After getting my own passport for the first time, there was various choices of destination that I could visit with a year saving that I earn from working full-time as a project designer.
Choices range from Singapore, Indonesia, and even Hong Kong. (saving was just enough to cover a week trip around this country)
But I eventually choose Indonesia as a friend of mine invited me to follow him on a week trip to Indonesia to meet up with some of his friends at Jakarta and at the same time meeting up with some photographers for future collaboration on possible photography workshop and photo festival at Sabah. (At the time of writing, Kota Kinabalu Photo festival has went into its second edition back in December 2016 with numerous mentors being invited from Indonesia such as Agah Permadi, Erik Prasetya, and Romi Perbawa)
It was a significant time to visit Jakarta as they are preparing for the upcoming election week with Jokowi being the locals favorite, Christmas is coming and New Year eve is just a week later.
Personally, I didn’t do much research on Indonesia apart from the do’s ‘and don’t. As I will be tagging along with my friend. He assure me that everything is already planned, just standby enough money for the entire trip. No kidding, we even joke on being a millionaire overnight at the airport!.
Another thing to note that all the pictures taken during the trip was using Ricoh GRD III and the brand new Ricoh GR. It was a loan unit from a good friend of his and the camera perform flawlessly but I am not used to it at some point hence the blurry pictures. I had some problem with the Ricoh GR Auto ISO.
For the rest of our stay at Jakarta, I am quiet fortunate to received the hospitality from Pak Agah Permadi, a well known photographer himself, thanks to Mr Jebat for introducing him to me. The plan was to go to Bandung in the next few days and so far we will visit some of the place that is quiet favorable by photographers (more like tourist photographers).
On the next day, after we got our breakfast. We headed to the famous marine port, Sunda Kelapa. It has a lot history to it and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect.
After spending more than 3 hour at Sunda Kelapa, it was time to grab our lunch. The sun was high and its getting hot, we were lucky that it was cloudy during our stay or else, the sunlight would be very harsh. We grab some nice lunch where they serve local delicacy ‘Masakan orang sunda’ but I don’t know the name of the place. It was Friday and I decided to the church next to the Istiqlal Mosque.
I regret for not exploring the area around the mosque but it was full of people and was super crowded, and I am afraid that I would run into problem since I haven’t got any local sim-card at the time. Istiqlal Mosque is huge and the design is fascinating for those who want to visit Jakarta.
The main agenda of the day was to visit Antara Journalistic Gallery and to meet with some of the person in charge for future collaboration. More info can be gather here.
Afterward Pak Agah bring us to the camera store nearby, there is an area where they sale cheap camera accessories. They bring me there because I ran out of memory so I bought the 16gb Sandisc instead which is cheaper than buying in Malaysia. Later, I use the Ricoh GR for the entire trip.
To be honest, we didn’t go to many place that day, the traffic was terrible and we don’t want to force Pak Agah to drive us around the place as it was inconvenient. That night we did have a plan to meet with Rony Zakaria, one of my mentor during IPA workshop in the last few months. He is also an award winning photojournalist for this awesome work around Gunung Merapi.
In the next morning, I was told that we will accompany Pak Agah to get his youngest son, Qhairan, for circumcise. I was curious on how they do it here in this dense urban area and decided to tag along. I had nothing to do that morning anyway.
After our morning session with Qhairan circumcise (or Khatan) is done. Pak Agah bought us some food for lunch and it’s finally time to say goodbye as we will have to proceed to our next destination which is Bandung. We haven’t got the bus ticket but it can be bought easily since it was not fully booked that day. Funny thing is that we got the entire bus just for ourselves.
The main agenda for our visit to Bandung was to meet up with the local ‘underground’ photographer that is led by Sari Asih. We didn’t manage to meet her but instead we did somehow were welcomed by Tandia Permadi and Aditya Pratama (he runs Unobtainium selling photobook in Indonesia).
On the next day, we are accompany by Aip. He is a good photographer with a rather interesting body of work. Can’t recall his website though. He did show us around the town area and also gives us the direction to some of the custom boutique where Jebat is planning to make his club t-shirt at.
