It was serendipitous to say the least. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was in full swing and I had been running around shooting the usual run of meetings when I received an email from my editor, Adrees. The following day I was going to accompany journalists to an exclusive one on one interview with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a midtown hotel. I was to shoot photos during the conversation but figured that while I had access to such a person, why not go the extra step and stick up a backdrop try to get some studio looking shots. It isn't something I ever do but it seemed like it could potentially work. It was at least worth a shot.
Early the next morning I rode a subway to the Reuters office in Times Square carrying a grey roll of paper and and lighting among packed commuters, apologizing for my girth the whole way as I bumped into straphangers and blocked the doors at every station. I checked in with the desk to get the latest. The interview was scheduled for 11:30am but was subject to change. It was best for me to be ready, just in case. Then I was asked to start my day by heading to the 30th floor to cover the Reuters Newsmaker event that was happening at 9am. The Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler was hosting a live interview before an audience with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was also in town for the UNGA. I looked at the backdrop and lighting gear at my feet. Why not try? I knew the route he had to take from the greenroom to the stage, it featured a passageway that could work. I took my gear up and gaffer taped the backdrop to the wall then set up a light and waited.
Session 1 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
First Frame: 9:17;18 AM - Last Frame: 9:17;33 AM Total Time: 15 seconds Total Frames: 9
With the backdrop and light ready, I waited as Mr Adler made the long introduction for the Japanese P.M on stage. As the Mr Adler spoke, Prime Minster Abe strode into my hallway surrounded by his security detail. Mr Adler continued and as he did, Abe paused before being invited onto the stage. As luck would have it, he paused right in front of my backdrop. I called his name and he looked up and recognized what I wanted. His security team parted leaving the Prime Minister some space. He barely moved as I shot. Within seconds the introduction wrapped, the security team converged and applause broke out as Shinzo Abe strode into the next room to begin his introduction.
Session 2 - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
First Frame: 12:29;06 PM - Last Frame: 12:30;28 PM. Total Time: 82 Seconds Total Frames: 27
I met the journalists Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton who would be conducting the interview in the lobby and we went up to the room and waited. I picked out a small space again that would give me room to tape up a backdrop and position a light, then prepared my small set. Prime Minister Tsipras entered the room shortly after I was done with a much smaller security detail and a very relaxed manner. He came right over to me and introduced himself then took a walk around the room to appreciate the views of the city before settling on a couch to be interviewed. I listened as much as possible from my space and was impressed by PM Tsipras' friendly manner and confidence, especially given what Greece had been hit with in recent years. Once the interview wrapped, he came toward my area. I said hi again and advised him that now the fun part was to begin. He went straight into a formal pose but I told him to relax and just stick a hand in his pocket or something. He exhaled and a smile broke out across his face. He proceeded to goof around and chat as we shot. He's incredibly personable. My favorite part was being able to tell him I had recently been to Greece and that I loved it. It's not often that you get to tell a head of state how much you love their country. He was really happy to hear that.
Session 3 - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
First Frame: 5:20;31 PM - Last Frame: 5:20;49 PM. Total Time: 18 seconds Total Frames: 22
Again I was sent to the 30th floor as another Newsmaker event was happening at 5pm featuring the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. I figured why not try 3-for-3 and went back to the same spot I'd shot the Japanese PM. It all went exactly the same. The introduction, the pause in the hall, a quick spray of photos before hitting the next room for the event. I looked at the back of the camera and realized that the President had been fitted with a lapel microphone and a large on at that. It stood out like crazy in my shots and it looked awful. As he spoke on stage, I approached his minder and explained my situation. She would check to see if he could stop for me again following the event and do a reshoot. The interview wrapped and he came my way again, I saw his minder approach and immediately he removed his the microphone and did another round. I used the same direction as I had for Prime Minister Tsipras, hands in the pocket, relax. He said he felt like he was in a GQ shoot.
When a day like that ends, you're in a very good mood. The strangest thing is that so far, it is the first and last time I've shot heads of state like that. And it all happened in one day, spaced out perfectly with time to set up, shoot and edit as I went. It couldn't even have been planned better.