Posts tagged “Photo

MOROCCO – Big Chef

Sunset, Jemma El Fna, Marrakesh, Morocco

The Shoot:

The perfect blue sky is broken by the silhouette of two expansively winged storks that ponderously circle on a thermal. The screeching of the snake charmers’ instruments pierces the thick, hot air, swirling above the square and mingling with the smoke and aromatic scents that drift slowly from the food stalls towards the azure. A few meters above the square the smoke plumes, soaring ambitions dissipate and they drift downward, enveloping the ground in a soft, hazy shroud.

The scene is all I had imagined from the confines of my London flat. There is, however, one thing that is troubling me – the bars – not the lack of alcoholic refreshment, but the bars on the window of the police station. They do somewhat obstruct my view, as do the walls on either side of the bars. I would like to leave the police station but unfortunately I am not allowed. The exit is blocked by Abdul. Abdul is the plain-clothed policeman who kindly offered to drive me here on the back of his moped. He also kindly ignored my polite rebuttals of his offer to escort me to the police station and also ignored my increasingly loud protestations. Abdul is one of many plain-clothed policeman that invisibly guard Marrakesh. I say plain-clothed but Abdul actually sports a rather stylish, red leather jacket. Abdul is showing me his watch and demanding to see my phone, which I duly show him,

“See?” he says, obviously delighted that he has been vindicated.

Abdul wants to live in England, he has never been to England but he has heard many good things about it and, as we have just established, it has the advantage of being in the same time zone as Morocco. England does however have a draw back, it is cold, and as I discovered from the second I sat on Abdul’s moped for my enforced journey, England’s climate is of great concern to Abdul.

I am incarcerated in the courtyard of a building on the corner of Jemma El Fna. It is actually quite a beautiful courtyard. Several large shrubs live here, one of which flaunts large white flowers that are proving irresistible to a number of oversized bees. A waterless fountain sits at its centre and the sunlight dapples the far corner of the courtyard. The perimeter is lined with doors to unseen rooms; one of the doors is festooned with badly photocopied black and white images of unpleasant looking types whom I assume to be Marrakesh’s most wanted. An open archway leads to the station’s entrance where a small man sits on a grey moulded plastic chair, the sort whose natural environment is a 1970’s school dining hall. The man is wearing black shell suit trousers, a black leather jacket, a black t-shirt and shades; and he is watching another man mopping up blood.

I have had some time to survey the scene and the dynamics of my confines because this is my second day here. My first day in Marrakech had started well; I had risen early and taken my camera out to become acquainted with my surroundings. Liking what I found, I decided to try and get a few early shots in the bag. Whilst photographing an arch I marvelled at the unlikely coincidence of the only person I knew in Marrakesh cycling past me, waving. When I turned back to my tripod it was hard to ignore the large van, now parked beside me, from which policemen were alighting. After a brief discussion, seemingly from thin air, more policemen appeared. Lots of conversations ensued, followed by quite a bit of looking at me, culminating in several inquires as to my ability to speak French, followed by general disbelief and concern that I did not. Eventually it was decided I needed a permit to do what I was doing, at which point I received my first invitation to the police station.

I had not been expecting the police station to be a revered culinary institution so my interest was piqued on being told that I must see the ‘Big Chef’. I ponder this and reach the conclusion that the ‘Big Chef’ is possibly the ‘Big Chief’. The Big Chef answers to no one and is currently ensconced behind a door at the end of a corridor that leads away from another courtyard. A ‘littler chef’ intermittently opens this door and peers anxiously at us before an inaudible instruction forces the closure of the door with some velocity. This process repeats itself for half an hour before the little chef finally beckons us forth. The room beyond is dark and expansive, at one end is a long, wooden, luxurious-looking desk, behind which sits the Big Chef. He is anything but dark. He wears a bright white Jalaba; not only is it white, but it appears to be made of soft, fluffy woollen like material. He is middle aged, tall, clean-shaven and his demeanour very clearly conveys that he is right and I am wrong. His technique is to remain silent whilst his guest drowns in their own words. I am aware of this and yet incapable of halting a severe bout of verbal diarrhoea. The Big Chef is dubious as to my photographic intentions but discerns from my general ineptitude and nervousness that I pose so little threat to anything that I am granted his verbal approval. At the Riad the concierge writes me a note in Arabic to show to anyone who may ask. It expounds the contents of my meeting with the Big Chef and I am assured I will be protected from any further invitations to police stations.

