Combat soldiers will now take part in photography lessons, enabling both their units and the army at large to show viewers around the world images straight from the battlefield

Date: 15/11/2010, 11:30 AM    

While most soldiers in the Egoz combat unit are doing exhausting Krav Maga (hand-to-hand combat) exercises, learning camouflage techniques and navigating morning to night, six of their friends are taking part in something completely different. These six soldiers, picked from their entire class which completed the combat course, will now sit in a classroom for one week learning about the aperture adjuster, proper composition, shutter and speed. No, there’s no mistake here – these are all photography terms. And these are Egoz combat soldiers learning photography.

The course, taught by IDF (Zahal) field photographers from the Spokesperson unit, was created in order to teach these select soldiers the basics of photography. The results will bring authentic footage of operational activities from the soldiers’ points of view, their photos a potentially useful tool for Israel’s efforts in explaining the army.

The course lasts five days and is routinely taught in all combat brigades, each time a small group of soldiers being picked from each unit. “The goal is that in each platoon, there will be a photographer,” explains 1st Sgt. Or Rodansky, a field photographer who gives the course.

In addition to this course, every three months an additional course is put on in the Golani Brigade’s training base including as many as 30 soldiers. The course lasts two weeks, the soldiers who take it having been specifically chosen. “The sorting process mainly tests the soldier’s basic knowledge of photography, whether or not he understands the subject,” explains 1st Sgt. Rodansky. “In addition, there are different prerequisites like the soldier’s position in the unit and how much time he has left in his service. It’s always better to choose soldiers who are in the center of the action like those who shoot or those who work closely with the battalion commander and are thus on the field first. Soldiers we won’t take could be snipers or soldiers who have less than a year and eight months left in their service.”

A few of Israel’s senior photographers volunteered at these courses on the Golani training base to help teach soldiers photography. Among those coming this year are Yaron Brener, a Ynet photographer, Elad Gershgoren, a photographer for various newspapers, Eliran Hayat and Yossi Aloni, both photographers for Israel’s popular newspaper Maariv.

The Egoz soldiers currently taking part in the course were not sorted out but were sent to the course by their commanders. “This is the first time I am doing photography not as an amateur,” said Sgt. Yoav. “The course is important because the world needs to know what’s really happening on the battlefield. Footage from the field can help Israel’s image and it’s also very interesting.”

It’s difficult trying to teach so much in such a short period of time, so the focus is placed on several topics. “It’s impossible to teach four years worth of material in five days, therefore our main goal is to practice photographing most things and to focus on what’s photographically problematic about a situation,” says 1st Sgt. Rodansky.

During Operation Cast Lead, for example, combat soldiers took video footage of a school booby-trapped by Hamas. But soldiers filmed only the cables surrounding the school and did not capture footage of the actual bomb. As a result, viewers did not understand what was problematic about the imagery. “This only proves how important the course is,” says 1st Sgt. Rodansky. “If 20% of the time soldiers apply 70% of what they’ve learned here and come out with just one good photo, it’s worth the round-the-clock training all year. The influence these photos have is huge.”