Our stay in Bandung was lovely, although we didn’t get to visit some of the famous places due to the warning from the geological department. Nevertheless I bought some t-shirt, jacket, and a nice black jeans which later I wear for the next 3 years.
It was on New Year eve and thing is getting interesting in Jakarta. The traffic surge like crazy towards evening and noise were everywhere. Pak Agah did warn us that it is not a good idea to go to the Tugu Monas as the traffic is mad and you wont be able to go back home on time afterwards. We really want to go there but we don’t want to trouble Pak Agah either so instead we spend the night at his house instead. We are tired from the train ride anyway but the sounds of the fireworks towards midnight makes for some interesting visual and sight.
As this is our last day at Indonesia, again there was nothing much to do as the traffic is getting busier but Pak Agah told me that it is so much better than usual. Apparently during holiday, most of the people will go back to their hometown and most of those who stay at Jakarta is only the local that are doing some odds job.
We did manage to visit the high-end area of Jakarta and Jebat got his Hardrock cafe t-shirt from Jakarta. It’s a stark contrast to the other part of Jakarta though.
Mid-semester break is definitely what every University student are looking forward to every semester. The 9 day of holiday away from tedious group assignment and laborious series of test and quizzes, mid-semester is truly a week of blessing to everyone especially for those who had been away from their family for a few months.
It’s the same for me although a week of holiday is probably better off spent by traveling around the peninsular side of Malaysia. It’s been like this since my Diploma years where the cost of my return flight ticket to my hometown is used to support my week long traveling to various places in peninsular Malaysia. Malacca and Kuala Lumpur is my favorite.
So when my mid-semester break is approaching, the thought of going somewhere interesting grew on me despite being drowned in the sea of endless assignment and project deadline. The list is endless (maybe not, as it’s capped off within a certain budget)
Go to Kuala Lumpur and spent time at Kinokuniya.
Go to Langkawi and spent days at the overprice hotel. But I thought it’s better to go there with friends.
Take a train Ride all the way to JB and then to Singapore before returning back to Penang on flight.(Good idea but didn’t have enough money)
Take a bus to the scenic route to Kelantan and Perlis through Kedah.
Maybe just stay in Penang and explore the area on bicycle.
I did a post on my facebook wall and a few friends notify me that they would be more than happy to meet up with me when I got to the places. So a long time friend that I got to know through our interest in photography had decided to bring me along to explore Kedah and Perlis. Last time I met him was years ago in Kuala Lumpur and it is great to have a true local to show me around the scenic view of Kedah. Surely this would turn out great.
Up until then, there was nothing solid being plan. All that I had decided is that it would be from Kedah and somehow afterward I gonna take the train to Ipoh and then Kuala Lumpur, all through the brand new KTM ETS train.
I bought the bus ticket a week earlier just so that I would not be disappointed for missing the bus ride as University students will be going back to their hometown by Bus and most of them are from Kedah and Penang, so go figure.
I woke up extra early than usual on that day while double checking my rucksack and camera bag, I also made sure that I bring some books to read along and it’s Haruki Murakami new book ‘Colourless’.
I took the morning bus to Alor Setar from Stesen Bas Sungai Nibong. Grab a quick Gardenia vanilla bun for breakfast before I went off across the Penang bridge and all the way to Alor Setar. Falling asleep was the easiest part when you only get a few hour of sleep before the trip.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed with the sight of newly refurbished bus station. The big steel structure consisting of a series of repetitive steel trusses covering the entire area which seems to be recently painted new. It was few hour past afternoon and after meeting up with Akmal at the bus station entrance, we decided to get some lunch before heading somewhere else.
Kedah has a spectacular scenery. I knew it from the words that my friends has told me, they say the paddy field seems endless over the horizon and it is true. A glistening green field with a patch of solid limestone hill along the foreground. Certainly I wish to visit it again, as well as exploring the shorelines.
That evening, Akmal decided to bring me to some random places around the area as well as showing me how the paddy field actually work. It seems the layout is determine by the paddy field owner and each has its own name or code given. Can’t remember the detail for the name but the Kampung address is based on it.
I have another reason to visit Kedah other than to actually visit the Paddy Field. There is someone that I have been wanting to meet for so long and that is Mr Jusni. He is one of the person that has inspire me to widen my perspective on the world and he has consistently share the beautiful landscape of Kedah through Flickr. Without him, I won’t be taking photograph using film camera, and thanks to him, I am a fan of Olympus OM camera.