I spend the next two days in police stations.

The Shot: Sometime size is an issue. In this case it was the size of my tripod. I had researched permissions for shooting in Marrakesh on the internet, obviously not well enough, and found no requirement for stills photography. This is also what I was told by every police and government department where I tried to obtain permission. I spent a total of three days either in a police station or trying to get a permit. I eventually gave up, but this had a big effect on my photography. My desire to remain outside a Moroccan jail meant my shooting was far more clandestine than I would have liked.

Technical info: Canon 1DS III, Canon 24-70mm, ISO 100, f22, 3.2 secs, Gitzo tripod, Manfrotto 405, Lowepro Vetex 300 AW, Patient Girlfriend


JAPAN – Maid in Tokyo

Love hearts in the Maid Cafe

The Shoot:

A thought that very frequently occurs to me whilst on a shoot is “what the hell am I doing’. Today this thought flashes before me in neon accompanied by a large firework display. I find myself beside a dark open doorway on a busy pavement in the Akiharbara district of Tokyo. A narrow passage leads to something I don’t fully understand called a Maid Café. I am waiting here because it has become apparent that my lack of Japanese will seriously hinder my venture into this establishment. So I am waiting, waiting for someone Japanese who looks like they speak English, in the hope I can cajole them to act as interpreter on my behalf. Why wouldn’t this work?

Five minutes later two rather mature, older men approach, dressed in smart jackets and slacks. They have the appearance of being on a sunday stroll around Hyde Park. I think ‘surprised’ would best describe their disposition when I step directly into their path and garble a polite inquiry as to their linguistic ability. Surprise is replaced by cheerful co-operation and my suspicions are confirmed. Indeed one of the gentlemen owns a property in Maida Vale. Adopting a slightly pitiful pleading countenance I explain my dilemma to them.

The passageway leads to a lift. The lift is very small. The two gentleman, my camera and I are wedged within, ascending to the unknown. Our discussions have revealed that we are all uncertain as to the exact purpose of a Maid Café. Conversation in elevators can be a little strained at the best of times but when one is  already sweat-soaked and smelly from tromping round a foreign metropolis with a very heavy camera bag, compressed into an elevator that clearly wasn’t designed for 6″3′ (192) westerner and accompanied by two strangers wearing smart sports jackets and no-one is sure if you’re ascending to a brothel, discourse is extremely slow.

The door opens to reveal a pink room with tables and a bar. Everything is pink or pink with a white trim; large windows at one end of the room are covered in massive decals of anime figures. This room was not intended for daylight viewing, dim or otherwise, and the dilapidated condition of the tawdry decor is evident. The room is empty apart from one maid who greets us in an extremely high pitched over enthusiastic manner, beckoning us, subserviently, to sit and order drinks. As my new friends explain our purpose her attentive delight is replaced by concern. A small, dour, grey looking man appears from a back room and is consulted, he in turn explains that photographs are not possible without permission from the head office. Using a small map printed on one side of the maid café flyer, he diligently explains the location of the HQ to my new companions before we shuffle back into the elevator and descend to street level, the maids’ shrill salutations still ringing in our ears.

And so begins the next leg of our quest: we set forth to find maid café HQ. Together we doggedly search the backstreets of Akiharbara until we eventually we locate the HQ; I suspect my friends might be enjoying the adventure. After broken discussions the management agree that it is okay for me to shoot in one maid café and the model release is fine if I pay for drinks etc. I say goodbye to my friends before heading to the agreed café and setting up a shoot date and time.

