July 11, 2012

Michael Coyne on volcanoes, squatters and the XPro1

I've recently interviewed six of Australia’s leading photographers spanning the genres of social documentary, photojournalism, landscape and wedding portraiture, about their experiences using the new Fujifilm X-Pro1. Over the next couple of weeks I will post what they had to say about this revolutionary digital camera.

Michael Coyne, multi-award winning photojournalist – “This camera is not intimidating. It allows me to be unobtrusive and to work very fast, which is important when you are covering difficult subject matter”.

Michael Coyne is best known for his ground-breaking coverage of the Iran Iraq War in the 1980s, but he has shot numerous assignments for international magazines over the past thirty years and published more than a dozen books on a wide range of topics. I've had the pleasure of interviewing Michael a number of times over the years and in May in Melbourne I sat down with him to talk about his recent trip to Indonesia.

Earlier that month Michael had taken the X-Pro1 to Indonesia to shoot two social justice projects – one of the sulfur gatherers who work on the inside of an active volcano in southern Java and the other of the squatter settlement in Jakarta.

“When I was doing my research for the volcano shoot I discovered that the BBC had done a documentary and their camera had melted! I am pleased to say the X-Pro1 came through unscathed,” Michael laughs admitting the camera fared better than he.

Arriving at the lip of the volcano, after a four-kilometre climb, Michael realised he had left his gas mask behind with his assistants, who had been unable to complete the ascent. “But I needed the light, you know I’m obsessed with the light, so there was no thought of turning back”.

He continues. “So I’m standing on the lip and I look inside and it’s something out of Dante’s Inferno, sulfur spewing out and workers coming up through the steam with big baskets on their shoulders full of sulfur. At one stage I slithered down a makeshift track, cameras banging all over the place and I thought, I am never going to make this, but I got right down to the bottom”.

“All of a sudden the wind turned, and sulfur and steam engulfed me. I’m shooting and tears are flowing down my face. I couldn’t breathe. But I got some terrific pictures, the camera performed really well.”

In the squatter settlement in Jakarta the danger was of a different kind, he says. This settlement is where villagers who have come to the city in search of a better life, are crippled by poverty and “living in really very, very sad circumstances”.

He reveals, “I wouldn’t have gotten three steps without having been killed or having all my gear stolen had it not been for my local guide”. It is in this environment that Michael says the X-Pro1 really proved its worth as a photojournalist’s camera.

“I went in there with this little camera and nobody minded. It wasn’t like I had a big DSLR and all this gear, so I was not intimidating. Shooting with the X-Pro1 is really easy and quick and that’s the way I like to work, very fast, especially in a setting like this. As a result I have a very strong series of pictures.”

Michael used the 18mm and 35mm lens. “Most of the pictures I shoot are on the 18mm. Occasionally I like to keep back from the subject, like a live volcano, so a 35mm to me is a long lens,” he laughs.

Michael Coyne on the lip of the volcano

Sulphur worker

Sulfur worker

Copyright Michael Coyne 2012

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