January 7, 2013 4:00 AM EST

Note: The sequence of images in this feature was updated Jan. 8, 2013.

American Special forces, guns trained and at the ready, stand outside a fortified compound on foreign soil. Cast in midnight shadow, the well-armed and night-vision-equipped troops communicate with hand motions and brief radio exchanges.

What follows is a stunningly efficient raid — carefully choreographed — with the requisite shouted commands, sporadic gunfire, and the low-hummed whirr of helicopter blades. Through it all, photographer Jonathan Olley was there.

But these bullets and bombs were mere props. The soldiers: actors instead. The drama: cinematic climate written and directed by the movie industry’s best. But in the world of Hollywood, Jonathan Olley’s photographs are almost too real.

Many Americans have likely seen Olley’s work, even if they don’t know the photographer by name. With his images plastered on the sides of bus stop vestibules or subway station walls, on billboards, print advertisements and even the cover of Newsweek, Jonathon Olley is the stills photographer for this year’s Oscar-hopeful Zero Dark Thirty.

The film, from Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the career of one female American intelligence officer, played by Jessica Chastain. While the film has received criticism —from politicians and the military, not to mention historians who challenge the film portrayal of events— the virulence of the critiques may fairly reflect how realistic the movie is presented.

“What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film,” Bigelow told the The New Yorker in an interview about the movie last December. Who better to photograph a movie about a war, than a photojournalist who had seen one up close.

As a 27-year-old photographer, Jonathan Olley traveled to Sarajavo, a city under siege as Yugoslavia slowly broke apart. Packed and ready to leave on February 5, 1994, Olley was footsteps from the city’s main market when a violent explosion rocked his career forever.

When authorities in Buckinghamshire, England, received a mysterious 999 call from a heavy breather, they arrived at the scene expecting an emergency, since that's usually how things work.
                        
                        But there was no emergency, and the heavy-breathing caller turned out to be a dog who'd stolen his owner's phone, the BBC <a href=reports. "Thames Valley Police arrived and said they'd heard heavy breathing and didn't know what our emergency was," said the pooch's owner, Mary Amos-Cole. Apparently, police already knew the dog -- a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Leighton -- because he has set off Amos-Cole's burglar alarm several times by tearing around the house. So clearly he has a crush on one of the police officers and keeps doing things to try and get the officer to come around more often. (Jonathan Olley)" />
When authorities in Buckinghamshire, England, received a mysterious 999 call from a heavy breather, they arrived at the scene expecting an emergency, since that's usually how things work. But there was no emergency, and the heavy-breathing caller turned out to be a dog who'd stolen his owner's phone, the BBC reports. "Thames Valley Police arrived and said they'd heard heavy breathing and didn't know what our emergency was," said the pooch's owner, Mary Amos-Cole. Apparently, police already knew the dog -- a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Leighton -- because he has set off Amos-Cole's burglar alarm several times by tearing around the house. So clearly he has a crush on one of the police officers and keeps doing things to try and get the officer to come around more often.
Jonathan Olley

The mortar, responsible for the deaths of 68 people and the wounding of 200, left a near-dazed Olley reeling amidst the chaos of the scene.

“I made some photographs of the place in a haphazard and panicky way” he remembers. “At that point, I got grabbed by some men and had a gun put in my mouth.”

Tucked among the 33 new designs of winter scenes and autumnal gardens the Finnish postal service revealed this week may be the world's most explicitly homoerotic stamps. The country's Itella Posti will commemorate iconic illustrator Touko Laaksonen, known as
Tucked among the 33 new designs of winter scenes and autumnal gardens the Finnish postal service revealed this week may be the world's most explicitly homoerotic stamps. The country's Itella Posti will commemorate iconic illustrator Touko Laaksonen, known as "Tom of Finland," later this year. The stamps will feature three of Laaksonen's drawings bearing his trademark leather-bound muscle men. The images embody the "confident and proud homoeroticism" of Laaksonen's work, according to Itella Posti. "The sheet portrays a sensual life force and being proud of oneself," Timo Berry, a graphic designer who helped select the art, said in a statement. "There is never too much of that in this northern country."
Jonathan Olley

For Olley, those moments served as “catalyst” in his professional career, illustrating how photographers could become part of the stories they covered, and could even create conflict while trying only to bear witness.

