Earlier last month at the end of June, I decided to join a friend back to his home village to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Being a Sino Kadazan, I never been to a longhouse before but my friend assure me that although the longhouse nowadays are made from a much more contemporary material, the culture has pretty much remain the same.
We took the ferry from Labuan and arrive at the Limbang Jetty in the next few hours. The ride was smooth while the immigration system is pretty efficient as well. Limbang is part of Sarawak therefore its jurisdiction is different compare to those from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah.
The town however; although small, is pretty busy with people stocking all the necessary item for a feast. A longhouse usually hold at least 10 family but its not uncommon for some longhouse to have at least 50 family in a single row. My friend brought his family back to the village for the holiday and as usual, we will bring our own share of the celebration by buying liquor and meats.
After we were done with the shopping, the next agenda of the day is to visit their ancestor graveyard which is meant to pay their respect and praying for their blessing for the upcoming festival. It is a pretty common practice for most races in Malaysia.
The journey back to the village took us about 1 hour and half despite our aggressive driving. There is no proper asphalt road that connects the village with the main road but according to my friend, the road is in a much better condition than it was few years ago, plus there is electricity grid throughout the area.
The longhouse is actually really long. Its similar to the British terrace house design with a long corridor or ‘ruai’ connecting the house. The ‘ruai’ is consider as a public area where kids and elders usually hang out. I didn’t spent much time exploring outside the longhouse since the family has been very welcoming ever since I got there. Everyone is pumped up for tomorrow and preparation is hasten towards midnight.
Iban people are known for being fond with alcoholic drinks and true to their reputation, we were serve with some rice wine and pork barbecue to freshen our day. I couldn’t remember much after that day since I haven’t been sober for the next few days. Drinks were serve like there was no tomorrow but falling asleep was pretty easy.
The next morning I woke up with a terrible hangover. My mouth was dry and my stomach was hungry but that is pretty much what we do for the next few days; drink, eat, and sleep. Its holiday and many of the family relatives came back for the week to celebrate the festive occasion where having a great time being their main objective.
Later on that day, I did got the time to explore some part of the village. The village is surround by dense forest with a river passing through in between. Back then, people of the village have to rely on the river as their main transportation method but ever since the road was built, it hasn’t been used much due to safety and convenience.
My original intention to join my friend back for a visit is actually to have a look at their old wooden longhouse structure, which remain pretty much as it is despite being in ruin for a long time. My friend uncle brought me to the place and being drunk as hell, the three of us make a journey through the forest, barefoot.
The highlight of the harvest festival would be during midnight where blessing and prayers are given throughout the longhouse. Again, I don’t really remember how the night goes, my camera however are still by my side and somehow I manage to even change my memory card. Looking through the picture do made me realize that festive event should be fun for everyone while preserving our own culture and identity. The night last until dawn with people tossing their glass and laughing at each other jokes. During the last day of my stay there, they even hired a local band to entertain the people with everyone joining in for the dance.
A truly festive season that I truly enjoy which I wish I was not that drunk during my entire stay.
Unlike last year, this year begins with a rather hectic schedule throughout the following month. A trip to Thailand for the Chiang Mai Photo Festival last February prove to be another worthy experience while managing my work and photography interest in the recent month has become a bit more manageable. If everything went well this year, I should be able to compile my recent work into a proper website by August.
The usual landscape sight that can be seen along my mother hometown. Taken during my recent visit back to my grandmother house.
I also have been thinking about the state of my hometown recently and the possibility to undergone on another project that highlight the stark and neglected landscape in the rural area of Sabah. With the rapid development throughout Malaysia, Sabah is in a rather odd position despite being the most resourceful state within the country. The young and eager graduates have less desire to contribute to the rural area with many preferring a more stylish urban lifestyle in other places which indirectly left many of the village with a community of elder people. It is a very well known issue throughout South East Asia and as cliche’ as it might seems, the project might prove beneficial for myself as a photographer and Architect wannabe in the future. The opportunity to hear other people stories has always been an important lesson for myself in understanding other people culture and society.
