Inspirations – Edwin Koo
During the Swat Valley crisis, I was photographing the refugee exodus, following the conflict between the Army and the Taliban. I came to this refugee camp in the plains of Mardan in Pakistan, and noticed a few auto-rickshaws parked in a row. One of the drivers – Sher Zaman – was washing his windows, dust-caked after a full day on the road. After receiving a nod from the kind driver, I started photographing him. As I clicked, I struck up a conversation, through my interpreter, and asked him how he escaped. He told me he squeezed 10 people onto his auto-rickshaw, which was meant for about 5 normally. As I talked and photographed, more curious onlookers gathered. Some children squeezed into the rickshaw, re-creating that crowded scene for me. I took a few shots. But the harsh afternoon light made photographing the shaded interior a challenge. That prompted me to look for other angles. It was then that I realized the rickshaw had many mirrors. I pointed to Sher Zaman to look at me through the mirror. The onlookers and children were already crowding around. After shifting myself a little, the subjects fell neatly into the mirrors and behind the window. The half-cleaned window cut the exposure of the background by perhaps two stops, so it worked great for the image.
I think the take-away lesson is really to try all angles when you have a hunch about the image. Midday sun does not always ruin images – you just have to improvise and make the harsh light work to your advantage. In this case, the mirrors and half-cleaned glass windows became improvised reflectors and filters. ~edwin koo