People often ask how I started out taking pictures. Well, it was with a Kodak Box Brownie at the age of eight when I took a photo of my mother and the family spaniel – captioned ‘Mum and Betsy in the Garden.’
From this inauspicious start, I became keen on photography spending hours developing pictures in the blacked-out kitchen and while ultimately my most enthusiastic supporter, there were occasions when Mum grew cross.
‘You never clean up properly Chris,’ was a frequent comment.
My first picture of Djibouti – sold with a story to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1965 -started my career as a travel writer and photographer specialising in the Muslim world.
The Queen received a copy of my first book – The Gulf States and Oman as background reading on the royal visit to Arabia in 1979.
I was also the only woman photographer on the 3 week tour which was action packed – just as Concorde carrying Her Majesty approached Kuwait, my driver went off with my cameras in his car. Fortunately I retrieved them in time, but ever since I’ve never let them out of my sight, turning down many courteous offers to carry my heavy camera bag.
I’ve always specialised in developing countries – mostly in Africa, South Asia and the Arab Gulf where I hope my record of traditional life may have value for future generations.
Gauging your subject’s sensitivity is essential to getting a good picture and to protect your equipment. A slight hand movement, or someone carefully putting down their load of melons often means a quick decision on whether to shoot. Or not.
Fortunately there have been few occasions on my travels when someone has become really angry. But occasionally it was touch and go.
Commissioned to photograph a tribal migration in Baluchistan, I stood my ground as the leader walked over waving his rifle. As he got near I grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously but when he uttered, it was not abuse: he wanted a cigarette (I gave him the packet).
One means of acquiring a subject is to give away small items to earn goodwill, or to distract attention. I always carry coins, sweets and balloons which I blow up for nuisance children. Recently I gave one to a youth in Zanzibar who taking it and looking me straight in the eye, asked in fluent English, was it a condom?
I`ve had many different cameras since the original Brownie. Several ‘old mates’ have bitten the dust – a pair of Pentaxes stolen from my hotel room in Palm Springs, another taken at knife point in The Gambia, a Canon smashed when I fell in Fujairah.
Although I endeavour to work unobtrusively, being tall and fair and feminine has not always helped. Frustrated with a crowd of curious men in Jacobabad in Pakistan, I devised the idea of drawing a line in the dust and telling them to stand behind it which they obediently did!
But one of the strangest encounters occurred on top of the National Museum in Sana’a.
I’d climbed up to take the view when a Yemeni holding a Polaroid asked could he take my picture and I noticed his hands were shaking so he couldn’t hold it steady.
‘He is an escaped political prisoner and this is his only way of earning a little money. Would you pose for him?’ said my guide.
And as one who has taken thousands of pictures, I naturally agreed.