What’s it like to be a Greenpeace photographer?

1 October 2010

Ever wondered what it is like to take photographs for Greenpeace?

Belinda Pratten is the photographer behind our upcoming exhibition in Sydney that documents Greenpeace’s occupation of two Queensland coal export terminals in 2009. She captured these direct actions as they unfolded, sometimes from an inflatable. She also documented life on board Greenpeace ship, MV Esperanza.

We’ve asked her some questions about her week spent on the Esperanza working on this project. You can catch Belinda, Greenpeace CEO Linda Selvey and the activists involved in these actions at the exhibition on Thursday 7 October 2010 in Sydney. Hope to see you there.

You have a great deal of experience as a photojournalist. How did you come to take photos with Greenpeace?

I had been working in Canberra as a freelance photographer and photojournalist and my husband, Marty, had been working freelance for Greenpeace as a cinematographer. It was one of those lucky situations where they urgently needed a photographer and they asked Marty who he’d recommend. It was lucky for me that he suggested me!

How long were you on the Esperanza?

I was on the Esperanza for one week during the actions connected with the Pacific Islands Forum.

Lots of people would dream of being a photographer and having your job. How would you describe your approach to photography?

For me, photography is about capturing life as it unfolds. The products are a document of history, but they’re also a document to make positive change today – that’s the part that really drives me. The by-product is that I get to make a living doing what I love.

Have you ever said ‘no’ to a job?

Yes, I have said ‘no’ to jobs. I say no when it’s against my personal ethics because I just can’t promote something that I don’t believe in. I’ve taken photos of things that don’t necessarily inspire me, but that’s just because sometimes you have to do the boring work to make ends meet.

What attracted you to taking photos of the occupation of Mackay’s coal terminal by Greenpeace climate activists?

I didn’t actually know what I was taking photos of until I was on the Greenpeace Esperanza ship! It was all a big secret until then. Someone called me and asked if I could do a ‘job’. I said yes because I like what Greenpeace stands for and the way they take action to make the world a better and safer place for everyone. Plus, Greenpeace people are fun so I’m always happy to help out.

Photographers like you are often the reason that the world knows about Greenpeace’s work. But we rarely get to hear what it is like to be the photographer capturing direct actions as they unfold. How did you find this assignment?

The assignment was exciting. The action was ambitious and was being executed by hardworking, intelligent and passionate people. I was humbled to be working with those wonderful people. I was a bit nervous when I was in the inflatable, probably more for fact that I may lose my camera gear and I had pictures to process. I didn’t get seasick, I have spent a lot of time on boats, but much smaller ones. The ship actually rocked me to sleep at night.

Was there anything that made taking the photos featured in upcoming exhibition particularly difficult or surprisingly easy?

There was difficulty in getting the images taken from the inflatable. First we had to deal with the water/ocean. The waves and splash from the water came right into the inflatable. The gear was in two waterproof bags and I pulled the camera out once I knew we were travelling slowly enough. The team work on the inflatable made it easier to get images.
The boat drivers and crew were amazing.

The images made on board the Esperanza were easy. The crew let me wander in and become a part of their lives.

Is it scary taking photos out of a helicopter? Do you have to have the door open, or how does it work?

No, it’s not scary. Well… I guess the first or second time it was. The door is open but you’re strapped in. Basically you just have to focus on the job and enjoy the view.

Finally, what impact do you want your photos to have on the people who come to this exhibition?

I hope that people walk away from this show with a stronger sense of what is actually involved in an action, who the people involved in the action are and why they go to such lengths to let the world know what is going on. The Greenpeace team is an amazing group of intelligent, professional, committed and passionate people.

You can meet Belinda at the upcoming exhibition on Thursday 7 October, 6.30pm, Tap Gallery, 278 Palmer Street,  Darlinghurst, Sydney. More information and RSVP details here.