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|| News Item: Posted 2007-09-24

Intern Diaries: Associated Press
'My internship threw me into the chaos and frenzy of covering news, news and more news. I loved every second of it.'

By Marcus Yam, Associated Press

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

School children return home after a morning school session in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia has suspended the school milk program in the country to allow for probes into food poisoning cases among students in six states.
(Editor's note: At the end of each summer, it has been a tradition at the Sports Shooter Newsletter to have several students share their experiences working at an internship.)

6 a.m. Buzz. I wake up to the mechanical hymn of my little alarm clock. I jump out into my bed wobbling onto my side. Apparently still recovering from jet lag. I clean up, and head into town. The sun is rising. I watch the building silhouettes sweep past in a rhythm as I gaze out of the car window. I can't help but cringe and feel nervous about the new challenges and the hole that I was about to dig deeper. I thought to myself, "It's been a crazy year, what's another chicken salad to the mix?" I look down into the bag and I realize that I forgot to bring my camera. Great, I thought to myself.

"Welcome to the Associated Press," said Vincent Thian, Photo Editor and Chief Photographer at the Kuala Lumpur bureau as he took charge of the welcome wagon. I stared at him in disbelief, as I walked into the bureau. "Coffee?" I nodded. My mind ran into discombobulated mess. There was something about the open road I was about to embark on that made me shiver. I had begun an internship with the Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I realized that this was going to be an unforgettable summer.

Let me start off by putting this out here. My greatest insecurity is that I'll fall behind the standards set by students in photojournalism schools. I didn't go to a journalism school, nor did I attend a visual arts school. I've sought refuge in the mechanical equation, and my calculator was my best friend.

Things always had to be rigid. Everything had to make sense. Fortunately for me, my classroom experience as an aerospace engineer had more relevance to the real world and the newsroom than I thought it did. The camera replaced the calculator.

Organization: A discipline of keeping track of information and resources.
Hindsight: A cautious preparation for problems caused by solutions.
Finding solutions: Understanding that you could only work as fast as solving one task at a time.

I had a rough start during my internship. One of the things I had to get used to was not getting assignment slugs. No, there wasn't anything that was set in stone, sometimes things happen, in the last minute. During my internship, Vincent Thian taught me the value of keeping track of everything that moved, breathed, and squeaked in the region.

Vincent Thian taught me the value of keeping tabs of all resources, using common sense and the importance understanding issues that affect a region socially, economically, and politically.

When we read a news story, we think about the past, present and future from a political and economical view. If it were a quiet day, we would go out and find a feature or develop something for ourselves. Vincent Thian preached the power of foresight as a storyteller as we juggle current events, keeping track of news and figuring out the next move. I learnt quickly that wire photographers stick together like a family.

I've always known that the visual community is small and even on this side of the globe, it holds true. Everybody works together for the greater good, to keep afloat together, and bask in good company. I had great guys to learn from at my internship: Vincent Thian and Andy Wong at AP, Tengku Bahar from AFP, Bazuki Muhammad and Zainal Halim from Reuters, Shamshahrin Shamsudin, Ahmad Yusni from EPA and Glenn Guan from The Star Newspaper. They were always there to help me with questions and problems I had during my internship. Most importantly, they inspired me. Everyday I would watch them make exceptional images, and it made me want to work even harder, and push the boundaries.

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

A Chinese fan takes a quiet moment while waiting for team China to walk out onto the field during their Asian Soccer Cup soccer match at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Sunday, July 15, 2007. China drew the match with Iran 2-2.
It was an inspiring summer. It was something I had only experienced at a photo workshop, and they were like faculty to me. They dispensed advice that I took to heart, and they were always encouraging me to try something different. On the contrary, I had to stand alone, for the most of the internship. It was like any newspaper, except there was the huge visual responsibility of covering everything from a different perspective, because you had to think about the subscribers.