Surely there is many other stuff that need to be done before August, 30 rolls of undeveloped film does sound daunting but hopefully the path will be a bit more clearer for the next few months.
Few years ago, I thought mastering all the technical matter of photography will make me a good photographer but whenever I think about that thought this day, I couldn’t help but to smile on how naive I was back then.
There is more to Photography than just simply taking pretty pictures and it is in-fact it’s ability to preserve a mere fraction of a second of something that is perhaps Photography greatest pleasure. Photography helps the world communicate and this is one of the few reason on why I have been interested in Photography in the first place.
While I am still buzzing from the previous IPA Street Photography Workshop in 2013, I have decided that part of my resolution for 2014 is to join more Project based Photography workshop and a friend of mine recommend KLPA Exposure+ 3 Program for a starter. A quick research on what the workshop could offer reveal a rather impressive line of mentor with a very flexible working schedule. The main objective of the workshop is to expose the participant in developing their own personal project with the help of their own mentor and by the end of the program, they will have to present it in a form of Exhibition and presentation; thus ‘Exposed’ (there is more to the workshop than that).
My first public presentation during the KLPA 2014 Exhibition at Whitebox Gallery, Publika. (Picture courtesy of Steven Lee)
The workshop is a 3 month program with a monthly gathering in between. Each participant is assign to a mentor and will then be guided through the entire 3 months to complete a Photography Project. The mentors consist of a number of well known Photographer in Malaysia namely Eiffel Chong (not related to the Eiffel tower in Paris), Steven Lee, and Cheryl Hoffmann. All 3 of them probably doesn’t need any introduction but its worth noting that each of them has their own main forte’ and I just can’t wait to learn more from them.
Monthly discussion is done often and sometimes weekly depending on everyone schedule. Note how dedicated Steven is in keeping tabs on other participant works. (Photo courtesy of Nurul Munira)
Since I am based in Labuan, interacting with other mentors and participant on weekly basis is basically impossible and luckily they are offering an online session as well as online discussion. The registration is a straight forward task with a few words exchange through e-mail and a few weeks later, It was announced that I will be a part of this year KLPA Exposure+ 3 program. Suprised as It seems, my mentor for the next 3 months is Steven Lee, a rather familiar name but just can’t seems to recall from where (A friend of mine, Flanegan Bainon told me that he used to study under him somewhere during his degree study in Australia).
Our usual Skype session (sorry for the printscreen Steven)
So basically my whole mentorship was done through Skype and to make it worst, my mentor lives in London so we always have to consider about our time zone difference whenever we decided to set our online session.
In a sense, those who are staying in Kuala Lumpur will benefit more from the workshop since they could discuss directly with their mentor but the online session isn’t that bad apart from the troublesome internet connection from our very own lousy internet provider. I update my work from time to time through email and only arrange a Skype session whenever we need to discuss about something important.
Our group discussion with the rest of the participant plus another one from Australia. It was fun and all until the internet line went nuts.
I submit a few project proposal to Steven and when he went through all of my suggestion, he share his thought on the proposal and in the end, we pick the Oil and Gas worker as the Project main focus. The reason for this is because we need something that is interesting enough to work with and also to be able to complete the project within 3 months. Due to my work and family commitment, I could only take some pictures during the weekend (like I always do) which require a bit of planning to provide some space for the project to develop.
My first few proposed approach on the worker in coverall.
We discuss a few method of approach for the project and I personally wish it could be taken in a more candid approach but Steven convince me in some way that such method is weak and it might prove to be difficult to work with within a short period of time. The stand-out of the subject is their different ‘coverall’ that they wear which is what we were trying to highlight throughout the series. Basically a Photography project needs to have a clear objective, consistent working approach and a proper time frame. Its interesting to work on the Project since it is different from what I am used to and despite some early difficulty with the project in the first few weeks, It became much easier as it progress towards the final months.
We went through my work for the project and everyone gave their feedback from the session. I note down everyone comment on the ongoing work.
