Reviving Memory: Being Malay

by shz

12th March 2007

These are excerpts from my first photo project, ‘Being Malay’.
Exposures on Kodak Tri-X and Ilford Deltas.

Ahh.. Wet prints. One of my favourite series. I had just got back from a month holiday in Malaysia and went straight to the darkroom. There’s nothing quite like making your own prints. Almost cutting your finger in the total darkness, shrinking skin dipped in chemicals, the savings for fibre based papers, squinting your eye studying contact sheets.. Beat the scanning, the Photoshop-ing or the machine printings. I hope I still remember how to do it if its destined that I were to set my foot in the darkroom again.

When I first published this, a friend of mine Amran, wrote to me this (and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing an excerpt of his private email to me):

I think it’d be wonderful to depict Malays as being just like any other races. We love, we hurt, we have our own vices etc. The photos will have Malay subjects of course, but rather than narrowing it down to a specific situations, perhaps a more universal approach would have mass appeal. My idea is like saying, hey, being Malay is just like being any other races, infinitely human with our own uniqueness. We adapt, we evolve, we succeed.

In the end, ‘being Malay’ is being human. And that notion transcends all forms of racial or ethnicity divisions, skin colours and beliefs.

I wrote back to him:

Assalamualaikum Amran

Sorry it took awhile to write back to you. I got back from Morocco and I went on straight on my new job. And now I’m writing to you on my lunch break!

Well, on the photo project, nothing really. It’s just that I try to work every photographs I do now in projects, so that it’ll keep me in focus. I wish I had a longer stay in Malaysia to take more photographs, but hey, maybe I can continue on being Malay here in the UK?

There’s nothing ‘rocket science’ about the message I’m trying to deliver. I want to photograph the essence of being Malay such as what does it means being a Malay? How do we look like in general, the color of our skin, our face feature, our sizes etc – that’s physically speaking. Then I move to the environment, what does our traditional shelters look like, our surroundings etc. Then maybe our clothes, and why it is like that due to our climate? Then finally activities. Obviously we have things that only Malay people do, it’ll then relate to our religion etc. You know, general stuffs..

Your suggestion is really powerful and definitely something I will take note on. Your idea is great, really. Maybe in future I can develop a photo essay about social issues of being Malay, our dilemmas and all. There are just so much questions about defining your own self – I just hope I can find the answers from this ongoing project. It might take years you know… Hehehe.

Years indeed. And still searching..