“That day made me think about what my position in all of this was,” he said. “In the end, the risks” — by this he means for himself and the people he photographed— “were not worth the news agenda of the day.”

More than a decade after that fateful event, Olley was introduced to Hollywood director Paul Greengrass, who hired him as photographer for the film Green Zone, a movie about the fruitless search for nuclear weapons in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted-Uranium tipped weapon. Al-Amarah, Maysan, Iraq. 2004. (Jonathan Olley)
Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted-Uranium tipped weapon. Al-Amarah, Maysan, Iraq. 2004.
Jonathan Olley

Today, with three films under his belt, Olley says his commercial photography work on Green Zone, The Hurt Locker and now Zero Dark Thirty, requires the same skill and attention to detail as covering any war.

“You don’t really get a lot of access and you have to find your position in the maelstrom of activity.” Olley told TIME in an interview from his home in London. “Like conflict photography, shooting film stills is about being in a place where no one really wants you to be and making it work.”

Because still photographers are “non-essential” for the production process, he said — the photographs are used primarily to promote the movie when complete — the stills photographer is often the first victim of ornery directors, aggressive producers, or mercurial actors. If filming is going poorly, or the timing just isn’t right, photographers can be asked — politely or otherwise — to leave.

When authorities in Buckinghamshire, England, received a mysterious 999 call from a heavy breather, they arrived at the scene expecting an emergency, since that's usually how things work.
                        
                        But there was no emergency, and the heavy-breathing caller turned out to be a dog who'd stolen his owner's phone, the BBC <a href=reports. "Thames Valley Police arrived and said they'd heard heavy breathing and didn't know what our emergency was," said the pooch's owner, Mary Amos-Cole. Apparently, police already knew the dog -- a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Leighton -- because he has set off Amos-Cole's burglar alarm several times by tearing around the house. (Jonathan Olley)" class="fix-layout-shift" />
When authorities in Buckinghamshire, England, received a mysterious 999 call from a heavy breather, they arrived at the scene expecting an emergency, since that's usually how things work. But there was no emergency, and the heavy-breathing caller turned out to be a dog who'd stolen his owner's phone, the BBC reports. "Thames Valley Police arrived and said they'd heard heavy breathing and didn't know what our emergency was," said the pooch's owner, Mary Amos-Cole. Apparently, police already knew the dog -- a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Leighton -- because he has set off Amos-Cole's burglar alarm several times by tearing around the house.
Jonathan Olley

“Some actors are a little bit like racehorses: great to watch, but tough to deal with,” he jokes. In spite of the tensions, though, Olley is quick to add that many of Hollywood’s best actors — from Matt Damon to Jennifer Chastain — understand the importance of a film’s still photography and that working with these professionals at their best is “a privilege.”

Yet, as journalistic as his commercial images might look, and as close to reality as some Hollywood films have become, Olley views his film work as a means to other personal and professional ends.

“To me it’s like any other job,” said Olley, whose latest project, large format photography looking at the legacy of empire in Ireland, has received interest from the Tate Modern museum in London.

Despite the challenges of photographing the silver screen, Olley’s film experiences have been his most professionally forgiving, he said.

With scenes getting multiple takes — professional “second chances”— he has more opportunities to capture the valuable, powerful moments. However, for Olley — so nearly killed while covering conflict — there is comfort in the security of a Hollywood set.

