General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, Commander of the Royal Thai Army gives a child a toy helmet during Children's Day at an army base in Bangkok.
I've written before on the role of luck or serendipity in photojournalism. I sometimes feel like I have a great "luck" when I go out to work.
Yesterday was Children's Day in Thailand. The Thai government traditionally hosts a Children's Day event at Government House and the army hosts Children's Day events at military bases throughout Thailand. This year is a little weird because the of the protests and the country's political uncertainty.
I've been photographing protests and demos practically since I got back and I had resolved to not photograph politics Saturday. Instead I planned to make some feature photos. I got to the event I wanted to cover about 7:45 in the morning only to discover that it wasn't happening until 12noon, which left me with four hours to kill.
On a whim I decided to go the Children's Day fair at an army base in Bangkok. The local papers have been full of stories about troop movements, including armor and artillery, through Bangkok this week and army spokesmen repeatedly reassuring Bangkokians that it didn't mean a coup was imminent it was just units getting into position for Children's Day. I thought the situation had potential even if it was dangerously close to breaking my "no politics, no protests" pledge for the day.
I got to the base and I was photographing kids playing on tanks and talking to soldiers. I was kneeling to make a picture and I felt someone pushing me out of the way. I stood up to move and as I was getting up an arm (I couldn't see from where or whose) reached out to steady me and a man said, "It's okay, you can photograph." I turned to see who was helping me and was staring into the face of General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army. Prayuth is the highest ranking military person in Thailand. For folks in the US, this would be like running into the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The General and I chatted for about 30 seconds. Really, he chatted and I tried to make pictures of him (the usual small talk, where are you from, do you like Thailand etc?) while Thai media crowded around us.
All eyes are on Gen. Prayuth right now. Rumors of a coup and questions of will there be or won't there be a coup are everywhere. He is one of the most powerful men in Thailand, it's a close call between the General and Suthep, the protest leader; pictures of General Prayuth are very newsworthy.
I was too close to the General to make the pictures I wanted so I thanked him for his help and backed out of the bubble so I could photograph him walking across the base, signing autographs and giving toy helmets to the children.
Gen. Prayuth walks across the base towards waiting Thai reporters.
I started the day with plans to photograph one thing and ended up photographing something that was never on my radar. While I chalk it up to luck, there's also preparation and staying on top of the story. I didn't know the General was going to be at Children's Day but I recognized him as soon as I saw him and took advantage of the opportunity.