Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lat at Bangsar Shopping Centre

Visiting Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur today I noticed an exhibition displaying cartoons by the famous cartoonist Mohammad Nor Khalid or Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid - more commonly know as Lat. Lat is a very well known cartoonist in Malaysia with many of his cartoons appearing in the editorial pages of the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times.
Lat was born 5th March 1951 in Kota Baru, Perak, not to be confused with Kota Bharu the capital of Kelantan. He had a wonderful talent for drawing as a child and drew excellent comics. At the age of 9, his gifted talent began to yield his family income. His first real book was Tiga Sekawan, a story about three friends who banded together to catch robbers. The book was published in his sixth year at Jalan Pasir Puteh Primary School in Ipoh. His publisher paid him 25 Ringgit for his service. By 1968, Lat was earning 100 Ringgit a month from his work.
He later moved to Kuala Lumpur to become a cartoonist. Lat was offered a position to join the New Straits Times as a crime reporter but later on became a cartoonist. He started with an editorial comic strip called 'Scenes of Malaysia', then was known for the comic strip published weekly called 'Keluarga SiMamat".His first book Kampung Boy, an autobiography of his life was published in 1979 and sold thousands of copies within three months. Kampung Boy was published in France by a French publisher. An American edition of Kampung Boy was published by First Second Books in August 2006. This was the first of his books to be published in the United States. His second American release, Town Boy, is scheduled for release in October 2007. His cartoons reflect his view about Malaysian life and the world. Another famous Lat comic book is 'Mat Som', a story of a young teenager's discovery of the new world of capitalism. It shows illustrations of insight view in Kuala Lumpur city.
His cartoons have been published in several cartoon books in Malaysia and he is famous throughout the country. Lat's latest book is Dr Who?!, dedicated to Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia and his wife Dr Siti Hasmah.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lost City of Angkor

One of the problems facing a photographer is how to display your work. Websites, video slideshows and large framed prints are good but I guess the most traditional way of presenting your photo story is in the form of a book. This has been on my list for some time now and at last I have completed my first photo book, now currently at the printers for final production.

During my time in Cambodia, when I did the project on the orphans of Siem Reap as part of the Gary Knight/Philip Blenkinsop VII Photo Agency Workshop, I had the opportunity of course to visit many of the wonderful Angkor complex temples around Siem Reap. As a photo subject they are awesome but when you dig deeper there is a fascinating story going way back to the 9th century when these temples were built as part of a highly complex and extensive city .... the city of Angkor.

My book focuses on some of these temples and briefly describes the background of Angkor and the ultimate demise of this sophisticated society.

I have some ideas for further photo books so watch this space for more news.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Diplomats, Rabbis, Imams and PMs

It's really amazing where photography can lead you. 

First Assignment
From a contact made via a photographer's web site I was registered with I was contacted out of the blue in October 2008 by The National newspaper of UAE to  do a photo shoot of a US diplomat, Cynthia Schneider, visiting Kuala Lumpur to attend a conference. The newspaper needed a portrait photo of to go along with an article they were preparing. My first reaction was to politely refuse as I had never done any assignment work for a newspaper before but wait a minute .... this was a Sunday, I had nothing else on, so what the heck I thought, let's give this a whirl and see what experience I can gain. I had to call this lady who had just arrived in Kuala Lumpur from the Middle East and eventually got through to her mobile phone just as she stepped off the plane. Her schedule was tight so I had a 15-20 minute slot to shoot her in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. As she drove into town from the airport I grabbed my camera gear and drove downtown to meet her. I was thinking of a nice outdoor shot with perhaps the Petronas Towers as a backdrop and some good natural light ... but this was not to be. A typical torrential downpour resulted in an inside shoot in the hotel lobby. It was a rush job so I posed her in a couple of locations in the lobby and shot off around 50 images some with flash and a number taken with natural light.

I then rushed quickly home downloaded the images onto my MacPro and processed them quickly using my efficient Aperture workflow. The newspaper needed the top select images, annotated and keyworded, uploaded to their FTP site by early evening,  Within an hour I had the images processed, rated, annotated,  keyworded and uploaded to their site. The article was published a fews days later in The National newspaper and I must say it was extremely satisfying to see the finished chosen image in print.

Islamic Womens Conference
In July 2009 I was again contacted out of the blue from The National newspaper's photo editor who needed photo coverage at the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) Conference in Kuala Lumpur. They had a reporter in KL covering this so I met with her and shot photos of her interviewees and general coverage of the conference which was attended by around 200 women from many different countries.

My photos were used in the next day's edition of the National with 4 shots chosen from the some 300 shots I had taken during the conference.

