One of the greatest pleasures in editing photographers work is finding an interesting visual nugget that may have already been missed. In years of looking at raw material a common trait I have spotted is that photographers who are headed to an assignment see something they are attracted to and take a picture of it thinking "that looks interesting". The assignment is shot, the pictures are quickly edited, captioned and transmitted but the picture that was instinctively taken because it was interesting is often condemned to the darkness of the archive folder on the backup hard drive, never to be transmitted because it was not part of the assignment.
I was asked by our Hanoi based photographer Kham to have a second look at his file of the state visit of East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta to Vietnam; a good selection of handshakes, parade inspections and smiling suits. Then a pleasant surprise - at the end of the file were eleven frames of a fully dressed woman, nose and mouth covered with mask, wearing a traditional Vietnamese hat wading chin deep in water.
Immediately questions came into my head, probably the same ones that are in your head now. Why was this person wading chin deep in water? Why are they wearing a face mask? Why are they wearing a hat? All questions I asked Kham. He told me that he had chatted with her and she was looking for mussels to sell, is 60 years old and comes from 150k outside Hanoi. I am sure what President Jose Ramos Horta and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Minh Triet had to talk about was very interesting but I just want to know more about this woman - unlike the presidential meeting, an everyday sight for Kham.
A 60-year-old woman wades through neck-deep water to collect mussels and shells to sell, at West Lake in Hanoi April 26, 2010. The woman, who came from Thai Binh province, 150 km south of Hanoi, spends about 8 to 10 hours on water to earn about 60,000 dong (about $3). REUTERS/Kham
Hopefully, in the near future, our feature picture pages will be filled with more images of this woman and her lifestyle, all questions answered. As a final thought it crossed my mind just how similar a picture editors job is to this woman daily activity (although considerably more comfortable), searching for nuggets.