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Glasgow photographer scoops Navy's top prize for work in Kabul

23 October 2021
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Captivating images and video of British troops evacuating civilians from Kabul – used by news outlets the world over – have earned a sailor from Glasgow the Navy’s top photography award.

Petty Officer Ben Shread – who grew up in Plymouth but today lives on the Clyde with his family – was named Photographer of the Year for his work over a few dramatic weeks in Afghanistan in August.

Striking images which capture British military personnel evacuating civilians from Kabul have earned a Royal Navy photographer its highest prize.

His canon of work from Kabul, has earned him the most coveted title in the Royal Navy’s Peregrine Trophy awards, which have been running since 1961.

The awards recognise the skill, professionalism and dedication of the small group of specialists – who join the Navy in other trades, including Royal Marines Commandos, but chose to re-train as full-time photographers/camera operators to record the ordinary – and extraordinary – work of Royal Navy personnel around the globe.

Ben has served in the Royal Navy for more than 22 years – over half of them as a photographer.

As well as assignments with the military – which have seen him cover operations and activities in the Arctic, Antarctic, USA, Middle East and Afghanistan – he has also served as the official photographer to Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

That secondment led to meeting – and photographing – President Trump, the G12 and G7 summits in Osaka and Biarritz, the UN General Assembly and the 2019 General Election. 

He’s currently assigned to the Joint Information Actions Group which involves teaching photography and media gathering to UK and international students. 

The 43-year-old is also lead photographer on the Combat Camera Team, which was activated for the Afghan evacuation mission, Operation Pitting, with RAF Flight Lieutenant James Langan.

The two-strong team embedded in numerous, diverse units while in Kabul from patrolling with the Parachute Regiment, to loading and processing evacuees with the Royal Air Force freight movers and spending a day and night in the hospital theatre with the deployed medics.

“There were harrowing scenes unfolding right in front of us, wherever you looked there was something going on, it gets quite overwhelming and gives you a sense of helplessness that plays on your mind.

“I take solace in the fact we collectively saved over 14,000 people from an uncertain future under the Taliban. 

“I could not be prouder of the compassion and commitment I witnessed first-hand from the men and women of our Armed Forces and the incredible bravery of the Afghan people. I was grateful for the opportunity to tell their story with honesty and empathy.”

I am overwhelmed to win the top prize of Photographer of the Year. Winning it with my images from Op Pitting makes it even better – it helps further highlight the great work the British military were doing out in Afghanistan.

Petty Officer Ben Shread

His time in Kabul was the most demanding physically and mentally during his time as a photographer – up to 20-hour working days in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in a tense, often harrowing situation, and media deadlines to meet.

Reward was international media use of his imagery and footage, and now an award.

“I am overwhelmed to win the top prize of Photographer of the Year. Winning it with my images from Op Pitting makes it even better – it helps further highlight the great work the British military were doing out in Afghanistan.

“A lot of hard work went into the images in my portfolio, it means so much to me that the work that I am passionate about also resonates with others.

“I could not have achieved what I have in the Royal Navy without the continued support of my wife Fiona and family. I feel honoured to uphold a tradition that is ubiquitous the world over… Story-telling. This award has inspired me even more to keep searching out the stories that the Royal Navy has to tell.”

Over the past 12 months, Royal Navy photographers have captured the activities and actions of sailors and Royal Marines from the Arctic to both sides of the Pacific, as well as the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Black Sea and the Gulf.

And at home they have recorded the involvement of the Service’s key national events such as the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh and State ceremonies, as well as Royal visits, emotional homecomings, support to civilian agencies dealing with the Covid pandemic and everyday activities from training to major exercises. 

More than 500 entries were submitted for this year’s competition ¬– 486 photographs, 17 videos – and pored over by judges Jane Sherwood (Getty Images), Richard Pohle (a staff photographer with The Times), Steve Parsons (Press Association), Jack Ashdown (website developers Great State), Lee Durant (BBC) and Vince Knight (Vince Knight productions).

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