The good thing about shoots that are prearranged is that everything goes to plan. On arrival the location is ready, the model is prepared, and the shoot goes quickly and smoothly; the release is signed and everyone leaves happy. This is exactly what happens two days later when I arrive with my friend Nick, who has also agreed to model in the images. It is exactly what happens right up until the shoot is finished. Model release in hand, I turn around to secure the signature from the maid. She has vanished. I wait for her to reappear. I wait some more. I make some enquiries as to when she will be returning, followed by some firmer enquiries, and then I start to lose my temper; I demand to speak to Head Office before having have a little sit down to remind myself that anger is unlikely to help in this situation. I calmly stand up and lose my temper. The model has disappeared; the staff in the café are now less than happy with me, HQ are refusing to respond and a group of Japanese businessmen sat at the next table are all making purring sounds as a maid places kitten ears on them and coaxes them into making cat faces.  It’s all too much. We decide to leave and cut our losses.

The Shot: The main issue with this shoot was always going to be permissions. I spent three or four  hours obtaining permissions and even then I knew I would only be able to photograph one maid I wouldn’t be able to include any other people in the shot. The café would not allow me to include customers in the image, and even if I had it is unlikely I would have been able to obtain a release and that may have rendered the image unsaleable. I felt I needed a customer someone for the maid to interact with so I asked my friend Nick to appear as the client. Without a great deal more time, lighting and co operation this shot was never going to be a work of artistic genius so I settled for simply trying to capture images that would represent the maiding procedure and a little of the atmosphere.

I learnt a valuable lesson: Always get the release signed first.

Technical: Canon 5D III, Canon 24-70mm, ISO 1000, f 5.6, 30th, Canon Speedlite 580EX II, Lowepro Vertex 300 AW

Maid in maid cafe, Akiharbara, Tokyo, Japan


My friend Nick enjoying a maid cafe coffee.

 

 

 


MONGOL RALLY EXTRACT – Pamir Highway

This is an extract from my account of the The Khan Teams Mongol Rally. It is the tale of 3 cars and 6 people’s attempt to drive from England to Mongolia. Our route was to take us 10,000 miles and through 18 countries We did so for the experience, adventure and to raise money for the Cool Earth charity.

The story so far: All 3 of our cars have made it to Tajikistan. We spent the last night in a Homestay in the town of Khorog. We arise and push further along the high altitude Pamir Highway.

Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

Paminr Highway, Tajikistan

Day 26 – Homestay Tearoom Fish 

August 8th 2013 – Alichur

On the map Jelandy boasts some hot springs. In reality it is a small group of disparate houses that don’t even have a town sign to unify or identify them. Unfortunately when we set out from Khorog this morning this is where we had agreed to meet. This is also where we failed to meet.

I am assuming that this is why I am now at the top of the Koy-Tezek pass on the Pamir highway on my own. I Know I Khan has been behaving very well since the bodged bearing, but for about the seventh time in the last couple of hours she has got a little hot. This would be less frustrating if I wasn’t at 4,272 meters and feeling more than a little unusual. I open the door and walk slowly to the bonnet before returning to my seat with equal measure. I haven’t seen another car in about an hour and I am not sure I Know I Khan is going to make it over the small climb that lays ahead of me. Ten minutes later I Know I Khan’s temperature seems to have dropped to an acceptable level to attempt the assent. The climb itself should be no trouble — a small matter of 50 meters — but two-thirds of the way up the rutted road is covered by a four or five meter stretch of sand. I Know I Khan is only a two-wheel drive and is not keen on sand. The small sandy section of road looms ever larger as I struggle up the hill. I feel the rocky track change to soft sand under I Know I Khan’s wheels. All is going well until I feel large rut that was submerged in the sand hit the undercarriage and momentarily pause our progress. Nothing for it but to put my foot to the floor. For two or three seconds I am a stationary sand storm. Just as it seems I am high and dry, a new noise emanates from below me. I Know I Khan has managed to dig deep enough to find some rocks. Her tyres grip and slowly – very, very slowly — her front wheels edge out of the sand and onto the track. We creep to the summit where I would have collapsed with relief except collapsing with relief would have been too tiring at this altitude. I just carry on driving.