The project require me to interview an Oil and Gas Worker around the town area and asking for their permission to have their picture taken for the project. The idea is to show how common it is to find this worker in public spaces but also to highlight the uniqueness of Labuan as an Industrial Island. The coverall is unique to the worker as it represent the company that they are working with as well as their rank within the industry.
My contact sheet marked by Steven during my first few weeks on the project.
While working through the project, Steven is totally aware of my progress and told me to treat this more as an exercise since I am not entirely comfortable with the new approach but nevertheless he gave me enough guidance and confidence throughout the 3 months period.
Some of the crucial stuff that I learned from the workshop is;
1) Awareness in Photography project objective as a whole.
During the earlier stage of the photography project, we took about 2 weeks before finalizing the project concept. The main discussion during this stage is probably the way we intend to see through the project when its finished. Steven taught me that this is an important matter to consider not only from a photographer perspective but also from the public perspective. The Oil and Gas worker approach shows a common scenery in Labuan that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Malaysia. This in turn will create an awareness on the impact of Oil and Gas industry in Labuan which have been the island main role in developing Malaysia as a developing country.
2) Experiment done right.
I begin the workshop at a state where my mind is deliberately filled with images taken by Alex Webb, Josef Koudelka, and Jun Abe. The idea of capturing a complicated composition with perfect timing is what I thrive to improve during the workshop but Steven bring me back to sense where he pushed me to become more self-aware as a Photographer. (note : refer to Alec Soth working method)
I am an introvert person by nature and asking people for a permission to have their picture taken is like living in a nightmare. Even when I am taking street photograph, I always let other people start the conversation before me. Asking for permission is a hassle but as week goes through, I find it very comfortable and I became much more confident with the project.
By the end of the workshop, my experience that I learn from doing the project is stucked with me and conversation with a stranger becomes more like a second nature (slightly). Sometimes its a good thing
3) Time management.
3 months might sounds like a whole lot of time to complete the project but like 99% people in this world, Procrastination is man worst enemy (or friend). As the title suggest, time management is important and I couldn’t have done it without making a target list handy on my notebook, and a huge calender.
One of the picture from the ON-SHORE project.
Steven suggest me to make a Photobook of my project and it looks awesome. Printed from blurb with help from Steven, straight from UK.
Past forward to a few months, the project is finally finished with 25 Portraits and we are ready for our public presentation on mid August 2014. The presentation itself provide a good opportunity for the participant to express themselves in a more open manner in which everyone will be getting a direct feedback from the audience. I receive some positive thought from other people after the presentation and it gives me a great deal of confidence for my next Photography project.
Steven is getting warmed up for an interview regarding the opening and prize winning ceremony for KLPA 2014.
By the end of the workshop, I learn a lot from it. As usual, it took me a few months before I could digest everything that I just learned and hence this blogpost which has been in draft for a couple of months!. I printed a small book of my work which I had been showing around after the presentation and even by today I use it as a reference when explaining people about conceiving a Photography Project.
Ramlen Salleh giving his presentation on his project for Exposure+.
A picture of me during the photography presentation at the Whitebox Gallery Publika. (Photo courtesy of Shio Soon Yii)
Exposure+ photography workshop program is probably one of the most effective and reputable photography workshop in Malaysia at the moment although it might not specifically tailored for beginners photographer, the opportunity to learn Photography in a new perspective is certainly a refreshing than the usual camera technique workshop and their awesome network might help you progress forward as an emerging Photographer.
Picture of me with Steven Lee, Ailsa Bowyer, and Anne Benedicte during the KLPA 2014 Exhibition and award winning ceremony.
I would like say thank you to Steven Lee for all the help during the entire mentorship and not to forget Erna Dyanty and Kak Nurul aka Moon for dedicating their time to keep everyone on track. Looking forward to see the work from the next Exposure+4 participant, they seems to be doing something interesting.
I somehow manage to join Zhuang Wu Bin photography workshop in the last few weeks and to be honest, it was one of the best workshop that I have ever joined especially in terms of photography theory and history. The workshop focus on conceiving a Photography Project and it is not limited to just Journalism and pure documentary but it can also be conceptual as a whole.
