As a photographer, I have the privilege to encounter rare glimpses of the strange and unusual. Most of the time I am thankful to get such an assignment but this particular one turned out to be a mixture of delight and displeasure.
The subject was a Titan arum, or Amorphophallus titanium, one of the world’s largest and rarest plants, which was blooming for the first time in nearly 20 years at a botanical garden in Tokyo. The first visitors lined up from 6:30 am and by the time the gate opened at 10 am, 1600 people had formed a long queue despite the sweltering Tokyo summer heat. The excited crowd was attracted by extensive TV coverage and in the newspaper about this unusual flower that only blooms for two days after taking 16 years to grow from a seedling.
Press were allowed special access to skip the long line and duck under the ropes surrounding the flower to get a close-up shot. At first glimpse, I was surprised to see the 1.5 meter (4.9 feet) tall flower, as it was nothing like any flower I had ever seen before. However, the next moment I stood atop the ladder to get a close up shot, the surprise turned into dismay as a foul odor emanating from the blossom stung my nose. The flower’s rotten garbage-like smell was enhanced by the high humidity and the hot temperature. I quickly snapped a few shots as I held my breath and then put some distance between myself and the flower to catch my breath. I repeated this dance a few times: Hold breath, approach flower, take shots, and retreat. Meanwhile, the gate opened and visitors who’d been waiting for hours flocked towards the gigantic flower. They pushed and shoved to take pictures of the plant and sometimes shouts were heard as people squashed each other.
After looking at the enthusiasm of the visitors and thinking that it would be another 20 years before I could photograph this flower blooming again, I forgot about the bad smell and muggy heat and came to think I was very lucky to have encountered this odd plant.