Luck and Photography

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Abhisit Vejjajiva on the Skytrain.
Former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva slides his fare card into the gate at Mo Chit BTS.

I ran into Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, on the Skytrain once. The story of how that happened is a story of luck and unrelated decisions.

The joystick on my Canon 5D Mark III broke and I took it to Canon for repair. The timing of my broken joystick was lucky because I knew I wouldn’t be using the camera that week. Off to Canon service it went.

Luckily, Canon fixed it in just a couple of days (it pays to be a member of Canon Professional Services) and I picked it up one afternoon.

I had an assignment that Sunday and I wanted to make sure the camera was back to 100% (it’s unlucky and unwise to test equipment on a “real” assignment) so I went out Saturday morning to make some pictures. My intention was to not worry about the pictures per se, but just put the camera through some paces to make sure it was up to snuff.

I had no real plan and coming up with one was beyond my lazy capabilities Saturday morning. When I left my apartment I could have turned left, and gone to the riverfront and the old part of the city, or right and gone to the Skytrain and the weekend market. I hadn’t been to the Weekend Market in a while, so on a whim I turned right.

I wandered around in the market for about an hour and a half. I shot about 120-150 frames and the camera was doing just fine. I left and walked back to the Skytrain.

I walk a lot in Bangkok and I ride the Skytrain a lot, but when I got to the Mo Chit station and looked up that long staircase, I didn’t feel like walking up the stairs. I walked down the street another hundred meters or so and took the escalator up to the station.

When I got up to the station level, about three floors above street level, I saw a couple of Thai photojournalists just hanging out. Photojournalists waiting for an assignment to start have a certain attitude and these guys were putting off that vibe. I had no idea what they were waiting for, but I was bored and it was early so I joined the group and waited with them. They could have been waiting for some “Hello Kitty” characters, in which case I would have been very unlucky.

A couple of minutes later a few people in blue golf shirts came up with placards bearing the number 16 and photos of Sukhumbhand Paripatra, the Democrats’ candidate for Governor of Bangkok (16 is his number on the ballot). This is lucky, I thought, an election campaign event. A little later the photographers ran over to the escalator and I joined them, thinking Sukhumbhand was arriving.

I looked down to the ground level thought, “Hey that’s not Sukhumbhand.” It was Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Prime Minister of Thailand and then leader of the Thai Democrat party, campaigning for his partisan friend.

Riding the Sukhumvit line of the Skytrain with Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Riding the Skytrain with former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

In my mind, that was even better. I’ve photographed Sukhumbhand before but not Abhisit. Abhisit is in the news a lot, photos of him could be handy to have. The former PM came up the escalator talked a little bit about the importance of mass transit then got on a train and went for a ride. I joined him.

Call it luck or chance or whatever you want. It’s just plain strange that of all the ways things could have played out that Saturday, for them to end up with me riding a commuter train with the former Prime Minister of Thailand is one of the weirder outcomes I would have predicted.

I could have turned left and gone to the river. Who knows what would have happened?

I could have spent less or more time at the market and missed the politicians.

I could have shown some enterprise and walked up the stairs, in which case I almost certainly would have missed them.

But my indecisiveness, the timing of my day and my lazy nature conspired to present me with a little photographic gift. The day ended a lot more interestingly than it started.

To me, there are a couple of morals to this story. One, of course, always carry a camera with you. That is something I preach to everyone I talk to about photography. Two, be inquisitive, even if you’re not feeling motivated to photograph that day, just having a camera and being open to the unexpected will greatly improve your luck.