Akmal used to stay around Mr Jusni area and they are quiet close. He call Mr Jusni for some short teh tarik session and finally I was able to have a chat with him face to face. As expected, he is a great guy with a lot of experience. We also share similar passion on cycling and he did brag that Kedah is a good place for cycling.
Afterward, we decided to go back to and get some rest. We are staying at Akmal parents home for the night before going to Perlis or Perak tomorow morning. The hospitality that I received throughout that night was beyond on what I would expect, wish I could repay their kindness in someway. They also keep a lot of cat with many different unique character as well.
On the next morning, we already prepared for our trip to Perlis. The journey will take long hour and basically we are trying to find a way to keep the journey fun and interesting. Akmal did share his story on his hiking trip to Japan with the Ricoh GR and also some tips on how to travel to Japan for cheap. We discuss a lot about bagpacking and stuff but I do wish to visit that part of Japan someday. We spent a lot of time inside the car that day, a total of perhaps 6-7 hours where we eventually decided to go to Ipoh instead.
After spending hours inside the car accompany by Queen Bohemian Rhapsody album throughout the day, we finally reach Ipoh after a rather heavy downpour. Since it was late and we dont want to waste any money to stay at the hotel for one night, we decided to sleep in the car instead. It was a bit damp due to the weather but we slept through the night anyway due to being exhausted.
We woke up rather early that morning, I believe it is partly because it was uncomfortable and Akmal need to do his morning prayer. To be honest it was enough but Akmal seems to be rather okay about it, as expected from someone who loves camping outdoor. Afterward, we visit University Teknologi Petronas which is just next to the oil station that we parked for the night. Akmal is an alumni of that place and it is nice of him to show me around the area. The university building is designed by Lord Norman Foster from UK and this a very exciting building to observe. We did take our breakfast at the cafeteria though and that place is rather huge.
After a good walk around the University, we decided to grab our lunch at Ipoh for some of the famous Nasi Ganja. But of course not without visiting some of the interesting place in between. I did told Akmal that I enjoy looking at old abandoned kampung house and he did exactly that, we drive along this kampung area and there is so many thing to look at.
After we check-in at the nearby hotel in Ipoh, we decided to take some rest to make up for the lack of sleep last night. Afterward that evening we decided to walk through the town area and its amazing on what a few years could do to the area. The ugly empty landscape in front of the KTM station has become a great public space while the path towards the clock tower has been reworked somehow.
We take our late lunch nearby and then decided to stay at KTM station for the night just to immerse ourselves with the nice cheerful vibes around the area. The surrounding area is rather happening with parents bringing their kids while some people renting out rollerblades and hoverboard. I spent RM15 just to try the hoverboard around the area, I look like a giant kid among kids.
The initial idea was Kedah – Perak – KL – Penang, I already told Akmal about it and basically he is cool with sending me all the way to Ipoh. We bought the ticket earlier and there is only one ride left which is at 5:30am, it sold out quicker because tomorrow is Deepavali and that is a public holiday. I wish I could take breakfast before proceeding my trip to KL and accompany Akmal a bit before his ride back to Kedah. After saying goodbye to Akmal, I walk myself to the train station from the hotel.
I didn’t stop by to any place afterward, I just informed a few of my friend that I will be in KL for a short while. I decided to go to my favorite bagpacker hostel just to make sure that there will have a room for me. Surprised to find out that they remodel the ground floor into a nice Cafe with proper expresso machine and stuff, I didn’t try it during my stay though so can’t say how good it is.
I got a message from Nick that afternoon that he will be at his favorite bar at the Pavillion, its nice to catch up with fellow ‘Street photographer’ to chat on geeky stuff about photography.
Contrary to what people thought about me, I don’t drink as much as they think. I do enjoy alcohol but not to the point that I will passed out for no reason, unless there is someone that will take care of me. Nick brought Daphne along with Scott and it was an entertaining chat that we are having that night. Not sure on what but it was fun.
Fun until I have to walk to my hotel slightly drunk, but if I could cycle back to my hotel dead drunk at Chiang Mai, I can do the same at Kuala Lumpur by walking.