Zhuang Wu Bin is well known around South East Asia as a Researcher, curator and a Photographer. I am familiar with his name from his featured article in Invisible Photographer Asia and of course for his project on the Chinese community in South East Asia. A photographer that I thought were very serious in nature but actually it was the opposite when I went through his workshop.
The workshop was organized by a good friend of mine, Mr Irrezizam or famously known as Mr Jebat Legacy, founder of Jebat Photography Club in Kota Kinabalu. It was a great opportunity for all photography enthusiast in Sabah to be able to work with an experienced curator for the whole week. It didn’t took me long to write up an email to register myself for the workshop but I was in for a surprise because the workshop actually begin much ‘earlier’ than I expected. Although the workshop start a few month before the registration date, our discussion on photography project begin right after a few e-mail exchange and soon it become more like an essay writing class. What I was doing is basically trying to understand photography through writing.
The way the whole online session goes was rather frustrating but Wu Bin always gives a clear reason and explanation whenever I got confuse. My initial idea on how to use the workshop was rejected by Wu Bin and he told me that such project could be edited easily by myself and the series itself is rather hard to edit because I have already finished the project. The project that he refer to was the photograph that I took during my undergraduates study, something that I choose for its sentimental value. It took me a while to understand the purpose of the whole exercise but once I understood Wu Bin intention, I quickly proposed my ongoing project on the shorelines of Labuan.
It took a while but he finally agree on helping me with the project.
As a photographer, I am really confident in my skill to capture the desire image but when it come to constructing a clear concept on my photography project, I am not any better than most amateur photographer. The project that I have been doing revolves mainly around the Island of Labuan. My desire to capture the island intimate story from a local perspective has been my motivation throughout the year, or so I thought.
Wu Bin like how the project is conceive but he told me what he thought was wrong with the series and the picture that I have took so far. The main problem is mainly the lack of consistency and clear objective, be it in terms of visual or narrative. The purpose of the whole exercise is mainly to make it ‘easier’ for me to went through the 6 days workshop. After a few (43 email to be exact) e-mail exchange and excessive facebook chat, we finally got a solid foundation for my project (sort of). From here on, I had a better understanding on my own intention on the project and now I finally decided it was the right time to use medium format camera for the project.
Fast forward to a few days later, I finally meet the man in person and it was not as epic as I expected. (it was late evening and everyone was hungry)
The workshop is an intensive 6 day session complete with one-to-one critique session during anytime of the day (depending on Wu Bin schedule) and by the end of it, we will have an internal critique session, editing session and an open house session. The workshop was held at Arena Belia in Putatan and we basically stay at the hostel throughout the workshop. It was actually a great idea because we can hang out with Wu Bin at night although he is usually tired around this time.
The first day of the workshop is basically a presentation by Wu Bin on ‘Documentation Impulse’ and only to sort our project later with him to clarify our schedule for the entire workshop. I personally knew most of the participant in the workshop except for Paik Yin and Mark Chai but everyone is rather excited to show their finding before the workshop start. For my ongoing project of the shorelines of Labuan, I decided to stay for the workshop in the first 3 days before heading back home to Labuan for 2 days to shoot some material base on the feedback from Wu Bin.
The way I used the workshop is a bit about finding my own voice or standing in Photography. Having joined the previous IPA Street photography workshop made me realize that I am not the kind of person to document the street life in urban area for most of the time. I had very little attachment to the town of Labuan and with how Wu Bin slowly explaining to me his thought about my project, it finally make sense.
For the workshop, I decided to use a Film camera, a medium format TLR camera to be precise. I have always wanted to shoot the project in film but I always thought that digital camera would be the best because of its quick nature for reviewing and editing. Wu Bin manage to persuade me to try myself with a film camera and I took the initiatives with a loan Seagull TLR. The reason for adopting another new format is basically to slow my pace a bit and also to allow myself to become much more consistent in terms of visual approach. Square format is also one of the easiest to compose mainly because of its symmetrical geometry.
And during the workshop, I manage to develop my negatives for the first time, thanks to all the help from a friend of mine. Wu Bin didn’t like it at all because it makes the whole toilet smells bad.
