Labuan have been blessed with a couple of exciting photography event this year and I am truly grateful when Rahman Roslan decided to visit Labuan for a photography talk after being invited by our local photography group. Whatever the reason is, having his very own ‘sensei’ coming to Labuan for a Photojournalism workshop is indeed exciting. This is the guy who is responsible in guiding some of Malaysia very own young photographer into an award winning photojournalist while at the same time, involved in almost everything related to Malaysia photojournalism industry. So, what happen when this iconic figure came to Labuan for a 2 days of Photojournalism workshop?, lots of laughter and serious idea exchange.
I present you, Shamshahrin Shamsudin, one of Malaysia veteran news photographer who is comparable to the like of Bazuki Muhammad and Jimin Lai.
The Photojournalism workshop was organized by Jebat.net photography group from Kota Kinabalu and was fully supported by the photography community in Labuan. The 2 days program consist of theory lecture, photo presentation, practical exercise and a photo review session. Its an intensive full day event that saw Shamshahrin being busy for the entire day and many didn’t want to missed the chance to ask him for his word of wisdom.
Most of the participant are coming from Brunei, Labuan and Sabah, and most of them are working either as a lecturer or as a professional photographer. Although the workshop starts on 2 November, most of us have decided to meet up a day before the workshop and hang-out at their homestay near Labuan Financial Park. It was a good idea as it allow most of us to catch up with everyone and at the same time, having a nice chat with out workshop tutor before tomorrow workshop.
Everyone seems excited in meeting Shamshahrin, especially one of my friend who have been a fan of news photography especially those coming from Reuters and AFP. They manage to spark some serious discussion with Shamshahrin and to make the atmosphere much more interesting, I even put a bit of effort in bringing some photobook for sharing. There was a lot of question raise on photography ethic (even with the recent World Press Photo of the year issue) during their discussion but seeing Shamshahrin having his hand full with other people, I realized that I might not have the chance to ask him for his opinion on some of the question that I have listed in my mind but chances appear during midnight where everyone is trying to take some rest for tomorrow and again, somehow I manage to pull Shamshahrin all the way until 2 in the morning, and to be fair, here is some of the point that I manage to discuss with him;
On approaching a project.
One of the thing that I ask him is on how to develop a good photography project. His answer was calm and short, find an interesting story to tell and just keep on shooting.
Our discussion was a bit loose and I couldn’t grasp the whole point that he mentioned but I’ll try to write it down nevertheless. According to Shamsharin, photography project (Documentary photography) can be divided into 3 which is Poetic, Narrative, and Thematic. Every approach is hugely depended on the photographer themselves and its up to us to know or identify the main objective of our project.
Poetic is probably one of the most abstract in terms of approach and usually could be identify through its ‘artistic’ approach. One of the best example on this is probably those from Jacob Aue Sobol, Antoine D’Agata or Martin Parr. Poetic usually involves a high level of thinking in terms of its artistic approach but nevertheless, its one of the most exciting to look at on any gallery wall.
Narrative is one of the most common approach in most photography project where it rely on its proper picture sequence or script to tell a story. Although it usually isn’t fixated on certain type of picture, the aim is always to give the whole story to work as a conclusion. I couldn’t remember the name of the photographer that Shamsharin told me to refer to but I believe it was some South East Asia photographer.
Thematic, on the other hand is a photography approach based on a certain theme and usually it involves a wide range of subject matter. I remember that Shamsharin told me that this kind of approach require a lot of research and dedication as it usually takes years to complete such project to perfection. One of the best example is Ian Teh on his lovely story on China Industrial landscape and Andri Tambunan on the HIV victim at Papua, Indonesia.
The discussion is pretty deep and I really regret that I didn’t try to take down some notes but I couldn’t really help it even if I wanted to as there was a lot of stuff that was mentioned here and there. I did told him that I plan to make a project with ‘Labuan’ as its main subject but he told me that it depends on what kind of story that I want to tell. If its revolves around economy or history, then I need to take some time to do a proper research because taking picture is easy but what binds the whole picture together is the research.
The following days were a bit more different but as the workshop progress over the day, it become much more casual than I expected. The first day is more on theory, an introduction to Photojournalism. Shamshahrin manage to explain it in a clear manner in which everyone could easily grasp some of the complicated part in differentiating Photojournalism from other photography genre. It was a great session nevertheless.
On the second day, there was a practical session along with some photo review to conclude the photography workshop. To be honest, I joined the workshop in a hope to learn something new (which I truly did) but its not because I wanted to become a photojournalist in the future (who knows right?) but more to gain extra knowledge on the true definition of news photography and how to clearly differentiate a certain genre in photography. Shamshahrin did point something on my work when I show him my portfolio but his response was like ‘meh’ and he told me to just keep on taking pictures and try to develop a good story out of it.
Another friend of mine received a rather special attention from Shamshahrin but I am not surprised because his work is really impressive (plus he even prepared a series of slideshow for comment complete with title and description). I even learn something from listening to his comment on my friend work so again, it was worth it.
There is some interesting story to tell during the second day of the workshop (practical session). One of the main point that we were told during the workshop is that news photography is all about the content and its story value, and the funny thing is that, there was a fire accident at the village nearby during the practical session. It was pretty rare for Labuan to have such emergency case but it give us a nice experience to be able to take picture alongside one of Malaysia top photojournalist under a real-life scenario. By the time we were at the scene, the fire have already took out several houses while the firefighter is busy containing the fire from spreading to the nearby area. The experience was indeed something that we wouldn’t forget.
Overall, the workshop is truly amazing. It strengthen my belief in my own photography skills and at the same time, it gave me a better understanding on Photojournalism. There was a lot of interesting idea exchange during the whole workshop and it truly is as some of participant is coming from different background. All us learn a lot from Shamshahrin and hopefully I could meet up with him again in the future.
So what did I learn from the workshop?, Patience!. Patience is what differentiate a good photographer and a normal photographer. According to Shamshahrin, there is no such thing as luck. Luck is something we could create if you are prepared for it but every person have their own definition on luck though.
And here’s some interesting quote from him during the workshop, and a damn good one as well – “A picture worth a thousand words, that is true, but then again, it should only apply to news photography and not on every photography genre or story.”