Photographers' Blog

This job stinks

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.

Visitors take pictures of a Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum), one of the world's largest and rare tropical flower native to Sumatra, at the Koishikawa Botanical Garden in Tokyo July 23, 2010. The flower, which emits strong odor to attract pollinators, bloomed for the first time in nearly 20 years at the Tokyo botanical garden.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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.

A woman looks up at a Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum), one of the world's largest and rare tropical flower native to Sumatra, during a photo opportunity at the Koishikawa Botanical Garden in Tokyo July 23, 2010. The flower, which emits strong odour to attract pollinators, bloomed for the first time in nearly 20 years at the Tokyo botanical garden.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Samurais in South Africa

I arrived in South Africa with the Japan team filled with excitement and an acute feeling of anxiety. Never mind that I would be on the scene to cover the world’s biggest sporting event, and never mind that I would be competing against the top sports photographers from around the globe to get the best pictures. For a Reuters photographer like myself dedicated to a single team, when your team drops out of the competition, you’re finished. Like the defeated team, you go back to the hotel, pack your bags and spend the long flight home wondering what went wrong. Based on Japan’s lackluster showing in the East Asia Soccer Championship my expectation for Japan was three defeats in a row and no victories. Mine would be a short stay in South Africa.

A Japanese boy living in South Africa reacts as he watches Japan's national soccer team depart from South Africa at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But during Japan’s first match against Cameroon the Samurai Blue seemed to transform themselves in front of my eyes with Keisuke Honda’s goal being the catalyst. Japan was defeated by the Netherlands in their second match but the Samurais demonstrated the unity of the team in their performance and they were victorious against Denmark in their third match. In doing so they completely wiped out the image that I held of the Japan team before going into the competition. I was covering the world’s biggest sporting event, and I was going up against the top sports photographers, but in this World Cup Japan’s victory meant that the formidable teams of France and Italy and the even more formidable photographers accompanying them were going home. Not me.

Japan's Shinji Okazaki hugs Keisuke Honda (18) as they celebrate their victory against Denmark after their 2010 World Cup Group E soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

On June 29, 2010, Japan faced Paraguay in World Cup match 55. Even after extra time the game remained scoreless and a penalty shoot-out would determine the outcome. I moved into position according to the instructions of Chief Photographer UK and Ireland Dylan Martinez, the leader of the Reuters photographers for this match.

Cheering on an aging Japan

When I first heard there was a 78-year old cheerleader in Japan who wears metallic silver wigs and waves gold pom-poms as she jumps and dances in her shiny red sequined costume, it instantly made me curious to find out what kind of person she is.

Japan's cheerleaders.  REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Everyone knows by now that people in Japan live a long time. According to the World Health Organization’s latest life expectancy figures Japanese women remain at number one (life expectancy: 86 years), but I had never heard of an 80-year-old cheerleader.

Fumie Takino’s way of life seemed to be the key.

My first encounter with her was at her gymnasium, which takes her an hour to get to by bus and train. Upon meeting her I was immediately struck by her big smile and how open she was to let me photograph her practice session with her teammates.

Dark side of Japan’s pet boom

Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years.

It was a very surprising figure for me as I had only been covering Japan’s colorful and luxurious pet boom, so I decided to shed some light on the dark side of the industry.

(View the full text story here)

After more than a year of seeking permission, I was finally given the go-ahead to shoot an animal management center in Tokushima and I went on a 745 mile (1,200 km) long journey from Tokyo with my DSRL camera for shooting still and video.

from Olympics Notebook: Vancouver 2010:

Winter Games: picture of the day

OLYMPICS-SPEEDSKATING/Paul Barker writes on Tuesday:

I spent much of the day editing the women's 500 metre speed skating race, looking at many very good pictures. Jerry Lampen's frame of Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands crashing as Nao Kodaira of Japan speeds past was the image of the day from that event.

The politics of bowing in Japan – How low do you go?

In Japan nothing says I’m sorry like a nice, deep bow, and lately there’s been a whole lot to be sorry for. Ideally the depth of the bow should match the level of regret, allowing observers to make judgements about how sincere the apology really is. Facing massive recalls Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Toyota Motor Corp’s managing director Yuji Yokoyama faced journalists at separate news conferences.

TOYOTA/

Toyota Motor Corp’s managing director Yuji Yokoyama (R) bows after submitting a document of a recall to an official of the Transport Ministry Ryuji Masuno (2nd R) at the Transport Ministry in Tokyo February 9, 2010. Toyota Motor Corp is recalling nearly half a million of its flagship Prius and other hybrid cars for braking problems, a third major recall since September and a further blow to the reputation of the world’s largest automaker. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

TOYOTA/

Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda bows at the start of a news conference in Nagoya, central Japan February 5, 2010. Toyota Motor Corp President Toyoda apologised on Friday for a massive global recall that has tarnished the reputation of the world’s largest car maker. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

from Raw Japan:

Buff, bronze and beautiful

bodybuilding1

For the national holiday, Sports Day, I had a fitting assignment --  a women's bodybuilding competition in Tokyo.

It was my first time to cover bodybuilding, and as soon as I entered the venue I heard  cheers from the 1,500 spectators eyeing 68 athletes from across Japan.

I hurried backstage to catch the competitors’ last preparations before the judging, and followed a trail of plastic, blanketing the floor, walls and furniture to protect the surroundings from the oil and skin toner creams covering the contestants.

Japanese women celebrate pregnancy with maternity nudes

Tokyo-based photography Kim Kyung-Hoon gains access to pregnant women being photographed for nude maternity portraits, a trend that’s on the rise in Japan.

Three years ago, a poster of a nude and heavily pregnant Britney Spears sparked concern in Japan before it was displayed in Tokyo’s subways because it was considered “too stimulating” for young commuters.

But today, an increasing number of women who have just one child later in life are flocking to photo studios to have their pregnant bellies photographed to celebrate their bodies during a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

from Raw Japan:

Shaking hands with the prime minister, sort of

On the last day of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's campaign for last week's lower house election, I went to cover Aso's speech in Kamakura to get pictures out as early as possible.

aso1

A large crowd of people waited for him to speak, but only a handful of cameraman were at the scene, perhaps reflecting the view that the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was on its way to defeat.

During the election, it was common for politicians to go into crowds of voters to shake hands and as soon as Aso began finishing up his speech, I rushed towards the front row of the crowd with my wide 16mm lens.

from Raw Japan:

Elections, obstructions and duct tape

JAPAN-ELECTION/

When you pack scores of journalists into a room and they're all trying to listen to, photograph, and film one person - like the head of a political party - it’s easy to get blocked by the people and things in front of you.

For a photographer, this is the kiss of death. It means not getting a picture. Next, your phone rings with an angry editor on the other end - a brief conversation is followed by a lengthy period of woe and despair. For this and other reasons, photographers go to great lengths to get a good photo position.

For Sunday’s Democratic Party of Japan election event, the first photographers arrived at 2 a.m. for an event that wasn’t expected to start until almost 8 p.m. - 16 hours later. Well before any big event photographers make a land grab vying for the best possible real-estate.