From Michael Yamashita's Blog, January 20, 2011
Trying to tell a story with pictures is basically a hunting expedition. Before I leave for an assignment, I do my homework, research what I want to shoot, make up my shoot list and then head out for the hunt.
Let’s say I’m on the Silk Road and I need a shot of silk-making. I know from my research that there are three basic procedures involved – first, the silk worms are soaked, then a little of the thread from the worm is wound onto a spindle, and once on spindles, it’s stored away. I also know that the magazine is probably only going to run one or two frames of this process.
So I have two chances to convey the information about silk-making in an eye-grabbing, artistic way. Once I find my situation, I follow each subject, in each of the three stages, until I think I have something. Good pictures come from working the situation – the light, the composition, but you’re also always hoping – and looking – for something unexpected to happen. The wonderful thing about photography is that serendipity will make the frame. But you have to be prepared to be lucky.
For the frame below, I had been shooting this woman as she wound silk onto the spindle. Then suddenly, her grandson wanders into the frame and starts to help her. Suddenly, bango – I have a picture of something more than just the act of putting silk threads on a spindle. I have this human element that’s added something to what would otherwise have been just a demonstration or a document, and as a result, an entirely different picture.
In that same village, I was also shooting a falconer. Falcons were a big deal for my Marco Polo story, since falconry was the sport of Kublai Khan, who was Marco’s boss. He mentions the sport often in his book, so I knew I had to have a picture of it.
On this day, I’m shooting everything to do with falconry – the guy throwing the bird in the air, admiring it, petting it – all kinds of portraits of him and his bird. Then, just as with the silk-maker, another lucky moment arrives in the form of a half-naked kid who walks into the frame. Click, I get the picture. In the process of my making the picture, something occurs that elevates it, and I was there to witness it and put it on film. No manipulation, no set-up – I couldn’t even have imagined it – but then it happens.