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INSIDE SAHARA
I can see John, our sound recordist, hovering over the driver, eager to help, or perhaps just trying to annoy him with his irony. John joined the team on Hemingway and is by far my favourite Sound Department. Partly because he tolerates the occasional and inevitable intrusion of my noisy shutters when it is clear that Mike’s actions in front of the camera will never be repeated again. A true English gentleman in many ways, unflappable and blessed with an extra dry sense of humour, he is also cursed with a peculiar passion for ‘tidying up’, especially if an unfinished bottle of wine is involved. He blames his obsession on the time spent working with the not very tidy Camera Department, but we all think it’s probably a genetic thing. We like to refer to him as our ‘Multi award-winning acoustician.’

We pull up beside them. ‘Everything OK?’ I ask. ‘Oh fine, fine. And how’s the Wordsmith and the Master of the Static Frame?’ says John. Pete walks over and offers me a cigarette. ‘Care for a puncture moment?’ Nigel returns from his stroll, clearly relieved but looking more than a little weary. ‘How are you guys doing?’ he says, smiling. These stops, unscheduled or otherwise, have become almost ritualistic. We gather, exchange greetings and offer up a variety of treats for parched throats or snacks for energy. And as the drivers face Mecca and pray, we stretch our legs and head for the nearest bush. Nothing really special ever happens on these stops, but I look forward to them. Because each time it is like a mini reunion, a confirmation that we have all made it in one piece, a kind of affirmation that our luck is holding, and that we have just gotten a little further down the line on this epic journey.

Nothing extraordinary happened at that stop either. In fact, nothing happened at all. Just a bunch of guys milling around aimlessly in the middle of one of the most inhospitable spots on earth, waiting for a tyre to be changed. But it was right there, beside the punctured tyre, that I had one of those ‘defining moments’ that you read about in self-help books. I came to the realisation that I am no longer concerned about becoming a ‘Great Photographer’; I am happy just to be one of the luckiest. Because I get to go on the road with my very own dysfunctional family, and home feels like it’s only as far as the next tent. At the end of the day, that means much more to me than having the luxury of waiting for the right light, or the respect that comes with being considered a serious photojournalist. Plus I get to help drag Quasi’s thirty-eight cases of pig iron all around the world, and life simply doesn’t get any better than that.

It is on their behalf that I present to you this book, a kind of family album on the journey we took together, the places we saw and the people we met along the way. And as John and I were fond of saying to our illustrious leaders whenever we arrived at another shit hole, ‘Thank you for bringing us here.’

Basil Pao. March 2002
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Michael's introduction
About Basil Pao
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