When images don’t happen, make them happen

August 16, 2010

A combination photograph shows tattooed women posing for photographs during the 2010 Taiwan International Tattoo Convention in Taipei July 31, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Being a wire photographer, we often document things that are happening before our eyes. Sometimes these events happen so fast and we miss that one great picture or sometimes it may take 12 hours of waiting outside a courthouse to get that bread and butter shot to whet the appetite of newspaper clients.

The truth is that when wire photographers go out to shoot, we rarely have control over what happens during our assignments. We definitely cannot meddle with or control our subjects for the frame because that violates journalistic integrity.

Every now and then though, every news photographer wishes that the subject would do exactly what they have in mind for that particular shoot.

Take for example, a stock market story: To illustrate a big dip in market prices, we would ideally want a trader in a suit tearing his hair out in front of stock market panels. Also, ideally the color of the man’s suit matches the background and hopefully he is pleasing on the eyes too. This rarely happens though and you probably have to spend three unfruitful hours sitting at the stock exchange waiting for the right moment.

Although the description of the above image is stereotypically stock, that’s probably the money shot to bet on that papers will use to illustrate an 8% dip in global markets.

Deep inside, wire photographers (I know I do) wished that occasionally they could control their subjects or shoot sometimes to get that one good picture.

In my case, I had an assignment to cover the 2010 Taiwan International Tattoo Convention in Taipei. Not a newsworthy event but a good opportunity to produce some colorful features for the file. Being a tattoo buff myself (I have two tattoos), I was generally excited about covering this event and checking out what was new in the tattoo world.

The world’s best in tattooing had gathered here to promote the industry and garner positive thinking towards tattoos and I was excited to showcase it through my photos. When I got there, I was a little disappointed because it seemed like just another convention with lots of booths and none of the fire breathing and forked-tongue people I had expected.

I was still determined to make the best out of this assignment though and then an idea struck me. Why not set up an impromptu studio in one of the empty booths and do portraits of women with fully tattooed backs. Why women? Well, let’s just say that women with tattoos had always fascinated me because they seemed to combine the characteristics of wild and classy into one form.

I talked to the organizer who kindly gave me a space to set up a small backdrop (a giant black reflector) with my Canon 580 EXII flash attached to an umbrella that was triggered by my pocket wizard. Voila! That was my makeshift studio!

The next part was to convince women at the convention that I had just met to show me some skin for the shoot. It was uncomfortable for them considering that I didn’t know any of the women before the shoot and there I was telling them to lower their tops for a photo! Thankfully, most of the people who agreed to the shoot were very sporting and cooperated greatly with what I had in mind.

Over the course of the afternoon, I had the pleasure of having the company of 12 intriguing ladies who shared their passion for tattoos as I shared mine through photography.

It was satisfying knowing that I was actually controlling the subject and environment for once and at the same time, really enjoying the process while producing pictures that I liked for a wire assignment.

The Tattoo Girls Of Taiwan from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

One comment

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Thanks for the comment Russell!

I think people have different reasons why they get tattoos. To simply put it, some people like to buy a painting for home decoration, some people just like having the paintings on their bodies. Actually, most of the ladies I shot above actually have tattoo artists for husbands and mentioned that they were very proud to be the canvas for their respective partners.

To see someone create something from nothing on another person’s body by freehand is actually quite an amazing sight!

Some people get tattoos like to remind them of maybe an important moment in their lives and some get tattoos to remember a lost friend or relative. Some people get tattoos to follow trends and really regret them later – barb wire and barcode tattoos. I think secretly, people who get tattoos all pray that they never get sick of their designs because it will last a lifetime.

Speaking from experience, I got my first tattoo at the end of my national service with the army to mark that occasion. And once you start, you get a bit addicted to it.

Ever thought of getting one yourself? =P

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