By Oliver Wilkins in Egypt
I’m a British film maker but have been based in Cairo for the past 12 years and was in and around the centre during the first few days of the protests. Having spent so much time living here, I have a great love of Egypt and the Egyptians. As a foreign guest living in Egypt I generally try to steer clear of Egyptian politics. However, what has been happening in Tahrir is totally unprecedented. It’s amazing to see people making signs from anything lying around them in an attempt to get their voices heard.
Initially I was shooting with a GoPro, before venturing out with the Canon 550D. On the day I shot this film I decided to risk taking a decent lens – the Canon 24-70 f2.8. I’d heard they were confiscating cameras at the entrances to the square so I hid the lens in a water bottle carrier and placed the top half of a bottle over it. The 550D went under my jacket, the GoPro in a pocket and the monopod up my sleeve. The monopod was spotted on the way in and I was grabbed by soldiers but they were fine when I explained it wasn’t a weapon. Once inside the square the atmosphere was very good and people were extremely keen to have themselves photographed. I used the GoPro on the monopod, held above my head to get the high wide shots. Many people thought it was a crowd counter and kept asking me how many people I had “counted”.
I think undoubtably the DSLR makes a huge difference in this type of situation. I have a 5D and a 550D and a bunch of lenses so I can strip down and build up the camera depending on the situation. My “not the end of the world if robbed” kit is the 550D with an old pre-AI Nikon lens and the Zacuto Z-finder. The 550D, although fiddly to operate, is wonderfully light and easily hidden. I also love the response people have to a “stills” camera – for this piece, the posing and looking into the lens, I think gives a really strong connection to the audience. Generally for my work I operate under the radar; there’s no way I could do that with a full size shoulder cam.
Since shooting this piece in Tahrir, I haven’t been back. The following day an Egyptian friend who was staying with me went down to shoot. He was arrested, had his camera confiscated and managed to escape only when anti-government protestors surged forward. Extraordinarily a street kid watching the whole thing managed to get hold of his camera, track him down and return it half an hour later. He was trapped in the square all night with no phone contact.
Sadly state TV went on the offensive yesterday, claiming all foreigners were spies. Foreigners across Cairo – not just journalists – are being arrested on the street. I’m holed up at home. I’m not a journalist or news photographer and am with limited internet and no TV. Many friends have gone so I am flying out to London tomorrow for a couple of weeks to get some work done. Fingers crossed the situation will have improved by the time I return.
I used to work in news but have tried to move into slightly longer stories focused on more marginalized people, away from the hard news stories. Usually my work is focused on development and human rights and I work a lot for UN- type organizations around the region. A lot of my projects attempt to communicate difficult issues to local Arabic speaking audiences. I’ve also worked a lot with children and developed several news shows presented by children. I got into DSLR shooting a year and half ago and love the small form factor and the DOF control, as I really feel it can help in presenting people in an emotive and emphatic way.