It was going to be a very difficult start...
Tired, jetlagged, and arriving straight from the airport at the headquarters of one of the most iconic banking service brands in the world, my task to persuade the local team that I was worth expending any effort at all. After all I was to be the third photographer they'd been forced to host by Head Office in New York in less than a month.
The brief was to capture the passion and engagement of the employees manning the call centre housed in a smart newly opened office block located in this Canary Wharf style oasis deep in the sprawling urban chaos of Manila, Philippines. The challenge was that my contact on the ground was, understandably, somewhat reserved and told me pointedly that she had spent a lot of time with my two predecessors which apparently had been a colossal waste of her time. The photographic shoots had caused a lot of disruption in a very busy workplace, she had had to devote time out of her busy schedule to look after two photographers, and now her team were expected to run through the whole process again. In faultless English, she explained to me that she would not be able to completely re schedule her day around me, and would I be ok to check out the floors of the building by myself. All employees had been informed there was another photographer working in the building over the next few days and any problems, I could call her on the mobile. The cold hard bare truth was that New York had been unimpressed with the previous imagery, and indeed my own client's Los Angeles agency had been at the receiving end of some aggressive expectations as I was despatched from London. It was not a promising start.
But actually I was happy just to be quietly left to it, with the minimum of fuss. I'd walk around getting used to the place and seeing what happens, just observing people. I'd do my best to be unobtrusive, I reassured the hesitant HR Director that I wouldn't need to set up lights on the office floors, and that I did wouldn't require ‘photogenic’ employees to be rounded up and drafted in for the pictures. The key was to capture authentic imagery, with the words 'authentic', 'pride', 'commitment', 'passion'. My aim was to spend my time observing and quietly photographing what was actually happening. What I hadn't expected was just how engaged were the staff, and mostly keen to be part of what I was trying to achieve. I met with smiles and curiosity, busy people, but proud of their work. I explained that the project I was working on was how the people in the business were all One Business, globally, whether in the offices in Guagaron in India, Brighton in England, London, Kuala Lumpur, Frankfurt, New York, Johannesburg, Sydney and the best pictures would be used as huge wall poster branding in offices around the world. And yes I had visited most of them over the year, save New York and Sydney. No I wasn't an employee, and yes this is what I did for a job: Taking pictures.
I decided I'd send a link with the first few hours of photography to reassure my nervous client in Los Angeles given the unfortunate recent history of this shoot in not quite hitting the mark. Rapidly shared with his clients, happily we were on, and a very useful call internally from New York to Manila got the HR team here onside as well. From suspicion and even perhaps a touch of understandable resentment, the three days turned into a very special assignment, meeting some remarkable people, all of whom had not only to be fluent in English, but also university graduates, just to compete to win these highly coveted roles. The last day before my flight out was spent 'out on the town' with the team, learning much about the Philippines and the extraordinary country that made me want to return.