Huge, jagged mountains rise out of the smooth desert. A vast snow-white pool stains the desert floor, the salty remnants of an evaporated lake. The track loops down to the desert floor, and I continue my journey hoping to find my teammates and benzin at the first village after the pass. Unfortunately there is no sign of my teammates at Alichur. There is, however, benzin and a homestay. The sun will be setting in a couple of hours, and not knowing the condition of the roads I feel it would be unwise to attempt to drive at night. Three large words are painted on a nearby white wall ‘Homestay tearoom fish’, enough to lure anyone in and I head for an opening in the wall. I am greeted and booked into the homestay by a young lady called Aisha. Maybe my perception is tainted by relief having survived todays’ hair-raising drive, my first experience of high altitude and seemingly being abandoned by my teammates, but Aisha has one of the most beautiful and welcoming smiles I have ever seen.

Alichur is a mishmash of white or mud single-floor buildings that dogs and cows roam freely between. I am befriended by a young man called Daniel, who helps translate as I talk to villagers. He offers me tea at his family home. I remove my shoes, then I am ushered through a small dark hallway into a large, dark room. The circumference is cushioned with the exception of one corner, where the stove sits. Daniel’s brother, Baha, sits cross-legged in the near darkness listening to loud rap music on his phone. And so it is that at 4,000 meters in Tajikistan in near dark, whilst Daniel’s mum prepares tea on a wood-burning stove I play Faithless on my iPhone to Baha.


Day 26

A roadside village on the Pamir Highway near Khorog.


Lunar lanscape near Alichur, Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

Lunar lanscape near Alichur, Pamir Highway.


Portrait of a young Tajik woman, Alichur, Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

A welcoming smile. Aisha in Alichur


Day 26c

A Tajik cooking stove. Daniel’s house Alichur

For the full story please click this link:

https://laurienoble.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/mongol-rally/


MONGOL RALLY EXTRACT – Uzbekistan

This is an extract from my account of the The Khan Teams Mongol Rally. It is the tale of 3 cars and 6 people’s attempt to drive from England to Mongolia. Our route was to take us 10,000 miles and through 18 countries We did so for the experience, adventure and to raise money for the Cool Earth charity.

The Story so far: We have driven through Iran and spent the last three nights in Turkmenistan. Earlier today we crossed the border to Uzbekistan.

Day 18a

The Khan team parked at the hut on the Turkmenistan/Uzbek border where we spent the night

Day 19 – Latif 

 August 1st 2013 – Uzbekistan – somewhere

We are trying to find somewhere to camp in Uzbekistan. We have driven about a mile up a dirt track. We are all tired. No sooner had I exited the border gates yesterday back to Turkmenistan than the other Khans arrived. We camped in and around a small, disused hut. The heat and the sand didn’t make for a good night’s sleep. Today we are exhausted and this road is proving fruitless. We pull over to discuss our options.

A small white Daewoo van – a type commonly used as taxis in this part of the world — immediately stops beside us. A small, stocky man is becoming quite animated. Dave appears from his conversation with the man and informs us we can’t camp here. He seems to have determined from the dialogue that this road is used by heavy farming vehicles throughout the night. The man and his tall associate have exited their car and the small man is peering into I Think I Khan, in which Joss and I are seated. It becomes clear, mainly through a series of hand gestures, he would like us to stay at his house. It doesn’t look like he is taking no for an answer.

Ten minutes and several dirt tracks later we are being directed to manoeuvre our cars over a small brook into the entrance of a mud-walled barn. The entrance leads to a small courtyard behind the barn, and next to that stands a building that is obviously the man’s house. He and his wife are laying out rugs and cushions in a neat square and excitedly beckoning us to sit down. No sooner are we seated than food is thrown down before us. Latif is the man’s name and his excitement and pride at having the strange bunch of foreigners as his guests is palpable. He is hurriedly cutting up tomatoes and peppers and mixing them with what looks like yoghurt whilst instructing his wife to cut melons and bring chai. The evening extends before us, the food is all home produced and basic but delicious, and the vodka is ceremonial and free flowing. Latif excitedly invites more and more of his friends over until there are at least 15 of them and us. Numerous phone calls are being made to other friends and the phone passed to us to prove we exist. The obvious surprise on the other end of the phone line causes huge amounts of mirth. Gerant, Latif’s tall associate, makes cycling actions and points to the bikes on the back of I Know I khan. We detach one and he disappears to a mythical supermarket and appears 10 minutes later with a large bottle of beer. Suggestions are being made regarding Thomas and Latif’s attractive 20-year-old daughter. Numerous pictures are taken. Whiskey is dragged from under one of the seats of I Am Sure I Khan and a bowls of flavoursome rice and vegetables are placed in front of us. We drink, laugh and make broken conversation until what feels like deep into the night before the rugs are rearranged into mattresses and we sleep in a row, the five of us and Latif, under the stars in Uzbekistan.


