…where will it all end?

April 24, 2008

I was assigned at the last minute to go down to the North Korean embassy to doorstop the North Korean envoy once his talks with Christopher Hill ended – an assignment that due to language difficulties turned out to be problematic for text, but provided an out-of-the-blue scoop for pix.

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The North Korean embassy was about 10 mins from my home and it was raining dogs and cats, so I thought it would be a better idea to borrow my dad’s car and drive over to stake out the embassy rather than take a cab. When I got home, I decided to bring my Canon S5 along, just in case I got a chance to use it. When I got there, there were no other media there because of the rain, so I just parked by the side of the embassy and waited.

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About an hour later, when the rain eased, the Japanese/Korean media started coming back. I got out of the car to join the crowd around the embassy house entrance, armed with my camera and tape recorder. After 30 or 40 minutes a black Mercedes finally appeared and moved towards the entrance of the ambassador’s home, and I got my camera ready. Trying to shoot the envoy thru the windows of the car was really difficult because of the reflection from the windows and the rest of the media jostling with each other to get a clear view.

Most of the other media and cameramen by then were leaning on the sides of the car calling out to the envoy (in Korean) and snapping/filming him inside. After the Mercedes pulled into the compound of the house and drove through the driveway, the media fell back and hung around the gates, still calling out to the envoy. Finally, an aide came out, saying in Korean (which I was told later) that the envoy would come out to make a few comments. One of the Korean reporters collected all our tape recorders, while I squeezed myself between some cameramen and squatted down in front of the gates to await the envoy’s approach.

Jennifer

When he started walking out together with his aide carrying an umbrella (by then it had started to drizzle again), I began clicking away. In hindsight, I should have paused to let the autofocus kick in before pressing the shutter, but I was in a state of panic, trying to get in some good shots as he walked towards us, and I was not thinking very clearly. One amusing element for the picture was the presence of a ginger tabby cat walking out along the driveway of the house in the same direction as the envoy, towards the media melee. I thought it would really be a nice, funny touch to get the cat into the picture, and was able to frame the tabby in a couple of shots with the envoy, but most of them ended up blurred.

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When the envoy reached us, he started speaking in Korean, and I continued to snap away, squeezed between the cameramen, hoping that the reporter holding all our taping devices would be able to do a good job. the recording was crucial, since I couldn’t understand a word he said.

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Finally, he completed his remarks, and began walking back towards the house. I continued to take shots of his back as he walked away. After retrieving the recorder, I called the buro and told them I needed an interpreter as all his remarks had been in Korean. I was told to try calling a Korean colleague but she was busy at the Christopher Hill briefing. My supervisor suggested to bring the recording down to the hotel where the briefing was taking place in hopes of finding someone who could interpret the contents of the recording – but by the time I arrived at the hotel, Yonhap agency had already sent out their snaps and the desk had picked up their story.

Later, when I got a chance, I downloaded the pix from my camera into my laptop to see how they turned out – some of them were really grainy, and that was when I realised that I had set the ISO speed too high – 1600 rather than 400 or 800. The light was fading and I was afraid that the low lighting conditions would make the pix very blur, so I set a higher ISO as a precaution.

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I didn’t realise we had an exclusive until later when we found out that no other international wire had been there to take pix. It was really enjoyable to reverse roles for one evening – to chase after a picture, rather than a quote; to wield a camera, rather than a tape recorder, and thinking in terms of the technical aspects, such as lighting, framing, being able to capture a good shot at a split second’s notice. carrying my camera along on a whim paid off after all, but I still have much to learn about taking decent pix, especially when the action starts. definitely an area to work on in future.

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You go, Jen!

Posted by Paul M. Verhagen | Report as abusive

I was waiting for Christopher Hill’s briefing to start in the lobby of a hotel near the U.S. embassy in Singapore. I knew that Jennifer had gone down to the North Korean ambassador’s house for a stakeout – knowing that if there were any murmurs of an appearance by the elusive North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, she would inform both her text colleagues and us.

As it turned out, things happened very quickly, and by the time we got wind of the fact that Kim would appear in front of the gates, the event was almost over. There was a panic in the lobby of the hotel as South Korean and Japanese media also received word of the sudden appearance, but everyone soon resigned themselves to not making it in time, as the residence was around 30 minutes away and there was no way any of us would make it before the doorstop ended.

I felt disappointed that I missed an opportunity to picture Kim, as our picture clients would have rather seen a few frames of him instead of Christopher Hill who we had already pictured the previous day. In retrospect, maybe I should have been standing in front of those gates all along, waiting for Kim’s car to turn up, rather than in a hotel lobby, waiting for Christopher Hill’s car to turn up.

In the last few minutes of Hill’s news conference, I started downloading pictures from my cards to my laptop. As the presser finished and I was sending my first picture from the event, Jennifer tapped me on the shoulder and said something like “I have pictures of him, do you want to see them?”

“You’re joking!! Really?!?” I blurted out as I took a thumb drive from her and copied the pictures to my laptop. I dropped what I was doing, as these pictures were more important and had to be sent to the desk first. As I looked quickly through Jennifer’s take and found 3 frames that could be cropped down to make pictures we could use on the wire. I thought her pictures of the tabby walking in front of the North Koreans were funny, but with the people being a bit blurry weren’t really sharp enough.

I checked with Jen and the other agencies that were at the hotel and found out no one else had been there to snap Kim at the residence – only reporters and Japanese and South Korean TV cameras – Jen had just given us exclusive pictures of an elusive character, all thanks to a canon powershot s5 she was carrying with her.

Posted by Vivek Prakash | Report as abusive