<em>Updated 11:23 a.m. EST</em>
                        
                        The unmanned submarine hunting for wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 started its second mission on Tuesday after it was forced to <a href=abort its first foray to the depths of the southern Indian Ocean after just six hours on Monday. "After completing around six hours of its mission, Bluefin-21 exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 meters and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface," read a statement from Australia’s search coordination agency. On Tuesday, the crew tweaked the search zone so that Bluefin would steer clear from the deepest water. Bluefin-21 was deployed Monday evening after investigators looking for the missing Boeing 777 came to the conclusion that the jet's black-box batteries had finally expired, thus rendering them incapable of emitting signals that could be detected on the surface. The Malaysia Airlines aircraft disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board and is presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean 1,550 km (960 miles) northwest of Perth. The unmanned Bluefin-21 was supposed to scour the seabed for some 16 hours before returning to the surface, but the seabed where the plane is thought to have entered the water lies 4.5 km (2.8 miles) deep, at which point the water pressure impinges on the submarine’s functionality. U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews told CNN the vehicle was programmed to hover 30 m (100 ft.) over the bottom while scanning with sonar, but the water may in fact have been deeper than the maximum of 4,400 m (14,400 ft.) listed on ocean charts. "It happened in the very far corner of the area it's searching,” he said. “So they are just shifting the search box a little bit away from that deep water." Data from the U.S-made device was analyzed on the surface Tuesday, but nothing of interest was uncovered, and operators prepared to launch a second mission to the deep. "Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting," Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney, told the Associated Press. "They may not have very reliable prior data for the area, so they have a general idea. But there may be some variability on the sea floor that they also can't see from the surface." On Monday, officials confirmed that the cell phone of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid made contact with a telecoms tower in Malaysia about the same time that the plane disappeared from radar. However, there is no indication that any communication was attempted. On Tuesday, airplanes and vessels combed some 62,000 sq km (24,000 sq. mi.) of ocean — an area roughly the size of West Virginia — around 2,200 km (1,350 miles) northwest of Perth in search of debris. However, sea swells up to 2 m (6.5 ft.), scattered showers and thunderstorms hampered efforts. Thirty-nine days after the twin-engine jet disappeared, no wreckage has been found, and investigators have indicated they are close to calling off the airborne search, already the most expensive in history. This post was updated to reflect that the search was continued on Tuesday. (Jonathan Olley)" class="fix-layout-shift" />
Updated 11:23 a.m. EST The unmanned submarine hunting for wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 started its second mission on Tuesday after it was forced to abort its first foray to the depths of the southern Indian Ocean after just six hours on Monday. "After completing around six hours of its mission, Bluefin-21 exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 meters and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface," read a statement from Australia’s search coordination agency. On Tuesday, the crew tweaked the search zone so that Bluefin would steer clear from the deepest water. Bluefin-21 was deployed Monday evening after investigators looking for the missing Boeing 777 came to the conclusion that the jet's black-box batteries had finally expired, thus rendering them incapable of emitting signals that could be detected on the surface. The Malaysia Airlines aircraft disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board and is presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean 1,550 km (960 miles) northwest of Perth. The unmanned Bluefin-21 was supposed to scour the seabed for some 16 hours before returning to the surface, but the seabed where the plane is thought to have entered the water lies 4.5 km (2.8 miles) deep, at which point the water pressure impinges on the submarine’s functionality. U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews told CNN the vehicle was programmed to hover 30 m (100 ft.) over the bottom while scanning with sonar, but the water may in fact have been deeper than the maximum of 4,400 m (14,400 ft.) listed on ocean charts. "It happened in the very far corner of the area it's searching,” he said. “So they are just shifting the search box a little bit away from that deep water." Data from the U.S-made device was analyzed on the surface Tuesday, but nothing of interest was uncovered, and operators prepared to launch a second mission to the deep. "Maybe some areas where they are doing the survey are a little bit deeper than they are expecting," Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at the University of Sydney, told the Associated Press. "They may not have very reliable prior data for the area, so they have a general idea. But there may be some variability on the sea floor that they also can't see from the surface." On Monday, officials confirmed that the cell phone of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid made contact with a telecoms tower in Malaysia about the same time that the plane disappeared from radar. However, there is no indication that any communication was attempted. On Tuesday, airplanes and vessels combed some 62,000 sq km (24,000 sq. mi.) of ocean — an area roughly the size of West Virginia — around 2,200 km (1,350 miles) northwest of Perth in search of debris. However, sea swells up to 2 m (6.5 ft.), scattered showers and thunderstorms hampered efforts. Thirty-nine days after the twin-engine jet disappeared, no wreckage has been found, and investigators have indicated they are close to calling off the airborne search, already the most expensive in history. This post was updated to reflect that the search was continued on Tuesday.
Jonathan Olley

“At least in this business, you don’t die when you get it wrong,” he said.


Jonathan Olley is a photographer based in London.


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