to think the outcome would have been any different.

Tim and Sebastian’s film Restrepo was nominated for an Oscar in 2011. Tim is undoubtedly best known for this work however I believe his  film Diary is his best work.  This highly personal video piece is haunting but also surprisingly comforting. The viewer slides between a firefight in Liberia with child soldiers and replaying voice messages from a lover. As someone regularly traveling internationally for my work as a photographer I find the film equally comforting to have my own broad sense of displacement aptly depicted by another.

Tim’s commitment and equal strength in either medium, photo or video is deeply inspiring.  When I receive an email from someone starting out in photography I regularly feel unequipped to provide them with sage advice. From now on when I write back I will encourage them to watch the this film about Tim’s life and also pore over his work in both formats. I hope that in years to come Tim Hetherington is studied in schools and universities across the world.

 

Timor in 2014

‘The middle class here in Dili is looking all mightily healthy’ I remarked to a friend as we sat in a new Italian restaurants on a Friday night surrounded largely by Timorese families. Previously, during the UN mission it was a much more common sight to see foreigners filling such restaurants as opposed to Timorese families.  My friend responded matter of factly, ‘a healthy middle class is a sure sign of the corruption here’ and I can’t help but agree with him.

I am just back from a few weeks in Timor Leste and the above is one of the conversations that has stayed with me, particularly in relation to  my ongoing project there Timor in progress. You can expect updates from the last few trips over the coming weeks.

Below are a selection of some of my favourite photos from the trip.

 

A child walks through an old grave yard atop a mountain outside the small village of Hohorei in Manatutu District. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

A child walks through an old grave yard atop a mountain outside the small village of Hohorei in Manatutu District. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

 

An employee of Timor Plaza which is Timor's first shopping centre, takes part in a first aid course. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

An employee of Timor Plaza which is Timor’s first shopping centre, takes part in a first aid course. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

 

An empty area of land close to the coast on the road between Dili and Baucau. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

An empty area of land close to the coast on the road between Dili and Baucau. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

Children play along the coast at dusk in Dili. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

Children play along the coast at dusk in Dili. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

A child runs along the fence line of a football field which has caugth rubbish blowing in the strong winds. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

A child runs along the fence line of a football field which has caught rubbish blowing in the strong winds. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

A woman opens the door to a store room at a school in Baucau. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

A woman opens the door to a store room at a school in Baucau. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

Buffaloes move across a mud plain on the coast of Timor-Leste. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

Buffaloes move across a mud plain on the coast of Timor-Leste. Photo: Conor Ashleigh © 2014 All rights reserved.

I was in Timor-Leste on assignment for Australian Red Cross, some of my images from a Dengue prevention program by youth volunteers can be seen below, click here for the IFRC website to learn more.