Mick Elmore is one
of the best photojournalists around and recently he was kind enough to share
some of his expertise with SM.
When Mick was five he borrowed his older brother's camera and has been taking photos ever since. First of family, friends and summer holidays. Later for high school and university newspapers. After graduating he traveled for several years often finding himself in Mexico and Central America.
In 1984 he made his passion his employment working for a daily newspaper on the Texas border with Mexico. During his first week he sold The Associated Press a photo that went national and he was hooked.
In 1987 he moved way south of the border to Australia where he put his camera to work for magazines and newspapers there for four years. Then the travel bug struck again and in 1991 Mick joined a friend driving a beat up old Chrysler Valiant from Melbourne up Australia to Darwin then across seven islands in the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore, Malaysia and finally Bangkok.
From his Bangkok base Mick freelances in Southeast Asia and further a field. He has worked for the International Herald Tribune, US News & World Report, Newsweek, Asia Week, and numerous newspapers and on book projects.
He says there is no magic to it but good photography takes dedication and a lot of work. But more than anything photography is about being at the right place at the right time. We asked him to explain.
us some tips, what's the trick to good photography?
Being at the right place at the right time. F8 and be there, is how Allen Hopkins used to put it. He was a successful photographer based here for about ten years before he died in April 1997. It's kind of funny, a picture is worth a thousand words but photography
comes down to four: F8 and be there.
Okay, there is more to it. But knowing where to be and when is a big part, and should not be underestimated. There is also the art of printing, working in the darkroom. That is another thing all together and requires a lot of practice.
Most photographers don't do darkroom work any more. Actually I rarely do now. But for some it is the most important part. Ansell Adams used to say eighty percent of photography was in the darkroom.
Why do you take photos?
Curiosity. I think that's the reason now, anyway. A camera can help you gain access to places. It's probably more true to say it gives you an excuse to go places.
spent three days walking up and down the Street Called Straight, the one in
Damascus and in the Old Testament. The idea was to work on a photo essay about
the street. But the truth be told, I just found the activity, and the crowds on
the street fascinating. All that theatre, I couldn't leave. The history and the
frenzied activity just
I have never published a photo from those three days, but someday I probably will. Maybe I'll go back and spend another three days there and use photos from both times.
Have you done that before, a then and now kind of photo essay?
Not yet but I am considering another stay in the Klong Toey slum. I lived there four months in 1993 working on a photo essay. I lived in a community library. It was a house that during the day served as a daycare center so it was noisy early in the morning when mothers dropped their children off.
I shared a room with three guys who worked on the docks. A mother and daughter shared another room and they cared for the children. That was a fascinating time and I visit the slum from time to time. And now I feel it might be a good time to return and see how things have really changed. Or haven't.
Photos are great historical records of events but also places. Those books of then and now always fascinate me. Like what Bangkok used to look like 100 years ago, or other places that have experienced dramatic change.
What do you think is the best photo you ever took?
I hope I haven’t taken it yet. Actually I'm happy with some of my photos, like one early morning shot in May 92 just before Thai troops started shooting peaceful protesters on the streets of Bangkok. And there are others. But good photos, I mean really great photos, are rare.
The best just pull you in, make you think. They give you goose bumps. They are powerful but not necessarily graphic. But you feel the emotion. The photo of the naked girl covered in napalm by Nick Ut. Or “Homecoming” I think it's called. It's of an American POW stepping off a plane in America with his family running toward him. The photo is really of the faces of the family running toward their dad and husband. You feel the emotion.
There is nothing posed or fake about photos like those. Nothing technical either, they really are F8 and be there.
Speaking of being there, many of your published photos are from Cambodia,
Not sure really, perhaps I'm energized by the place and find the right photos.
Twice I was at the right place at the right time. And both times that place was Angkor Wat. And both times were emotionally charged, and that helps your photos. At least I believe it does.
When were those times?
The first was October 1995 during a full eclipse of the sun. If you ever get a chance, go to a public place during an eclipse. People are great; there's a special feeling. Twice I've done that, once in Colombia in 1978, then Angkor Wat in 95.
Two photos I took there found their way onto Lonely Planet covers. The second lucky trip was August 1996, same place. I was there on a black and white job of Ta Prohm, the ruins with the trees.
lucked onto an apsara performance at the main temple of Angkor Wat. I put
slides in one camera and had great access and took a few rolls. I think those
photos have been published more than any others of mine. But it was more luck
than anything. F8 and be there.