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  • Writer's pictureCharles Pertwee

A modern day Labour of Hercules

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Driven mad by the Hera, Queen of the Gods, Hercules killed his own wife and children. As part of his penance Hercules had to perform twelve Labours, feats so difficult that they seemed impossible.

I recently had the opportunity to photograph Christoph Mueller, the CEO of Malaysia Airlines. He has the task referred to by some as the toughest job in aviation, to turn the airline around. Some analysts wonder if it is even possible.



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Christoph Mueller, Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines photographed in Sepang, Malaysia for Manager Magazin


Christoph Mueller, Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines photographed in Sepang, Malaysia for Manager Magazin


MAS was in pretty big trouble even before the disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of MH17. I covered the MH370 story as best i could from here in Malaysia. That meant a few trips to the airport to get pictures related to Malaysia Airlines.



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A young girl watches a Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) aircraft taxiing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang, Malaysia, on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

I am a huge fan of Malaysia Airlines, and have only good things to say about the service on board. I even got to fly business class once....once.


As details started to come in from the photo desk it became clear that i was going to have full access to one of the hangars at KLIA. Furthermore, there was going to be an Airbus A380 available.

So the night before i visualise how i could tackle this shoot. From a technical and aesthetic point of view i had to somehow put a human in context against the world's largest passenger plane. My mind was racing but all i could come up with was that I did not want to resort to the "man with the plane lined up on the tarmac behind him" image (i kind of did though). And i wanted to put him in the context - Malaysia Airlines, plane etc. - without resorting to sticking him in front of a giant logo. I went to sleep trusting that when i was on site the ideas would come.



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Christoph Mueller, the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines, photographed at KLIA in Sepang, Malaysia, September 30, 2015.

I was a bit nervous on the taxi ride out to the airport but as soon as i entered the hangar that all fell away as I drank in the environment. I had the run of hangar A6, and i counted 3 planes under maintenance and two A380s.

Two!


I like to arrive early, in this case an hour, to set the shots up so i am ready for the subject and don't waste any of their time. Top CEO's are PR and media savvy and they understand that the photos are part of the package but they do have companies to run.


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Christoph Mueller, the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines, photographed at KLIA in Sepang, Malaysia, September 30, 2015.

I usually ask to shoot the pictures before the interview (if there is one) because for most CEO's the pictures are secondary. The interview is far more important and interviews can run way long, in which case i am left with an impatient CEO who has meetings to get to. I raced around with one of the engineers, lining things up, putting down markers for lights and where the subject would stand.

I had 3 shots in mind involving bits of plane. One key shot that i knew i wanted and needed to get right, a secondary shot, that i hoped to get and a third bonus image. The third was going to be an image in the plane, available light, of Mr. Mueller looking out of a window. I knew i wanted to shoot it without the cabin lights on and the first A380 that was powered up with the aircons and lights on was too bright. It was also actually in the hangar, so with the cabin lights off it was a bit too dark. The second A380 was outside the hangar and brighter inside, but not air conditioned, so i would have to see what kind of mood Mr. Mueller was in. It's Malaysia after all and hot and humid year round.

Also i need to add that in my head this image was in black and white....


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Mr. Mueller in the A380- cabin lights off - no air con!

The PR person phoned to say that the journalist had arrived, and they were going to do the interview first. Not a problem, i settled in for a wait.

Coffee, check the strobe, check the background, check the light, coffee, check the strobe, check the background, check the light.

Generally down here near the equator by 10am the light is extremely harsh. But It was a hazy day with the sun not even visible so the ambient light was barely changing as the hours ticked by. The haze also gave the final photo a nice mood.

This waiting period gave me time to wander around the hangar which was beneficial because i found another shot that became my primary shot.

As i was checking my secondary shot i realised that if i turned around, i had a nice third shot with only minimal adjustments to the strobe necessary.

So, not a waste of time at all.


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Christoph Mueller, the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines, photographed at KLIA in Sepang, Malaysia, September 30, 2015.

When the boss did arrive in the hangar he arrived with a big smile on his face. A good sign. He took the time to shake hands with and greet all the engineers in the hangar. I approached him and shook his hand and had a little chat. I talked him through the setups i had prepared and that i would keep him for a minute at each, at the most.

He even accommodated my bonus shot inside the A380, despite the heat inside the un-airconditioned fuselage.

Even on a portrait shoot i like to try and get a few candid, reportage images. It just gives the art director and photo ed something else to play with. In this case it paid off because they ran the image.


Christoph Mueller, Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines photographed in Sepang, Malaysia for Manager Magazin


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