Day 19

I have woken up to far better sights. Turkmenistan/Uzbek border

Day 20

The gang, Latif centre, behind our sleeping area and blankets/p>


Day 19a

We stopped at Bukhara for lunch. Children love Bukhara’s ancient architecture!

click pic for more Bukhara

For the full story please click this link:

http://laurienoble.com/blog/index.php/2014/04/27/mongol-rally/


MONGOL RALLY EXTRACT – Iran border

This is an extract from my account of the The Khan Teams Mongol Rally. It is the tale of 3 cars and 6 people’s attempt to drive from England to Mongolia. Our route was to take us 10,000 miles and through 18 countries We did so for the experience, adventure and to raise money for the Cool Earth charity.

The story so far:  Two days ago we discovered that Turkey is far bigger than any of us realised and we have been forced to drive long hours and into the night to make our visa deadline at the Iranian border. We only have the correct paperwork, Carnet de Passage, for two of our three cars. We are hoping to obtain the final Carnet at the border but we know this to be a big risk.

Ishak Pasha Palace near Doğubayazıt, Agri Province, Turkey

Ishak Pasha Palace near Doğubayazıt, Agri Province, Turkey

Day 10 – Irangate 

July 23rd 2013 – Bazargan

Ant, sporting linen trousers and shirt, and I are at the breakfast table. Ant points out that I have done nothing but complain for the last five minutes, and then beckons the waiter over to send his omelette back. Joss joins us plate in hand. From the large buffet of cheeses, meats and other Turkish breakfast items he has chosen a roll and some honey, which is still in honeycomb form. A surprising choice given that he then announces he is unsure if honey in this form is edible. I think we may all be a little tired and anxious. We are all aware that today’s appointment at the Iranian border could have a great influence on our adventure.

The morning drive through the remainder of Turkey sees the landscape become drier and drier. Cattle stand statuesque in the last oxbow remnants of rivers, and small domes of homemade bricks dry in the sun between tiny groups of ramshackle houses. As the foliage dies away the land takes on an increasingly lunar appearance. Red and green mineral deposit smear the soil of the rolling landscape. We pass through the border town of Dogubayazit at lunchtime. It’s bustling and intimidating and far poorer than everywhere we have been thus far. Small children whose faces are etched with far more experience than their years approach the car at every available opportunity, their hands outstretched.

“Does that look like a line of traffic to you?” Thomas says as we approach the 10-kilometers-to-the-border sign. It becomes apparent he is right. It is a long line of lorries, but we are able turn into the oncoming lane and push cautiously on to the border.

Mehmet is a small stocky man who has exceptionally even but heavily stained teeth. He doesn’t work for the border control authorities, but each day he makes the four-kilometre journey from his house to the border, where his sole purpose is to help people through the administrative process to exit Turkey. It is into his hands that we now fall.

He rounds us up and takes our passports to a small glass booth that contains two men who need to put the first of many stamps in our passport. As I peer through the small window the two blue-shirted customs controllers look at my passport and then at me. They are taking this very seriously and stare at me for some time until the standing official says:

“You know Frank Lampard?”

Not what I was expecting, but I affirm that I have heard of him.

“I like him very much.” the standing official enthusiastically informs me

”Who you support?” the seated official enquires in curt English

“West Ham.”

They look at each other. “Why you support West Ham?” one finally asks. A question I have asked myself many times.