I remember that Nick told me last night that he will accompany me for tomorrow morning, I wish I could woke up early but being the student that I am, the earliest that I could was 9:30am. Nick brought me to a decent nearby stall at Petaling Street before we hit the street with our camera and stuff. Chasing shadow and light.
After a wonderful stay at Kuala Lumpur, it was time to say goodbye. It was great to catch up with some of them but the next time I visit KL, I will try to catch up with some old friend as well. For now, I will be going to KL Central to catch the evening ride to Penang. My luggage is getting heavier thanks to the loots that I bought from Kinokuniya.
The ride to Penang I believe will take at least 6 hour instead the usual 9 hour before they upgrade the train into the ETS. Train ride nowadays has become so comfortable that you could actually just sleep on your seat which is more comfortable than taking the aeroplane. The toilet is cleaner as well but the train ride that I took stop to many times for my liking, maybe I should make it clear that it’s not a non-stop train ride.
I arrived at Butterworth around 11:20pm, almost midnight. It took us another 20 minutes walk from the train station and maybe another half an hour for the ferry. The thing that I worried now is my transport back to my dormitory. Rapid Penang stop working by 11:30pm and I arrived at Georgetown at 12:10am. Go figure.
As I mentioned earlier, going back to my University in the middle of the night is one of the problem that I didn’t expect to encounter. My phone is so outdated and it couldn’t even install UBER or GRABCAR apps. For once, I have to rely on Taxi eventhough I knew it would be very expensive as hell.
It cost me RM35 to go back to the university eventhough I share the same taxi with some nice aunties who is concern on my safety and also on my wallet. God bless them but fuck the overpriced taxi driver.
After arrived safely at my room, I took the time to clear my bag and then took a long shower before hitting the bed. Until next time.
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.
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 great and hungry Zhuang Wu Bin
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)
Zhuang Wu Bin (on the right) chatting with Shukur during lunchbreak.
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.
Paik Yin and Wu Bin is having a late discussion on photography project while I am stuck at the toilet developing my film negatives.
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.
Looking through Abd Salam project on the Japanese descendant in Tawau.
Wu Bin going through with everyone before letting them go to shoot for their project.
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.
Zhuang Wu Bin camera for most of his latest work on the Chinese Community in South East Asia.
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.
The developing set, thanks to Shukur and Ejump for the help.
Setting up the toilet to dry the film negatives.
Having my negatives scanned at ProArt. Mrs Kan checking through my negative before scanning.
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…)
Shio best camera pose.
Shio contact sheet from his latest project on understanding the Malaysian culture.
Wu Bin looking through all the contact sheet.
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.
Everyone preparing their answer and question base on my photo project
Mark Chai explaining his project to everyone.
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.
Happy Wu Bin.
The open house session.
Flanegan and Su Chung.
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.
Wu Bin in lecture mode.
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).
Bunk bed session with Paik Yin and Shio.
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.
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.
Impromptu group photo during the last day of workshop.
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.
Heated discussion in session.
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.
I brought about 10 different photobook that night.
Jebat even brought his copy of Kevin WY Lee recent work, Bay of Dream. Awesome project and print quality, as expected from the Invisible Photographer himself.
Someone is telling their experience from travelling to China recently while comparing it to Hajime Kimura works.
Flipping through Kosuke Okahara magazine.
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.
One of the most excited participant of the day.
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.”
Some people update their blog on weekly basis but I don’t really have such time to spend on writing. Some people would probably realize that my English grammar sucks in which I believe one of the reason on why I don’t like to update my blog as often as I would like. But nevertheless, this year prove to be another interesting year although I have a lot to catch up with my Architecture study.
To cut it short, recently I got myself a workshop grant from IPA (Invisible Photographer Asia) for one of their Street Photography Workshop at Kuala Lumpur. It was a workshop that was organize in conjunction with the closing of KLPA Winner exhibition at Galeri Petronas, KLCC.
It was my very first photography workshop and the entire 3 days of intensive photography workshop has given a huge impact on my photography journey. The whole workshop program was good for amateur (or advance) photographer and one of the thing that I was really looking forward to was meeting new people. Like most people, once you met someone that you have admire (celebrity or some sort) for a long time, you will lose your word even when you are facing them face to face. I am talking about world class photographer here, someone who have themselves established on international photography scene.