Other part that is worth mentioning is about the opportunity to meet new people. I finally met a few passionate photographer of my age and it was great to know this people personally since all of them have different perspective on how to use photography. So I met Shio So0n Yi who I knew quite a while on facebook for his documentation on his girlfriend and this time he even bring some contact sheet with him to show to Wu Bin for some comment. Shio is one of the participant from Wu Bin previous workshop and he will be assisting Wu Bin throughout their trip around Sabah. (lucky bastard…)
During the final day of the workshop, it is worth noting on how the editing session goes and its interesting because not every project is edited in the same way while some other are rather hard to edit especially those that works around local history. The internal critique session is interesting because all the participant can share their thought on other participant work followed by Wu Bin thought on some necessary key information that we should remember.
To wrap up the whole workshop, the organizer did an open house session where we will invite all of our friend to come and eat while looking through our work for the workshop. The participant are required to explain to the visitor about their project but it became much more casual afterwards. Some great people came to the Open house session which include Su Chung Chong, Flanegan Bainon, Uncle Peter and many other photographer that I only saw on facebook.
Hanging out with Zhuang Wu Bin for the last 6 days of the workshop is a great experience itself. He is a passionate teacher and willing to go further to explain something especially those from his research material. There is a few quote that I manage to note down from the workshop and that include;
“…How can you call yourself a photographer if you are not sensitive to the people (subject) around you?…” – Taken from our walk back to the car from our rather weird dinner experience at Kampung Air.
“…Editing is only an exercise to make stronger project by highlighting the good and hiding the flaw of the whole project, but is never mean’t to fix a badly conceive project…” – While explaining about photo editing during our one-on-one discussion.
“…You are rushing on your approach and easily distracted on other stuff. FOCUS!!!…” – On telling me his thought on my project during the first few days of the workshop.
There is more to write down on anything that Wu Bin have to say throughout the workshop but I decided to keep it for myself to allow other people to know him more in person. He have a great deal of experience as a photographer and curator and I believe it gives him a slight advantage when he is giving his comment on any photography practice. With his research focus more around South East Asia, he is probably one of the best person to go through regarding any great photography practice or project in South East Asia.
The workshop was by far the most casual (and serious some times) of all the workshop that I have attend so far. There is this nice school camp atmosphere to it and I agree with Paik Yin on that matter (owe her some chocolate as well).
As a conclusion, it was a great workshop and probably worth all the money spent (on the workshop fee’s and film). So what do I learn from this workshop?, a LOT!!!. But one of the main thing that everyone should focus on is probably being consistent and having a clear idea on how to execute the project, something which Wu Bin keep on stressing about throughout the workshop.
I am going to miss everyone though. Zhuang Wu Bin runs a few blog by himself and a blog post of this Photography workshop can be find here along with his other previous workshop.
Photography, in my opinion, is perceived differently in many different culture but for certain, Photography is widely accepted as a form of story telling.
People have their own idea on what makes a good photo and how it should be presented but there is always a gap between a ‘Snapshot’ and ‘Pleasingly Aesthetic Looking Picture’. A snapshot is often consider as something that is taken quickly without any significant meaning other than to preserve a certain candid moment, and while it also known as something mundane, the question whether a ‘Snapshot’ could be consider into a narrative series is simply tempting to answer.
Although there is a lot of opinion on this matter where a bad picture is consider as an Artwork/Masterpiece (Daido Moriyama is often being labelled as an overrated photographer). ‘Snapshot’ in my opinion is the true way on how photography should be done, taking picture on your own impulsive reaction is often something that you will cherish later on after you have the prints printed. I am not promoting the idea of a badly taken picture but more towards how people should approach something with their camera.