Before I can answer, the door at the back of the tiny booth opens and a third blue-shirted official squeezes into the booth. The two resident officials stare at him and then all three hold me in their gaze:

“You know Turkish teams?” They are unflinching in their gaze.

“Errrm, not really. I… I …” I turn momentarily into Hugh Grant. “Only Galatasaray.”

This response has quite an unexpected effect. The two standing officials throw arms over each other’s shoulders and all three do their best to bounce up and down in the tiny booth whilst singing.

“Can…can I have my passport back, please?”

All three are now grinning and laughing at each other. The seated official quite distractedly stamps my passport and hands it back to me. Mehmet grabs my arm and leads me to the next window. Slightly confused, I am standing in what could be loosely described as a queue with Joss. We are trying to discern through Mehmet’s broken English why we are queuing here. Our conversation is interrupted.

“Mr Laurence! Mr Laurence!”

I look up to find that two of the previous officials have vacated their booth. “Come over here,” one says.

I’d rather not, but given they are border control officials I acquiesce to their request. On reaching them the taller and slightly younger of the two looks me in the eye, leans forward and says:

“We like you.”

 

The six of us are directed towards yet another small booth — but this time on the Iranian side of the border. The passport official who frequents this particular booth has been studying our passports for around half an hour. Two things have become apparent: he has a very slow computer system, and the dates on English passports confuse him. What is particularly perplexing is his insistence on us writing them for him, which we do in exactly the same format as they are printed in the passport, but it seems to help. Eventually Ant can take no more and walks 20 meters away and leans on the bonnet of I Think I Khan. A smartly dressed middle-aged man who slightly resembles Don Johnson approaches him, and they start to chat. I notice the man withdraw a huge wodge of cash from his pocket. Five minutes later Ant strolls back to us and informs us that Don Johnson is offering very good rates of exchange and has also assured him that it will not be a problem to attain a carnet de passage for I Khan Make It. This is the news we had all hoped to hear, but it still seems far from a certainty. Over the next hours we deal with varying officials. Don J. and an associate of his, both men suffering from deodorant dodger syndrome, assist us through the varying processes until I Think I Khan and I Am Sure I Khan are driven into Iran.

“Another 10 minutes” is a phrase that is repeated with great regularity over the next hour and a half whilst we wait for a friend of Don J.’s to arrive. The friend can, apparently, issue the carnet for I Know I Khan. He eventually arrives at 5 o’clock, walks once around the car, drops an extremely feminine pink lighter from his pocket onto the floor, sits himself down on a ledge, looks up and speaks Iranian incredibly quickly for about 30 seconds which Don J. translates: “tomorrow”.

_x9t2180Our last action in Turkey was to pose for a group shot.

For the full story please click this link:

http://laurienoble.com/blog/index.php/2014/04/27/mongol-rally/

 


MALAYSIA – Wow

Portrait of Wau Bulau maker, Kelantan, Malaysia

The Shoot:

We had to arrange a meeting place and McDonalds was so very very central, it would have been churlish to ignore it. That is definitely the only reason that I am sat in the Kota Bharu outlet of the golden arches at 6 am in the morning.  Malaysian McDonalds do have Ribena on tap but that certainly didn’t influence my decision in any way. It also had no bearing on repeated visits in Kuala Lumpur which were also very much through necessity and I definitely didn’t enjoy.

As the beautiful blackcurrant elixir reaches my lips my phone rattles across the table interrupting the sacred moment. Fathi is going to be slightly late. I met Fathi yesterday whilst taking a portrait of an old man outside a mosque.  As the profusely sweaty, long-haired foreign photographer was starting to scare the gentle old man by waving a paper in the air and repeating the words ‘model release’ at varying volumes, Fathi had appeared. Saint-like, he had taken the situation in hand. He followed up his initial good deed with an excellent line in earnest inquiry during which I confessed many exasperations, most of which revolved around the mysterious Wau Bulan makers that so far I had wholeheartedly failed to locate. A short period of silence, re-positioning of glasses and hair adjustment followed during which Fathi seemed to reach the decision that he could help me in two ways:

