The challenge: to take a piece of KL’s history, explore it and interpret it through photographs. Pudu Market was the ideal setting, a true piece of historical KL, a centre of trades passed down from generation to generation, father to son and grandmother to granddaughter. Over four months, we returned again and again, wielding antiquated film cameras. Traipsing through blood and guts, dodging flying fish scales and feathers, we tried to capture what the market meant to us.
Pudu Market is one of the largest and oldest wet markets in KL: a trading ground of Indian, Chinese and Malay vendors. There are the usual spices, meat and vegetables on sale. But if you spend enough time poking around the market’s nooks and crannies, you will also come across old fashioned barber shops, flower sellers, betting stalls, pet shops and the odd place to rest your weary feet and makan as the light comes up.
As we woke with the dawn chorus, we found children playing surrounded by death and butchery; workers busy from the early hours; others sleeping, undisturbed amidst the noise and chaos on makeshift beds. We found traditions and cultures mixing in a backdrop of laughter and slaughter. But most significantly, we found community and family, captured in a place that seemed to stand still against time and modern development. As our faces became known around the market, we would be greeted with friendly smiles from some of the traders. Their faces in turn became those of people with lives, families and histories of their own.
Each week I returned to my favourite spot: a medicine stall run by a Chinese family, who would point and smile as I took pictures of their wares. One day, I arrived with the intention of taking photos of the dusty pots and jars along the shelves – only to find that the family had anticipated my return, and had cleaned all the jars in preparation. All the settled dust shrouding the mysterious bottles was gone. Now they stood neatly in their rows, gleaming with pride.
For me, the early hours of the morning remained the most captivating time of the market. I found ghosts and shadows in sleepy corners and narrow alleys. After hours of shooting, we would return to the dark room, swapping the stench of rotting vegetables for the smell of developing chemicals. Every photo was developed by hand, with painstaking test strips to get the exposure right. We emerged from the dark room with the blurry eyes of moles. We shot, we developed and we processed, and over the months that passed, we spent more hours in the darkroom than was good for our sanity.
Every photo we produced for this exhibition meant something very special to us. Customers come and go, buying and leaving, but the one thing that remains constant to Pudu Market is the community, its people. We finish the project with images of this community both in our mind and on the paper we have displayed. These are pictures of a place that will now always be more than a market to us.
Photo: Linda Chin
For more details of the exhibition at The Print Room, see our event listing here.