Stranger than fiction: a unique snapshot of life

Stuart Griffiths. Photo by Amanda Jobson
Stuart Griffiths. Photo by Amanda Jobson

STATIONED in Northern Ireland as a paratrooper, the young Stuart Griffiths amassed a huge collection of personal photographs in the days before the pervasiveness of smartphones.

The photographer and writer’s new book Pigs’ Disco is a candid portrait of life inside and outside the army.

“There hasn’t been anything like this published before,” said Stuart, who is now based in St Leonards. A bold statement perhaps, but on reading Pigs’ Disco, easy to believe.

It is less an autobiography, more a stark snapshot of army life that does not spare the gory details of what it was like on the inside of one of the most hated regiments of the British Army at the height of The Troubles.

Stuart was given an instamatic camera by his stepfather for his 18th birthday in 1989, at which time he was already serving in the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland, and began to photograph himself and his fellow soldiers, going on to become the official unit photographer, before leaving the army in 1993.

“I never really took photos as a kid,” he said. “My step-father was a keen amateur. Photography was always seen as a very precious thing, where fools could not meddle.

“I thought photography was the most artistic thing the army could offer me.”

The immediacy and rawness of these photos, some of which are included in Pigs’ Disco, is mirrored in the style of the writing - Stuart was very much a participant rather than an observer, though as a photographer he still manages to look in on the action.

“Some people will find the book a little bit unsettling,” said Stuart. “But that’s the point. If anything, it’s probably a watered down version of some things.”

Pigs’ Disco is perhaps not what one might expect. Yes, it is an account of life as a soldier (“To say it was hostile is being lukewarm about it; you could feel the hatred”), but it is also an account of alcohol and drug use in the army, and ex-soldiers becoming involved with the rave scene in Brighton, full of colourful characters, that blurs the boundary between fiction and non-fiction.

It is named after the weekly discos in the army barracks, and the title is fitting as the account is as much about what happens off duty as on.

Here is a side to army life that will not be found in the history books.

Pigs’Disco is but one story, and Stuart says he has many more to tell.

His has been an incredibly varied career to date: army photographer, paparazzo, film consultant, and winner of the Brighton Photo Fringe Open 2010, with his first solo show Closer, which explores his personal feelings towards war and conflict.

A documentary about Stuart’s life and work Isolation premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival.

But Stuart is also a writer, and is keen to continue in this vein, Pigs’ Disco being his second book.

“I have been writing since I was a soldier, but the Brighton Photo Fringe opened up interest in the person behind the photographs,” he said.

So watch this space.

Pigs’ Disco is published by Ditto Press.