Words by Mr Chris Elvidge
The English summer seems to have saved its final flourish for this unlikely September weekend, and this photoshoot - pitched as a rather autumnal affair - is now taking place on the second-warmest day of the year. It's a good thing Mr Sebastian Meyer is cool in the heat.
"Man, I got the short straw," he jokes, pulling on a heavy waxed-cotton field jacket and bounding out into the sunlit street. The novelty of being simultaneously the coolest and the most overdressed guy on set appears not to have dawned on him, but that's perhaps to be expected of a man who lives in Iraq, where summer temperatures can soar to nearly 50°C.
As a photojournalist with a history of covering conflict, Mr Meyer's job might seem as extreme as the conditions in which he works, but he is keen to avoid the label of "war photographer".
I was curious about conflict - it's why men go to war. They want to know: what kind of man am I going to be in this environment?
"I've covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya," he says, "but I would never categorise myself as that. It's really a minority of what I do."
Mr Meyer lives in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country often touted as the Other Iraq (it's hard not to agree with such a statement when you consider that not a single foreign national has died or been kidnapped in the area since March 2003).
"I have a great quality of life there," says Mr Meyer. "It's not like living in the West - I don't have 24-hour electricity, it's hot in the summer, freezing in the winter - but it's nothing like the blinkered view of Iraq as seen from the West."
Having moved there permanently in 2009, his day-to-day life now revolves around running Metrography, Iraq's first photography agency, which he helped to set up. Only a few years old, it now represents more than 60 photographers.
"Metrography is really important to me," Mr Meyer explains. "It's about empowering an entire nation of photographers with not just the necessary skills, but also an understanding of journalistic ethics, the impartiality required to build up a level of trust.
"And this," he continues, "is particularly important now. When anyone with a phone can go out and report on the news, the question of a picture's source is even more vital. You have to have faith in the storytelling."
As Iraq tentatively moves towards a more peaceful future, it's hard not to admire Mr Meyer's work at Metrography, and the noble aims of the agency he has helped to create. He is rightly proud, describing it as "hands down the greatest contribution I'll ever make to photography" - but what attracted him to the profession in the first place?
"It's all about curiosity," he says. "Covering conflict, I was curious not just to see what it looked like, but to see how I'd respond. I think many men will understand. It's why they go to war. They want to know: am I going to be a hero? Am I going to be brave? What kind of man am I going to be in this environment?"
This curiosity has taken Mr Meyer a long way from his native New York. After dabbling with photography in school, his "epiphany moment" came while in Paris on a term away from college; unable to find a studio to develop his black and white film, he began visiting the apartment of an American photographer he had met.
Mr Meyer walks away from a gas flare in the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk, March 2010. (Photo: Ayman Oghanna)
Mr Meyer on top of a boat traveling from Misrata to Benghazi, Libya, April 2011. (Photo: Sarah Lynch)
Mr Meyer accompanies anti-terror police on patrol in Kirkuk, March 2010. (Photo: Kamaran Najm)
"One day, she was looking at my photos and said, 'OK, I think you'd like this', handing me a Magnum photography book. I took one look at it and said, 'This is what I want to do.' From that moment on, my whole focus changed."
Back in New York, internships with Magnum and lauded documentary photographer Ms Mary Ellen Mark followed, and in 2004 a major upheaval came when Mr Meyer relocated to Manchester in the north of England.
"It was great," he explains, "and it served as a good introduction to English culture." It doesn't take long to determine the true reason behind this seemingly incongruous move, however: his ex-girlfriend, who had plans to return to the UK.
"She wanted to study here, and my mother is English so I've got dual nationality and could move," he says. "I was in Manchester for a year and a half, then moved to London and worked there until 2008 or 2009. Around that time I got two consecutive assignments in Kurdistan, and after the second one, well, I just stayed."
It seems that the fairer sex has played more than a small part in the decisions that have shaped Mr Meyer's rather unconventional path through life, but this should come as no surprise. From New York to Iraqi Kurdistan via Paris, Manchester and London, from French lit major to professional photographer: surely only two things could fuel such a narrative. On the one hand, curiosity, and on the other, its less prosaic cousin: romance.
We are, as we speak, accompanied by Mr Meyer's girlfriend, the delightful Ms Rebecca Bradshaw, an archaeologist, who has been present throughout the day. As she takes a moment's leave I take the opportunity to put this to him.
"Sure," he laughs, "I see what you mean. But moving to Kurdistan wasn't motivated by that at all. Back then I thought I was going to be single for the rest of my life. The fact that I met Rebecca out there was unbelievable."
Ms Bradshaw returns, and the two head off for farewell drinks. In the morning Mr Meyer will be leaving London for the more testing climes of Northern Iraq where, in a matter of months, the temperature will have dropped to near freezing. I'm left wondering if he'll be wishing he had kept that field jacket after all.