Lieutenant Commander Kent Penney is head of the Combat Camera team, which shows the public through photography and video the work that the Canadian Forces is doing around the world. It is work that is of special significance now with the current campaign in Afghanistan.
In Part 1 of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight on Penney, he sat down with senior writer Lisa Williams to discuss how he got his start in the Armed Forces, and how Combat Camera is an important tool not just for the media and public, but for members of the military as well. In Part 2, Penney talks about the switch to high-definition, and the amazing assignments that his team covers all over the world.
Q) What do you most enjoy about the work that you’re doing, and what are the challenges you face within your role at director of Combat Camera?
A) This is by far the best job I’ve had since I joined the Canadian Forces in 1989. I’ve been very lucky as a naval officer onboard ship serving with some phenomenal people, but I have to say that the small team of public affairs officers, military photographers, and civilians that I work with here everyday, are nothing short of incredible. It is absolutely exciting to share their ideas and creativity whether it is technology that we want to explore or creative projects that they suggest. The initiative and dedication that they have, is absolutely inspirational.
What really impresses me is the fact that my team lives basically out of a suitcase. They are on the go 12 months of the year non-stop, trying to cover the wide variety of operations that the Canadian Forces conduct every year. We only have 16 of us here, trying to cover a military of about 90,000 reserve and regular force spread all over the globe.
A large portion of that is of course being dedicated to Afghanistan but it’s not just Afghanistan. We have other teams that are covering: missions in the Mediterranean with the Navy, peace support operations in Africa, international military exercise in Europe, Canadian sovereignty operations up in the Arctic, and search and rescue activities out in British Columbia.
We are all over the map every year and it is exciting to see my teams go out and be parachuted for a very short time into a different military unit, whether it be Air Force, Army, or Navy. After three weeks of spending time with these units, they come back home to Ottawa and it’s exciting to see the creative products that they put together, whether it’s award winning photographs or documentaries that they produce based on their experience with these units in the field.
It’s neat to see how they capture the essence of what the Canadian forces are all about because that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s a very complicated, stressful and demanding job and it’s great to see how excited they get about their job and how well they do it – and that’s basically what inspires me every day.
As the boss I don’t get to do that hands-on stuff but my job is to put all the pieces in place, whether it’s the technology, planning, or funding and make sure everything’s put together so they can go out in the field and do their job properly.
The feedback we get – whether it’s from our own Canadian Forces members that we cover, or the public comments we get through our Web site, and periodically comments we receive from the media – is really rewarding. All that hard work and the sacrifices that they’re making are paying off in the fact that the public seems to benefit from the imagery that we distribute.
Q) Do all the Combat Camera team members have previous photography/videography experience, or is it something that they are trained in?
A) Everybody that comes to Combat Camera comes with a different background. The public affairs officers who lead the small teams out in the field do not come with very much experience in imagery, so we have to look at innovative ways to get the training they need to be field producers.
The image technicians come with a wide variety of backgrounds. Imagery technicians are the photographers in the Canadian Forces, and throughout the military they do different types of jobs. They work on intelligence, technical photography for engineering, and portrait style photography at the bases, but they are not trained in media quality imagery for the news.
Continued: How Combat Camera is a virtual window into the Canadian Forces
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