Many may perceive film photography to be outdated in this digital world, where hundreds of shutters can be released in one photo shoot and images can be viewed right away on LCD screens. Who would want to take chances with a film camera – where one can only see the result after processing for hours in a dark room?
Despite – or perhaps because – of all this, film photography still has its charm. In Malaysia, although film photography is not widely practiced, there are a few groups of people who still believe in the beauty of film photography. And The Print Room is one of the very few places where this form image mastery is being cultivated, practiced, exhibited and appreciated.
On 17 May, The Print Room held a street photography walkabout for its students where they covered the areas around the glitzy and populated Bukit Bintang. As this was supposed to be a walkabout that lasted for two days continuously, it was named ’48’ for the hours spent to capture the life on the street with film.
I visited The Print Room to listen to the students share about their involvement in film photography and their experience and discovery about the Bukit Bintang area through 48.
Mohd Razlan Yusof
“During the day, the area was very peaceful and quiet. Most of the food stalls were closed and though there were still some people around, the place seemed like a ghost town as you walk past. But when the night falls, the crowd begins to swell – streaming in to have dinner there and the place becomes very lively. I plan to show the portraits of the people found in Bukit Bintang. Some of the people are friendly, while some are evasive, and some even requested for money for their photos taken.”
“The most memorable moment during 48, was when it rained at one point. There was a puddle of water at a traffic light which splashes at the pedestrian each time a car drove on it. Most people were upset and scolded the driver, but I managed to capture a person on film who laughed instead. Every hour is different, ranging from different light settings, different crowd, and different environment. The area is always evolving so go there with an open mind.”
“48 required us to produce a body of work in a limited time; hence it pushes us to come up with something. The shots that I have, takes away the attention on the main street and focuses instead on perceiving Bukit Bintang from an outsider’s point of view. I have not walked along the inner roads of Bukit Bintang as thoroughly as I did during 48 and most of the things I saw were quite new to me. The most striking character of the area to me was that there were still a lot of older but local people living in the quieter streets of Bukit Bintang. There is a small coffee shop in the residential area which was patronised by these people, who know each other and perhaps is a basic breakfast routine each morning for them. It is a very different from my first impression of Bukit Bintang.”
“When I was at 48, I entered without a theme in mind – therefore I shoot anything and everything. But when I look back at the photos at the end of the day, there will be a prevailing theme somehow that just jive together. However, I am rather inclined to document the elements in Bukit Bintang that are contrasting from one another, such as the glitzy shopping malls at Bukit Bintang, against the back alleys of Jalan Alor that are less polished.”
“Bukit Bintang has always been a tourist spot for me; it is where people go for their drinks and a place popular for weekend hangouts. But I never saw it as a place where people actually do live there. So it was interesting to see how they live, what they leave behind or what they live with. There seems to be a ‘post-apocalyptic’ feel to the deserted back alleys which suited my theme, which is mainly on lines, reflections and textures. The change of perspective that I get from 48 was a good experience for me.”
Walking around Bukit Bintang for two days straight, Jess discovered the stark contrasts that define Bukit Bintang, one of which that stood out as a place for high fashion retail with branded and expensive outlets, while hiding behind the small dodgy streets where the masseurs, prostitutes, foreign labors and local small time business owners are operating. The interesting part for her was that through 48, she began to develop a sense of empathy towards those groups of people, and even spent some time talking to some of them – of which she concluded, “Everyone has a story to their background”.
“Albeit the 48 was quite tiring, it was good as it made me see another side to Bukit Bintang, and I start to know the people and their faces; and all the different places as well. And because my photography focuses on the quiet places at the quiet moments, the thing that I love is that I can stand there and observe very quietly the things that are happening, the people that are carrying their day to day lives. And because I saw it from morning, until noon, and then at night; I get to see the place when it was really busy and then the quiet times which are totally different from one another.”
Paul Gadd (Director of The Print Room)
Paul came to Asia from the UK about 11 years ago; he has been a commercial photographer in Kuala Lumpur. A few years ago, his friend (who is now his partner of The Print Room) approached him about how film photography is dying in Malaysia and that the appreciation for such form of art is severely lacking – hence the need to reintroduce film photography before it becomes a thing of yesterday.
“The 48 was meant to give the students of Print Room an experience of how it is like to be on actual photo assignments, where often photographers only get their sleep after the shoot is completed. In 48, I am interested in the diversity in the people at Bukit Bintang, not just the culture but the whole group of people who ended up at Bukit Bintang – and I don’t think it is by choice but somewhat like a magnet, they just end up in this place.
“During the day, you’ll find some of them sleeping in the same spot where they will be lying drunk later on at night. People like the prostitutes, drug addicts, foreign immigrants, and mentally ill people – some of whom are rather nice people.
“Before 48, the group of people I met were quite friendly and I made friends with during my earlier project in Bukit Bintang. It is very sad to listen to their stories; some of them cannot even get out of Malaysia while some stories just seemed so surreal.”
“I also went to The Ship and met with someone in charge of the show were the transsexuals were getting ready for their show and asked for permission to take a few photographs of them. It just goes to show that there is a mish-mash of everyone, and it begs the question of how these people live in this area and how they ended up there.”
About The Print Room
Formed about two years ago, The Print Room started with an aspiration to build awareness and enhance the appreciation for classical fine art photography in particular. The emphasis is on imparting their knowledge of traditional manual film camera, film processing and photography printing in the dark room through the private classes that they offer. The Print Room occasionally hosts art exhibitions at their premise in Petaling Jaya, so do find out more about The Print Room, their classes and other events here.
“48” opens on 6 July at 7.30pm and will run until 18 August 2013 at The Print Room.