Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photog's Swan Song

Caught up with a old photog friend last week and we reminisced the good time when we were younger and having fun in our job.

"So what DID you do that is worth remembering?" my friend asked me... past memories was like an overflow floodgate suddenly open and these stories of assignments are still vivid in my mind. Tell me what you think.

Cold Sweat...

Tuesday, November 14, 1978.

I was working the early morning shift in New Straits Times (Malaysia), I was told to go on a sampan with a reporter and secure a picture of Hai Hong which was anchored off Port Klang with 2,500 Vietnamese on board.

The media has been warned by the police NOT to be anywhere near the controversial ship or face the consequences! The thought of an exclusive photo sets my heart pounding! We hired a fishing vessel and head for trouble water...

I was prepared for the job, apart from a Nikon F2 with drive; I had with me a compact Nikkor 500 mm "reflex" mirror lens.

I started shooting when Hai Hong came into sight, the 500 mm lens magnified the image TEN fold; only trouble was, it also magnified the up and down motion of the boat... it was like trying to frame and focus on a gyrating see-saw!

I shot and changed film as many time as possible before the marine police saw us!

They did!

The reporter and I have to hide in what little smelly space there is on the boat. We were not caught but we were soaked in COLD SWEAT!

The picture was an New Straits Times exclusive and ran on the front page.

Horror and Nightmares... 31 August 1987

Phuket, Thailand:
Thai Airways 737-200, while descending during a daylight approach in good weather; the crew lost control of the aircraft and crashed into the sea, apparently due to a combination of errors by the flight crew and air traffic control. All of the nine crew members and 74 passengers were killed. Most of the passengers were Malaysian.

K.S.Choong, MD and EIC of The Star decided to send a small team to Phuket; I was the Photo Editor then, I took along two young rookie reporters and my "right hand man"; Ng Ah Bak.

We arrived Phuket on a late flight and still a bit dazed, (none of us has covered an international disaster before!) we went and enjoyed a sumptuous seafood dinner. We were sorry we did!

Just before day break, we were on motor boat combing the sea where the plane crashed; there were floating bodies here and there. The smell of death came with the sea breeze and hit you like a sledgehammer and memory of our seafood dinner really churned our guts out!

The sight of a "half" body bopping in the crystal clear water still haunt me. There were more horror story...
In the afternoon we were on the shore photographing belongings of victims recovered from the crash site... nearby there was a crane lifting up dead bodies and a photographer from a Malaysian Chinese paper was shooting the scene and the next instance, according to him the body "snapped" and hit the sea water. The resulting bloodied water splashed all over this photog! I knew for a fact that he was very sick for a long time till he visited a Thai Temple in KL to cleanse his body and soul!

We went to the mortuary at night and hundred of yards before we were there, we felt nausea and really sick of the strong stench of death in the air. To our horror, hundreds of body parts in plastic bags were stacked on ice outside the mortuary! Then there were hundreds of crying and screaming relatives of the victims... some fainted and it was pure nightmare, but there is a job to be done and you go on shooting pictures and interviewing.

Getting the photos was one thing, getting the photos back is another! I brought along the then "state of the art", U.P.I. wire photo transmitter to "send" picture back to Penang via the hotel phone line!

The UPI wire photo transmitter which take an 8X10 print on its rotating drum.

The machine can only do the job when you have a "clean" line, the Thai land line was anything but clean! I tried every trick I knew... finally resorting to taking apart the hotel room phone to connect to the UPI machine and was detained by the manager because the operator heard the "funny sound" (the machine emit a "tee-teee-tee" sound while transmitting)!

We ended trying to connect at a private "international phone provider" and finally after HOURS of watching the black and white print going round and round on the UPI drum, TWO picture managed to go through! K.S.Choong has a small fit when I claimed the phone cost which came to RM 1,500 plus!
The picture above was one of the successful one transmitted from Phuket to Penang after TWO hours of trying!

Since the UPI machine only take PRINTS and Ng Ah Bak left the second day for the S.E.A Games at Jakarta with our portable enlarger, I have to find a Thai shop that process and print black and white!

For five days and four nights we just soldiered on and did our job without sleep and without regular meals.

Despair....   Thursday, September 26.. cannot recall year.

I took a day off to do a "freelance job" for some clients who are getting their "award" from the Governor at the Dewan Sri Pinang in Penang. The Star defined "freelance work" as "moonlighting" and this is NOT ALLOWED! But show me a photographer who do not "moonlight" and I will show you a square egg.

At about 10.45 am during the roll call before the Governor arrive, a 56 year old shipping clerk who was to receive his PJM stood up, grabbed his chest and collapsed. A surgeon who was there tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

I recorded the despair rescue on film... I went back to the office and submitted the picture and was questioned by K.S.Choong how come I was there!


Don't get me wrong, there are times when your photography are being recognised and rewarded. For instance the photo of the flying footballer which won me a MAS Sport Picture Award.
It was a year to remember because apart from me, there were Lee Hong Yew, Yip Hee Keong, Soong, Rosli Hurmin; all from The New Straits Times also won.As far as I am concern, the BEST reward a photographer can have is to see his work play-up on front-page in GOOD SIZE.

Sadly this is missing in most "leading" paper in Malaysia.

As one of the Star photographers told me long time ago, "they used our photos to fill holes in the page."

Sadly, this still hold true!

Below is a job I did for the NZ Dominion that really "Make My Day"!

You know.... if I have a chance to do it again, I still will want to be a news photographer! :-)

1 comment:

heather said...

Interesting! the body parts bit would be harrowing for anyone.

I wouldn`t fancy being chased by angry police.