“We interviewed the mother of a female suicide bomber who had joined the Black Tigers. She had blown up a military depot and her mother was really proud and had her photos on the wall. Her other daughter was pregnant and wanted to do the same thing, but they only take one suicide bomber from each family and the majority are young women. It’s a different world and you don’t tend to think about it while you are shooting stuff because you’re so focused on what you’re doing. People probably don’t realise this, but before the second Iraqi war started, a third of all suicide bombings happened in Sri Lanka.
“It was very difficult getting permission to get in and go up there. The Sri Lankan government didn’t like journalists going there and you used to be only able to cross the border on one day a week. We were the first western media crew to get there in three years. We got permission at the last second and they knew we wouldn’t be able to get there before the border closed at 7.00pm. When we arrived at 8.00pm, the guy in charge told us the border was closed, but he would let us through at our own risk. The crossing is almost like a Mad Max situation. There are two opposing forts made out of sand bags that are about 400 to 500 metres apart. He cautioned us by saying the Tamils wouldn’t be expecting anybody through at this time so they might just open fire on our van. So we drove very slowly across a bombed-out road towards the border point, got out and walked over with our hands up. Then the journalist and the stills photographer talked to the Tamils while we waited in the middle of the road in the pitch black. They were away for 45 minutes, but we got our clearance. The road from the border crossing to our destination was the most dangerous in Sri Lanka as there are Claymore mines and various IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] everywhere and ambushes happened a lot. The next day we heard that, just a couple of hours after we had passed over the border, a van was blown to pieces.”
The Bamboo Railways, Cambodia
Another assignment where Matt Allard found the portability of the EOS 7D allowed him far greater freedom than his $60,000 video camcorder was in Cambodia. He went there to do a story on the upgrading of the railway lines which will displace the rudimentary ‘Bamboo Railways’ services that have been running since the end of the civil war.
“They have one train line and one train, and it runs once a week. They are planning to build another line and this will affect the people who run the Bamboo Railways. They salvage axles from old tanks, put two down on the track and fix a bamboo platform on top with an old water pump motor that runs a large rubber band to drive the wheels. These makeshift trains along the tracks, picking up passengers, but they don’t have any brakes and, when two are coming towards each other, the one with the lightest load has to unload and wait. These people are concerned that the Bamboo Railways will be banned, but it’s a cheap way of getting around as it’s a very remote area and there are no roads.
“The only transport here is these bamboo trains. I started filming from one train with my main video camera, but it was very shaky and it also took up a lot of room. There were 30 people on the bamboo platform and gear was stacked up everywhere. So I eventually decided to sit on the top and shoot with the EOS 7D. I shot 70 percent of that story with the 7D and I got a lot of compliments about the footage.”