I have been thinking a lot about my standing on photography but there is always this thin line between what people call Aesthetically pleasing and Meaningful picture. Snapshot is often shoved aside without much consideration in the world of contemporary photography but a trend for this so call ‘snapshot’ have started back in the early 90’s by a teenage girl who happen to won a certain famous photography competition in Japan. The girl is non other than Hiromix. (her real name is Toshikawa Hiromi)
I stumble upon her work on Tumblr and I was fascinated with how honest the picture is and the description on the picture was good enough for me to look further on Google. The picture was a self portrait of Hiromix from her famous entry for the Canon New Cosmos of Photography 1995. A rather blurred with highly vivid color from Cheap film negatives were the characteristic for all of Hiromix work. Apparently he seems to be rather famous in Japan not only as a photographer but also as a member of a band, a literal figure of what the Japanese would refer to as an ‘Idol’.
History aside, her work is the epitome of what candid photography should look like and since it was taken back in the early 90’s, her work reminds me of what Girl with Instagram would take in their everyday life (selfie, your breakfast, lunch, dinner, friends, mirror, skirts). She basically has been ‘Instagraming’ before it was cool and hopefully I could get a copy of her work that was publish by the famous German publisher.
I got instead a copy of Hiromix photobook and its called Hiromix Works. Its Thick and well thought, from the cover finishing and all the way to the type of paper used for the book. Hiromix book is pretty hard to find on the second hand book market but I am pretty sure it is still available in many places if you look at the right places.
Hiromix Works is a compilation of picture that was taken by Hiromix during the years where she works as a Photographer for a Music Magazine called ‘Rocking On’. The book is designed by a group of designer and art director and I must say that the book is sequenced quite well. There is no such clear narrative throughout the photobook but for a compilation of the work of one of Japan most iconic photographer in the early 90’s, this is really impressive and not that overwhelming for first time viewer as well.
Content wise, the photobook contain a lot of picture of some Japanese Superstar, none that I know of but I am pretty sure that they are famous. This indirectly what makes the photobook interesting as most of the subject in the photobook is quite good looking, even the guys. The photobook has no such pages number but instead it was divided into years from 1995-1999.
In term of Hiromix photography style, I could say that there is a high level of intimacy within every picture. It is far from technically perfect picture that is often associated for a Music magazine but I guess this is what the Magazine is hoping for to show the life of a Celebrity. Hiromix candid approach that is shown throughout the photobook is just one of the few variety in the photobook and some of it was taken in a rather Professional matter.
On why I find Hiromix work to be appealing is probably just how she manage to keep the same vibe that is shown during her earlier work during her teenage years. The same punchy and intimate gesture of her subject shows the level of mutual understanding between the photographer and the subject. I am sure that none of the picture could be taken without some sort of understanding and to be honest, there is quite a lot of her self portrait with her subject, most likely taken after the end of a photo shooting session.
Self portrait is one of Hiromix trademark and somehow the art director manage to slip in a few of this in some of the pages and I personally believe it gives the whole photobook some sort of an approval stamp as well. For example, even the last picture on the photobook is a self portrait of her brushing her teeth!.
Here is some interesting thing that I found while browsing through the photobook. Usually people avoid placing their picture in the middle of the book gutter but the designer seems to find this as a good idea. It doesn’t affect the mood of the whole photobook but I find it quite annoying and there is a lot of it as well. I am not sure why but I would like to hear the reason behind such decision.
To conclude my thought on Hiromix works, I decided to show one of my favourite picture from the whole photobook. Its a picture of some girl eating ice-cream. Composition wise, its good although it looks quite random when I look at it the second time but maybe its just me falling in love with the girl in the picture. A cute girl licking an ice-cream have some sexy element to it and the ice cream contrast well with the background. I thought the sequence is quite nice as well but this is just a few of those nicely sequenced picture from the whole series.
For a teenage girl who have once shock the photography world in Japan, she done quite well in the industry. Being one of the first pioneer for a ‘Girl Photo Diary’ theme, she create a certain awareness among the young girls especially at the time where the country is dominated mostly by mens. I hope to get her other photobook that was publish by Steidl to compliment with this photobook that I got last year. I also did some research on the internet but it appears she is on a hiatus from Photography, the last photobook of her was Hiromix Works. I just hope she will make a come back someday with a rather fresh new series of picture. I am quite certain she has a lot more to offer.
A Sino Kadazan with a passion in Architecture and Photography.