The art of focusing and shooting was honed by Adam Dobby during his time at SAS.
This was not done with the gun – although he had done a lot in his service time – but with the camera, which carried out surveillance operations.
Dobby, who turned 17NS Birthday as an engineer, retired after 12 years as a staff sergeant. He then had various jobs related to his area of expertise, including in the city, before working as a security consultant for international media companies.
While traveling with journalists in places of conflict, Dobby began to take pictures of people living in violence and poverty who showed extraordinary courage and resilience in harrowing circumstances.
The ex-soldier’s photographs received praise in a gallery in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and in another exhibition. Originated in the conflict, takes place this week in London’s Mayfair.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of photographs will go to the Special Air Services Regimental Association’s Sentinel program, which provides assistance to former members with problems.
Dobby himself had struggled in his personal and professional life and says it was the support of former comrades that helped him get through this period and get him to organize his photo project.
“I’ve been in a bad place for a while,” he said. “My marriage was broken and the journalistic work dried up with Covid and travel pressures.
“I didn’t expect to sign up for a universal loan at the age of 49. Some friends at SAS found out and their help was of great importance in getting me back on track.
“I did therapy that helped me a lot and the support from former colleagues that was so important to get back on track.
“I don’t think anyone can be immune to what they’ve been through, and talking about it really helps.”
Dobby, now 50, added, “I also thought more of all those we met on the street who went through such traumatic times and are now doing so.
“The photos I took are trying to show their lives and it was really good to see the reaction of those who came to see the show in Cheltenham. A lot of people have been very nice with their compliments, and I’ve sold some, which is pretty good.
“The SAS have been very encouraging all along. I think there is now an understanding in the armed forces that people who must face such problems can do so without embarrassment. “
Many of Dobby’s photos deal with the plight of the dispossessed in the chaos of conflict. They were shot against the backdrop of episodes in recent history, in Syria, Iraq, Libya – families fleeing fighting; a child carefully carrying a doll’s house in front of his own ruined home: a woman with her children in a refugee camp with a drawing showing the slaughter they escaped and the gates to the sanctuary to the west closed tightly on their faces.
Dobby’s view of the world was shaped to a certain extent by his time at SAS and his later work with the media.
The Special Forces pride themselves on being less hierarchical and giving their members more freedom of thought and action than the rest of the military. Journalism at the forefront, says Dobby, also provides an opportunity to analyze and reflect on what’s going on.
“Both, I think, tend to think outside the box and can form an opinion because they are there. In the SAS I felt privileged to be on a select team and loved the camaraderie, ”he commented.
“But sometimes I felt like we were being used as a political tool, and I’m really, really glad that I was no longer in the army at the time of the second Iraq war.”
“I was fortunate enough to be with frontline journalists who were brave, tough, and thoughtful. I saw some similarities between them and my former army colleagues. There are shared experiences, witnesses of hardship and violence that you will certainly encounter. “
The impact of personal and professional problems on the military recently made headlines with the suicide of Maj. Gen. Matt Holmes, whose funeral took place Wednesday. The former head of the Royal Marines had separated from his wife while his role as commander-in-chief had been curtailed due to allegations and counterclaims about domestic military policy.
Major General Holmes had also expressed grave concern, according to friends, at the hasty withdrawal of the West from Afghanistan, a country where he had served and where he had many friends.
During the investigation into the death in Winchester on Tuesday, Hampshire coroner Jason Pegg said Major General Holmes was “worried about his marriage and his service career.”
The scars, both mental and physical, remain with those who served in the Special Forces. But they face the added problem that they often cannot talk about their missionary experiences because they were and have remained secret.
“That’s certainly a problem, the guys feel like they can’t sit in a group with other people they don’t know and open up about what they’ve been through. It’s much more difficult for them than for others in the armed forces, ”said the SAS Association Secretary, a veteran of the regiment.
“We are not saying that people in the SAS can be more affected than others in the military, police or fire department, or even as members of the public. But talking about what happened, such an important part of solving the problem, is just not possible in so many cases. That’s one of the reasons we created the Sentinel program so that those in need can meet people with a common background, ”he said.
The secretary, who had spent 22 years at the SAS, believed that although the stigma of asking for help is fading, there are still those who may still be holding it back.