An Australian, an Italian, and a Headhunter Walk into a 7 Eleven
At half-past-five, my alarm rings. I’m not asleep, though. I have a thousand thoughts flicking about my mind. We’re driving from Taipei to Hualien today to meet a Truku headhunter and musician. Typhoon Meranti is battering the island with record winds and rainfall. Will we make it? Our guide is expected to update us with weather conditions by six o’clock.
I slip down to the 7 Eleven at the bottom of our hotel to pick up coffee and a pork bun. Pedestrians are struggling against the wind and rain is lashing the buildings. I decide to wait this out inside the hotel. On my way up, the phone rings. We’re on. The east coast shouldn’t be battered too hard during this storm, and the roads are open. I tell the film-maker, Marco Tessiore, and we both take a quick shower and give our gear a once over. Giddy with excitement, we head down to pick up an extra coffee for our guide.
We arrive at our destination, the home of Piteyro Ukah in Hualien County just after lunchtime in the pouring rain. We step out into the ankle deep water that surrounds the house and are quickly ushered under the balcony and offered tea. We’re promptly told that we’re his first ever guests during a typhoon. We laugh and make our introductions. After a while, he offers to set up a scene in his hut for us to photograph and as a dry place to interview him.
This goes well, and we come away with some beautiful footage, photographs, and an interview that embodies the very things we set out to achieve with this project. He is a man committed to his art and to his history, and teaches us a great deal about his connection with his ancestors through cultural practices like song and ritual. We have got more from this interview than we could possibly have hoped for. Now there is only one photo left to make.
I ask him if there might be a waterfall in the mountains nearby, as I have an idea to make a photograph of him that would link him to his traditional landscape and the continuous cycle of water. Piteyro likes the idea but is unaware of a waterfall nearby that might work. While he thinks, he laughs and points out the window. “So, you came here in the middle of a typhoon and you want to take me to a waterfall. We have one here.” Unable to think of anything right off the bat, he asks us if we’re able to come back in the morning as he will give it some additional thought. We say our goodbyes and head off for dinner. The message comes at 11pm. He has thought of a waterfall close to the city that should work. We’ll meet at 7 Eleven the next morning for coffee and head over together.
Too soon it’s half-past-five again and I’m getting my gear ready for the day’s work. The rain has started to fall quite heavily again as we leave the hostel and head for coffee. Backup plans are rushing through my head as I watch the wind whip the trees and the rain lash the windows of the car. Will my flash survive this? Will we even make it out to the waterfall? In the end, I figure that there’s only one way to know for sure.
We order our coffees, and sit in the window discussing our ideas with Piteyro. It’s not lost on any of us how funny this must look. Two white guys soaked to the bone and bristling with camera gear are sitting in a 7 Eleven with a man dressed in his traditional garb getting ready for a photoshoot in a typhoon must be quite a sight. Piteyro asks if we should get a selfie. Finally someone said it. We choose to stand in front of the milk fridge. That would be a great location for such an image.
In the end, we hike through the rain and mud to the waterfall, which has become somewhat violent with all the extra rain. This doesn’t bother Piteyro Ukah at all, though. He hops from rock to rock across the water looking for a comfortable place to stand. In the end, we make two frames before the wind destroys the softbox and everyone is soaked through. Success.