On As­sign­ment

David Grif­fen, the cur­rent Pink Lady Food Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year, re­calls how he took the win­ning shot…

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David Grif­fen talks about shoot­ing street food on lo­ca­tion in Malaysia

I partly grew up in Asia so I knew I could get some colour­ful im­ages out there for the Food Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion. Last De­cem­ber, I stopped off in the Malaysian cap­i­tal of Kuala Lumpur on the way back to the UK from Aus­tralia, and gave my­self 10 days to try to get some strong im­ages to en­ter. I also had a client meet­ing in the city.

Af­ter do­ing some re­search, I found about an area called Jalan Alor, which is a street food mecca. I knew it would be touristy but I also knew there would be plenty of sub­ject mat­ter.

I went to Jalan Alor three nights run­ning and there was a great vibe. I spot­ted this chicken-smok­ing guy at the end of the road, just when I was about to pack my gear away. He had his tunes on, and was re­ally go­ing for it as he cooked the chicken wings. Each time I went back, it got bet­ter, as he changed what he was wear­ing – he prob­a­bly stank af­ter a night work­ing there. Maybe he even sets fire to his dirty clothes! One night he was wear­ing an awe­some shirt and train­ers, so I could see he was a real char­ac­ter. So much of food pho­tog­ra­phy is just about food, but there are the peo­ple who pro­duce and cook it too, and that for me is a big part of the story.

Be­come in­vis­i­ble

I think it’s im­por­tant to re­visit a good place for pho­tog­ra­phy and keep work­ing it. I was very aware that I was walk­ing around back streets at night, though, with very ex­pen­sive kit. It was dark and there were plenty of peo­ple around with big knives at hand – the area was close to the red-light dis­trict too, where you get of­fered ev­ery­thing un­der the sun. It pos­si­bly wasn’t the safest en­vi­ron­ment to be work­ing in, but as I kept go­ing back I got more com­fort­able and started to do bet­ter work.

The lo­cals do start to recog­nise you. Of­ten with pho­tograph­ing peo­ple you have to be seen be­fore you can van­ish – you be­come fa­mil­iar and they lose in­ter­est. This is im­por­tant at mar­kets, as you are bound cre­ate a stir with a big SLR, mono­pod and gear for video. It was clear I was se­ri­ous, and not just tak­ing happy snaps.

Go­ing back to a mar­ket means you don’t have to shoot with a re­ally long lens, ei­ther, you can get in closer. It doesn’t feel like you’re some­how tak­ing shots on the sly. I love Nikon lenses, par­tic­u­larly the 14-24mm and 20mm. In fact, that lens is one of the rea­sons I changed to Nikon from Canon, but on this trip I used a Zeiss 28mm, 50mm and 100mm. I love the old-school cin­e­matic ef­fect you get from us­ing Zeiss glass.

As well as Kuala Lumpur, I vis­ited many other parts of Malaysia, in­clud­ing Malacca, which is a very di­verse and in­ter­est­ing old port, and Ipoh, where my client’s fam­ily is from. When work­ing in these places I find it eas­ier to be by my­self. It’s hard if you’re try­ing to com­bine se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­phy with a fam­ily hol­i­day. I think when shoot­ing full-on for a pro­ject, you have to be by your­self, and find your own path.

To see more of David’s stun­ning work, visit www.david­grif­fen.co.uk To en­ter the 2016 Pink Lady Food Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion, visit www.pin­kla­dy­food­pho­tog­ra­pheroftheyear.com

Of­ten with pho­tograph­ing peo­ple you have to be seen be­fore you can van­ish – you be­come fa­mil­iar and they lose in­ter­est

01 01 The win­ning shot – a street ven­dor in Jalan Alor cook­ing chicken wings 02 Mar­ket pro­duce al­ways makes a great sub­ject – look out for shape, colour and pat­tern 03 This lady’s selling ‘stinky beans’ – they live up to their name! 04 Chang­ing your view­point can pro­vide a fresh per­spec­tive on fa­mil­iar scenes


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