I was expected to cover big events alone, and transmit. There were times I felt miserable, unable to go through the creative process. My internship threw me into the chaos and frenzy of covering news, news and more news. I loved every second of it. I learned that I enjoyed covering news above all else. I learnt quickly to be resourceful, fast and decisive. I learned that it didn't matter that I didn't shoot anything that was visually astounding.

The internship me taught me that as long as I kept my chin up, pushed forward, and basked in good company, things will always turn out for the better. That was the greatest lesson. During my internship, I spent a lot of time understanding a culture that I did not understand, and not being able to speak the language was difficult as a journalist on many levels. I barely scraped through my assignments, and I had to rely on the goodwill of other local journalists at times to translate information during assignments. My internship made me realize that it was more than taking photographs that got me excited, it was the fact that I got to share a piece of the world through my viewfinder and in-person. It pushed me to look beyond the lines, to feel the story within a story.

I'm still confused. I'm a photographer that makes a conscious effort to seek out light; I've realized that it has become a comfort zone, for me to observe visual graphics form in a vision. This summer I stopped making that conscious effort. It never crossed my mind how the light looked or felt.

Maybe it was in the back of my head, and it had become a little voice that guided me, but I know I stopped talking to myself. The internship and my photo editor drove me to look for content, consciously and unconsciously. My photo editor called it bread and butter images, and I called it grip and grin images.

Nevertheless, I was making images, with aesthetics in the backseat. Now that I look back, it almost seemed ludicrous. It was an important lesson, to seek content - a lot of young photographers, myself included tend to lean towards visually driven images.

I learned that putting content on top of that list makes you work harder, and it makes you shoot smarter, and when you find that photograph with the elements and content coming together, lining up in serendipity it would be the photograph that told the entire story in a frame. Vincent Thian also taught me that if you want to succeed, you must fail miserably. Failed I did in many aspects, but I took these lessons with me and pulled my sock up. Vincent Thian taught me that we're not here to take pretty pictures, we're here to deliver.

Pretty pictures are a bonus. I've learnt that your pictures have a lifespan of 24 hours in the wire service. This industry is a monster, and its constantly hungry for more pictures. You better have a creative factory working itself inside out to put up with the 'monster.' My greatest weakness is my prolific shooting style and my ability to edit or the lack of. I tended to shoot in a considerable amount, trying out different ideas and angles. I was horrible at picking out a good image.

The internship taught me how to shoot 'smart', as we had to be quick and precise while meeting deadlines. It was clear that I had to shoot a lot less, cut editing time down to bare minimum and find a workflow that works fast. I made a conscious effort to question myself, as I tried to formulate a thought process, so every image had to count.

One of my assignments was to document the conditions of abused and mistreated maids from Indonesia working within the country, and it took me to the Indonesian embassy. As soon as I walked in, with my cameras strapped on, I joined our reporter, Julia Zappei at the corner of the shelter as she interviewed some of the maids. I thought to myself, that this would be a glorified head shot assignment. CLANK. I heard a loud porcelain slam into the floor. CLANK. I turn behind, a woman fell and dropped her plate and immediately started kicking and screaming, wailing and hitting her head on the wall. It would be a lie if I said it didn't catch my attention.

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

A Muslim cleric performs an exorcism ritual to demonize a spirit out of Ismalah in the shelter for abused maids at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Monday, July 2, 2007.
Within minutes, her friends pinned her down, and a cleric appeared with Al-Quran, he had this look on his face. It looked like he knew something was gravely wrong. Within seconds, I witnessed my first Muslim exorcism, as the cleric performed his ritual and chant. In the middle of all the crying, wailing and screaming, I was on my knees, witnessing everything through a viewfinder.

It seemed surreal; I asked myself, "Is this really happening?" There was something strange going on - as I felt uneasy and felt the hair in the back of my neck rise. I heard screaming, crying and wailing as the women struggled to pin one of their own down. A strange void came between me and what was going on before me as I sought refuge in my viewfinder. Click, click… click. Click. I documented the exorcism unravel as adrenaline pumped through my veins.

