Japan’s sleepy town of Iga offered an opportunity for me to write my first story for the news wire. Iga is known to many Japanese as one of the traditional home towns of the ninja. I was looking forward to seeing tens of thousands ninja clad enthusiasts, the ninja themed-train and a house with secret escape passages - the home of a real ninja.
The hardest part was knowing where to start - that and deciding on what the story’s ‘selling point’ would be in text terms rather than pictures. Would I be able to persuade people to give me both tantelising ninja tidbits and interesting quotes?
I first interviewed the self-proclaimed grandson of a real ninja who told me that his grandfather was always out on the lookout for ways to further his skills had even mastered the art of hypnotism. A museum curator that the web of myth and mystery surrounding the world of the ninja fired people’s imaginations and for this reason the ninja lives on.
These were details that could only be related in words rather than pictures.
Shooting and writing have many things in common. Whether writer or photographer, one must think, “what would keep the viewer’s attention for at least one more second?” “Is it this angle? Should I crop the picture like this?” or, “which quote is more interesting? What headline is catchier?”
Needless to say both disciplines call for ethics and accuracy.
But shooting requires instantaneous reactions and concentration – the time it takes to make or break a picture. We can’t ask the subject to smile again, and goals and penalties on the soccer field cannot be replayed in real life. Writers can draft, rewrite and call sources back to check details again but they also need to have an overall view of an issue, information from all sides and different perspectives to balance their offerings, which is often something photographers cannot provide.