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Tuk Tuk, Rabaul, East New Britain, 2009, Phase One 645DF, Phase One P65+ back, Mamiya 28mm lens
1/45 second @ f18, ISO 50, hand-held, no filter

The volcanoes of Rabaul are still active, so much so that most of the town of Rabaul relocated to Kokopo, some 20 kilometres further distant – although still too close for many, I am sure. I was in Kokopo to photograph a mask festival and, naturally, the nearby volcanoes.

The headdresses and costumes at the mask festival were sensational and I wondered how I could get some of the dancers out onto the plains in front of the volcanoes. Even though I was travelling with an employee of PNG Tourism, it wasn’t to be.

One night in my hotel, I met David Kirkland, an Australian photographer who has made his mark in the travel field, especially in the Pacific. We introduced ourselves and chatted over a bottle of red wine. 

I mentioned to David my idea and he said I was too late! He was already working on just such a photograph and, much as he liked me, he was not going to invite me along. I understood.

David went on to explain that on the following day, he had to meet the clan leaders and be initiated in order to take the photographs. He and his PNG Tourism minder were to undertake the ceremony together.

The following night I met David again and I was keen to hear how he had gone. He explained that he and his tourism rep had been required to strip down to a basic lap-lap and walk out barefoot into the jungle with a clan of men, all dressed in ceremonial gear. As part of the initiation, they were to be struck on the back with a cane. David didn’t like the sound of this, but after he watched the tourism rep being lightly tapped with a long bamboo cane, he thought everything would be okay.

When his turn came, he walked confidently into position and a few seconds later, gasped and winced in pain. He bore the full impact of the narrow cane across his back. David explained to me that the tourism rep had provided the chief of the clan with a couple of bottles of good whisky before the ceremony. David had not – and so any chances of leniency were foregone.

To prove his story, David stood up in the restaurant and lifted the back of his shirt, revealing a huge red welt placed diagonally across his back! However, the good news is that the following day he took a great photograph of the local clan in their headdresses with the volcano behind.

While David photographed his masterpiece on film, I proceeded with a couple of digital captures and a little help from Photoshop. The scene is not factually correct because, as David explained to me, the dancers that I photographed at the Kokopo festival would never be given permission to stand in front of the volcano like this, because it is not their land. The giveaway is the design and colour of the headdress, but I am hopeful that few viewers of my photograph will be aware of this transgression.

I certainly think that it is a better option than being caned!

Need a good read? Like to learn something more about photography? Interested in new ideas? Why not purchase a copy of my book, The New Tradition, which is full of great tales and ideas. It has 100 photographs and accompanying stories guaranteed to enthral you - and you can save $30 on the purchase price right now - use coupon code TNT30. Check out more on the website.

STOP PRESS: We'll keep the special Better Photography Magazine subscription deal going over the holiday season - buy The New Tradition before 31 January as outlined above and we'll add in some 'festive cheer' with a year's online subscription to Better Photography magazine and its archive of over 50 magazines. What a great present for yourself - and hopefully Australia Post has now caught up with its backlog for an expeditious delivery!