As I took my eyes off the viewfinder to get a bearing of the world around me, the chaos returned with all its fury. All the crying, chanting, screaming, and wailing crashed into my senses, and I realized then and there, that I was running the risk of looking for something, not seeing the bigger picture. In a moment's hesitation, I saw the path I had to take, and the many paths to avoid as a photographer. It was easy to mystify a situation, or a culture other than your own. I devoted my summer to understanding a culture that wasn't my own. I've learned the importance of not using your eyes to feel your way around the world, and since then I've started using my heart to develop my personal vision. "They say close your eyes, and see the world around you."

The exorcism continued. An hour passed, I looked around, Julia was nowhere in sight. An embassy official approached me after realizing that I was still present on the compounds. I was asked politely to leave. I complied, after completing my task of photographing of one of the subjects for the story. I was gone in sixty seconds. Although my pictures from the exorcism never saw the light on the wire, it was an experience that educated me on many levels.

During the latter part of my internship, I spent a lot of time covering the Asian Soccer Cup tournament held around Kuala Lumpur. It was the equivalent of the World Cup in Asia. I could safely say that I covered a fair share of sports. I smirked when I realized I was going to be covering the tournament, I was confident and didn't think too much of it. It was grueling and painful. I pulled my cards out too soon. We had to cover every aspect of the tournament, not just the matches; the press conferences, the training sessions, candids, and it was grueling because like every sporting event, photographers are always the first ones 4 hours ahead and last ones 2 hours after any event.

Preparation, precision and speed were an important lesson. I took every opportunity to capture something different, and I sought refuge pointing my lens off the field, which I enjoyed the most. At this point, everything that I've learned from the start of the internship in theory and practiced was laid out in front of me. I had to ingest quickly, edit, and caption my images and transmit while shooting as we were expected to file a considerable amount of pictures from each game.

Covering the Asian Cup Tournament gave me a fresh perspective of things, and it solidified the comradery that I am proud to be part of. The internship also taught me how to hustle during the tournament. There is a saying, "When the going gets rough, the tough gets going."

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

Photo by Marcus Yam / Associated Press

Self portrait of Marcus Yam wandering around Kuala Lumpur.
This summer I've learned a lot about myself, and my responsibility to the world around me. I've recognized my strengths, my weaknesses and my physical limits pushing beyond boundaries. Sometimes personal vision needs to take the back seat, and the necessary tasks overrides all priorities.

Surprisingly, I even found time during the summer to work on my personal documentary project, about an ethnic border crossing refugee group. It was a documentation of a community that struggled to live, and find peace. I spent most of my last 8 weeks working my 8 hours for my internship, and pushed for another 8 hours to dedicate time for this project. My personal work exposed me to many dangers, and it taught me how to feel and how to recognize the struggle for humanity. Despite the perils, I searched for the inner truths of things, discovered myself in the process and opened my heart to feel in many ways it never has.

As quickly as it had begun, it had ended. It was an adventure as much as it was a discovery to where I stood and hold my values as a person, and a photojournalist. I still spend a great deal of time reflecting on what might be the best summer of my life (so far).

I left my internship, with a newfound respect and pride for this profession. This summer I learned so much about myself, the news industry and our responsibilities as photojournalists. Kuala Lumpur is a phenomenal city, there is so much to document. Deep within the layers of urbanization and cultural segregation, there are important social and contemporary issues to document. The human condition here is a wide spectrum, and I feel very fortunate to have experienced it.

I realized that being a photographer is more than personal vision, more than seeing and more than believing; it is the part of understanding and sharing the world that is important. It is more than just the photograph.

It was a great opportunity to learn from photographers that I surrounded myself with; Vincent Thian, Tengku Bahar, Bazuki Muhammad, Zainal Halim, Shamshahrin Shamsudin, Ahmad Yusni, Glenn Guan, Andy Wong and David Longstreath. I'm extremely thankful for the acquaintances I've made in this journey, and I hope to continue on, meeting new challenges and soaring to new heights.

(Marcus Yam is a recent graduate of the University of Buffalo and will be working on a master's degree at Ohio University. You can see his work on his member page at:

Related Links:
Yam's member page

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