1987, the year of living dangerously!
The Aussies started it all with the coverage of Barlow and Chambers drug trafficking case.
I was working for a local Penang paper; young and reckless, shooting for the paper and moonlighting for the Australian agencies! Money was fast and good.... we never see so many photographers and "green bills" in our life!
The high court in Penang was like a media zoo!...
The important thing about covering a high-pressure-high-court case is a electronic flash with very fast recycling time! In 1987, Quantum battery was the "King "! I decided to built one that is FASTER!
What I did was to strip my compact Metz 32CT3 and connect a male video cable plug on the flash (see red circle in the picture of the flash), the internal + and - cables for the battery chamber were then connected to the plug in series.
I then bought some plastic AA battery carriers from Tai Huat Hardware and Aradite-cement them together to take 6 AA batteries. Now with another 4 batteries in the flash, I have the "juices" of TEN batteries IN SERIES! This "power pak" was then connected to the flash's "ear" (plug) with a cable. My technician friend tested the output and said I was bloody mad because at the capacitor he measured a whopping 30 amp charge!
He reckoned if I use the flash in the rain, it will electrocute me!
So KIDS, Don't do it at home! You can get FRIED and I am not talking about Kentucky :)
Young rooky Goh Chai Hin, then a snapper for Reuters was covering all the drug cases, being ex-Star and my ex-protege; he was allowed to use our processing and transmission facilities in our photo dept.
I remembered Goh was laughing at my "home brewed" power pak and he challenged mine against his Rm 300.00 Quantum... well, guess who has the last laugh? At f8, ASA400; auto coverage from 7ft-15ft range, my Metz "rabbit-ear" flash zapped 24 blazing shots none-stop before the ready light went off. The Quantum? FOUR shots if you are lucky! Ha ha ha..
Before all you young photogs run off to do what I did, DON'T! Tell you why another time :-)
Back to the story:
Frank Foerster, a West German charged for suspecting drug trafficking and who has been in jail for three years waiting for trail was taken to Penang High Court early 87.
First day of the trail, the court was swamped by Leicas trotting Germans....
On his way to the "Black Maria", Frank was taken out of the court room by 4 or 5 police and half a dozen of truncheons waving riot police.
For some unknown reason the police and FRU (Field Reserved Units) of Malaysia tried to hide his face from the media!! This was unprecedented! Never happened before!
The media went top gear, there were mad push, pushing, cursing and all kind of "ugliness" came alive when all of us try to get a scoop shot!
The media circus chased the police team down the stairs and a couple of the photographers fell down the stairs!
I took a "grab" shot with my Leica M3 and 28mm lens which was loaded with Ektachrome transparencies of Goh Chai Hin being man handled by a FRU personnel. He was actually holding on to Goh's camera wrist while the other police officers concealed Frank's face with their police caps!
Immediately after I took that DECISIVE shot, I was whacked by a police truncheon and fell in pain on to a ABC cine light man, his flood lamp shattered all over the court floor.
When we all got our composure back and continued our mad chase, Frank was taken away in the "Black Maria" van.... young Goh was cursing the police in all kind of words we normally will not use to our enemy :-) while I desperately trying to stop a young FRU from hitting him!!
Back at The Star and after listening to our account, our Editors decided to run my picture to protest against how the media were treated!
Alas The Star newspaper had the GUTS to run my picture the next day, seven column right across the front page! We were so proud of the paper!!
The next morning at the high court all the FRU men were lined up in front of us and a stern warning were given by their captain on the way they treated the media. Bravo.... sad to say, I don't think the present Star will DARE to run such a picture again! The Star today has lost it's GUTS and journalistic vision of yesteryear! What say ye, Star Editors?
RIP.... Pre 1988 Star, we were all proud to work and slog for yer!!
(Frank Foerster was found not guilty and was released, Australians; Barlow and Chamber were hung in Malaysia).
Niall, a professional photographer living in Belfast Northern Ireland reckoned:
"Wonderful story Leow, court cases are always drama filled, but when the police and the media tangle, its never pretty :-)). My photography mentor Brendan Murphy is about to retire from service after 30 years in the business, I'll miss his advice and his dry whit. keep up the great stories and pics."
"The drama was well framed and the story accompanying it compliments the photo and helps the viewer become one with the story. I don't know if I would have the guts to clash with police to take photos, but I guess it gives one a hell of an adrenaline rush!"
Famous Last Words:
A few months after my flash modification, I was using it to cover a function at a Baling rubber estate where Dr M was attending. Before he arrive, I test fired the flash and it BLEW up with a explosive BANG! I nearly dropped my camera! It was the capacitor being ruptured! I dare not imagine the consequences if the flash did this while pointed at Dr M!
I had a new capacitor replaced and few weeks later, the flash tube then busted! It was also replaced... call it nostalgia or whatever, this little "banger" sure serve me well! And I still got the little bugger :)
Now you know why YOU SHOULD NOT do it at home!