I met Ian Teh, Rony Zakaria, Andri Tambunan, Kevin WY Lee, Eiffel Chong, Ox Lee, Che Ahmad and many other photographer, who is mainly from Asian region. I want to ask a lot of question but I didn’t want to be a bother to them, knowing that most of them have probably more than 10 years in experience. I am an introvert by the way and sadly I couldn’t really apply my approach on street photography into a normal ice-breaking session.
The first day was great and somehow a bit overwhelming for me. I didn’t expect to be expose to a variety of new things such as a certain philosophy, ethic, issue and debate especially on street photography (and journalism). Some of the stuff that I was taught is nothing new for me but I never really apply it properly to my work. Kevin WY Lee has been very patient with me although I was hoping to learn more from him in the future.
The other great thing that I experience during the workshop is the fact that I manage to meet a few people that I have been following through online community such as Flickr and facebook. I met Nick Wade, a British who happen to work in Kuala Lumpur for the past few years and he is also a keen street photographer. Check out his work on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickwade/. Nick is one of the tallest guy in the workshop, so it’s easy to spot him.
The other great highlight is after the workshop session. They always hang out at a certain restaurant all the way until midnight. It was pretty obvious that all of them know each other quite well which make it more awkward for me to approach every photographer personally. I was lucky that Andri Tambunan was one of the friendliest and most approachable of the whole bunch, and like the other photographer that I met, I have also been following Andri work ever since his photography project was featured on IPA website last year.
He taught me a lot of stuff on editing and approaching a personal project while relating all the stuff that he explain to his project on the HIV Victims at Papua, Indonesia. (Which is awesome and he is making a limited run photobook as well).
Another thing that I am looking forward to is getting a comment or critique on my current work. I have a group of people back at my hometown who I can rely to for a critique but they will always be a bit biased on their review as they are very familiar with my work. I wanted to show my work to a group of professional people so I prepared a a few prints in a file holder.
And then they told me that it is better to show them in small prints of 4R or 5R as they can lay it out on a table while they could arrange it at will. It is also easier for them to pinpoint a certain picture as they can simply pick it up instead of flipping through the clear holder. Another new stuff that I learn and I will certainly keep that in mind in the future.
They give out a honest comment on my work which I truly appreciate plus they have somehow help me in finding my own true sense of photography style. I have show my work to at least 5 different photographer during the session and each one of them have different comment on my work. I have a list of their comment on my work which I have noted down after I got back to the hotel room, I will post it up in this blog someday.
After the end of the 3 days workshop, I learn a lot and by a lot I mean a LOT!!!. My head was constantly filled with thoughts and information in which I find it a bit hard to digest properly into my memory (even after the next few days). The workshop have provide me a boost of confidence on my capabilities as a photographer and it will certainly help me in becoming a better photographer in the next few years.
A few things that I learn which is worth mentioning is the fact that editing is an essential process for every photographer;
“If you cannot edit your own work, you basically are admitting that you are unsure of what you are doing as a photographer, because your vision, the story you want to tell, is not clear to you. Of course, editing is difficult; but it is a fundamental part of shooting, of storytelling, and you cannot responsibly disavow your obligation to perform this final stage of the act of creating imagery. It is, in a sense, the second decisive moment in the process.” – Jon Anderson (Andri keep on stressing this quote into my head.)
And this is the picture that was taken by me which is edited and sequenced by Ox Lee for the IPA KL Street Photography workshop. Surprisingly, he manage to sequence my picture into something interesting, something that I have never really thought was good in the first place. He select the similarity that was obvious from the whole file that I took for the workshop which is more on the ‘close-up’ and ‘Intimacy’. I receive a few comment (which I will keep it for myself) for the selected picture which I will improve in the future and I will certainly need to thanks Che’ Ahmad for all his advice and encouragement.
I really want to thank Invisible Photographer Asia for giving me the opportunity to learn with some of Asia finest photographer and hopefully I could meet up with you guys again in the future. But for now, I have to focus more on getting myself a proper website.