Imam to PM
During the WISE conference I also did some portrait shots of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of Cordoba Initiative. He is the founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA Society) and Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in New York City, twelve blocks from Ground Zero. As it happened he was a personal friend of Abdullah Badawi, the ex Prime Minister of Malaysia, and he arranged for the newspaper reporter I was working with to do a private interview with him. Of course they needed supporting photos so I was invited to cover this. Well what an opportunity!

We had the pleasure of meeting with Abdullah Badawi at his residence in Putra Jaya and after the interview and photo session we were delighted to have dinner with him and his wife Jeanne. After dinner it was a rush back home around midnight to process the photos and upload them to the newspaper FTP site. The article on Imam Feisal and ex-PM Abdullah Badawi was published the following day using two of my key shots.

So this just goes to show that a simple photo assignment can lead to some very interesting and varied  opportunities you would not normally have. What intrigues me about photography are the diverse locations and situations you can get involved with and this without doubt opens up the opportunity to gain some excellent photographic experience as well as sometimes having dinner in social circles you would not normally be in. In future I would certainly jump on any photographic opportunity .... you never know where you might end up.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Kuala Selangor

Kuala Selangor is a town in Selangor State on the west coast of Malaysia. Literally, Kuala means rivermouth in the Malay language, and thus this is a small town where the Selangor River (Sungai Selangor) meets the sea. It was the old royal capital of Selangor prior to moving to Klang, and finally to Kuala Lumpur. This small town was conquered by the Dutch when they invaded Selangor in 1784. It is located well off the normal tourism route and hence, still maintains its traditional "kampung" (village) atmosphere.

Taman Alam Kuala Selangor (Kuala Selangor Nature Park) is a forest reserve with an area of 2.4 square kilometres just outside town on the estuary of the Sungai Selangor river. It is known for its mangrove swamps, variety of birds and also the famous firefly park in Kuala Selangor which allows visitors to go in a boat along the river to see the fireflies.

Kuala Selangor is also known famously for the wonderful fresh seafood. Seafood restaurants are located in a small fishing town called Pasir Penambang after the bridge spanning the Selangor River. The seafood restaurants in Pasir Penambang serves halal seafood. Located within Pasir Penambang, there is a small seafood market where villagers as well as tourists come to buy seafood which are freshly caught by the fishermen who berth at the nearby pier.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Balinese Dance

In Bali there are various categories of dance; barong, pendet, baris, topeng legong, and kecak including epic performances such as the Mahabharat and Ramayana.These Balinese dances portray stories from Hindu epics but with heavy Balinese influence.

Legong Kraton

In legends, Legong is the heavenly dance of divine nymphs. Of all classical Balinese dances, it remains the quintessence of femininity and grace. Girls from the age of five aspire to be selected to represent the community as Legong dancers.
Connoisseurs hold the dance in highest esteem and spend hours discussing the merits of various Legong groups. The most popular of Legongs is the Legong Kraton, Legong of the palace. Formerly, the dance was patronized by local rajas and held in e puri, residence of the royal family of the village. Dancers were recruited from the aptest and prettiest children. Today, the trained dancers are still very young; a girl of fourteen approaches the age of retirement as a Legong performer.
The highly stylized Legong Kraton enacts a drama of a most purified and abstract kind. The story is performed by three dancers: the condong, a female attendant of the court, and two identically dressed legongs (dancers),who adopt the roles of royal persons. Originally, a storyteller sat with the orchestra and chanted the narrative, but even this has been refined away in many Legongs. Only the suggestive themes of the magnificent gamelan gong (the full Balinese orchestra) and the minds of the audience conjure up imaginary changes of scene in the underlying play of Legong Kraton.
The story derives from the history of East Java in the 12th and 13th centuries: when on a journey the King of Lasem finds the maiden Rangkesari lost in the forest. He takes her home and locks her in a house of stone. Rangkesari's brother, the Prince of Daha, learns of her captivity and threatens war unless she is set free.

The story of the great Hindu epic, Ramayana,  greatly inspires the Balinese and their version differs from the Indian version. Many of their dances are based on this great story which is often depicted in a ballet. The full story is massive, and told only in episodes.

The most popular episode tells the story of Prince Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Laksmana. They are banished from their kingdom and wandering through the forest. One day, while hunting for deer, they are tricked by the evil Rawana, who kidnaps Sita. With the help of the mythical Garuda, and Hanuman - a white monkey general, Prince Rama eventually saves his wife.

Everyone in Bali loves this story, and even at tourist shows, there are sure to be Balinese in attendance.