1: He knew where a Wau Bulan maker lived

2: He had a car and would be happy to drive me there

Sitting outside McDonalds in Fathi’s black Proton the promise I made to myself to be more careful, when my camera equipment was stolen, starts to feature in my thoughts. Fathi looks over at me, ‘ Hope you don’t mind, but I am going to pick up a couple of friends on the way’. Now I am fairly sure that driving into the Malaysian wilderness with £12’000 pounds worth of camera equipment and 3 men I don’t know to find a man who lives in a hut and makes ornamental kites isn’t what my insurance company would refer to as due care and attention. We journey through the ramshackle outskirts of Kota Bharu until Fathi pulls up outside a house situated in the Malaysian version of a Cul De Sac. Jihan takes some time to appear at the door when he eventually does he is sporting a small camera bag and looking a little tired. I say ‘small camera bag’ it may well be normal size as it is immediately obvious who would be victorious in any form of conflict between Jihan and I. Jihan squeezes into the back seat of the car and we set off, waving to his wife who has appeared at the door. 15 minutes later Fathi pulls the car to a halt beside some large black electric gates that guard the entrance to an opulent looking house. Fathi exits the car and taps on the electric keypad. After several minutes of waiting and many more attempts on the keypad Fathi returns to the car. He holds a conversation with Jihan in Malay, which is incomprehensible to me. However I note one word ‘Lipak’ is repeated many times and is obviously the crux of the conversation. ‘LAZY…sleeping, late’ Fathi responds to my inquiry regarding ‘Lipak’. The gates suddenly jerk into action and retreat toward the house. A smaller Malaysian man with neat hair and a white t-shirt exits from what I now suspect to be his parents’ house.  He happily swings open the car door and takes a seat. Fathi introduces Muein to me and then there is silence. Fathi and Jihan are both looking at Muein. Muein dons a slightly sheepish smile. After a couple of seconds I break the uncomfortable silence….. ‘Lipak?’ I say.

Our journey takes us beyond the outskirts of the town through a sparse jungle terrain. Men stand on piles of coconut husks at the roadside, sweating as they wield dirty looking machetes and add to the piles. We pass back onto a main road. Now Fathi is leaning over the steering wheel and studying the roadside huts intently. He performs a sudden impromptu U turn and we head back the way we came eventually pulling over in front of a rickety looking wooden construction that is deemed to be the workshop of the mysterious Wau Bulan maker.

The padlock on the door is not the most auspicious sign. Unless the Wau Bulan maker has been locked in by a particularly irate customer, it seems very unlikely that our knocking will elicit a reply. It does not. Now follows a comedic set of events in which we discover the Wau Bulan maker’s home address, drive there only to be told he left for his studio at approximately the time we departed it. Half an hour later we arrive back at exactly the same spot having achieved nothing other than extra space in the fuel tank. This time the door is open. The inside of the hut is unlit and gloomy, it takes a while for our eyes to adjust but as they do the vivid colours and shiny foils of a myriad Wau Bulan’s glint at us. Their brightly finished surfaces are a stark contrast to the wooden grey slats of the hut. The kitemaker is a small, thin, kindly-looking old man. I walk the few metres to the inner depths of the hut and shake his hand. Taking a step backwards I survey the hut. As I do so I note the floor feels distinctly soft, I don’t remember seeing a carpet or rug. An appraisal of my foot locations reveals my right foot to be positioned on a deceased lizard. It also reveals a cluster of ants who are looking up at me, they seem unhappy that I am standing on their dinner.

The Shot: The most important lesson I learnt from this shoot was one I thought I had already learnt many years ago. Attention to detail and don’t be afraid to ask.  Initially the kite maker was wearing a t-shirt baring the motif ‘Tourism Malaysia’ which I did not like. I felt so relieved to have found the kite maker and finally be shooting that I didn’t feel inclined to push my luck further. However my mutterings obviously weren’t that subtle because Fathi suddenly said ‘he will take that off if you want’!

I used my new Canon 5D III for this shoot, I knew I could push the ISO further and I didn’t want to use flash.

Technical: Canon 5DIII, Canon 70-200mm, ISO 800, f5.6, 160th, Lowepro CompuTrekker