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Published: Saturday June 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday June 2, 2013 MYT 4:53:36 PM

Zooming in on Bukit Bintang

Razlan Yusof snapped this shot of residents lounging at the balcony of their flat in Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur.

Razlan Yusof snapped this shot of residents lounging at the balcony of their flat in Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur.

THE Bukit Bintang area in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle is known for many things, including shopping, food and even nightspots such as those in Changkat Bukit Bintang.

However, a group of photography students from The Print Room in Petaling Jaya recently left the bright lights behind and went off the beaten track for an assignment called “48”.

The students, accompanied by The Print Room director and photographer Paul Gadd, scoured the back alleys and dark stairwells of the area to hone their film photography skills in the project where they had two days and two nights to document the lives and colours of Bukit Bintang.

The biggest challenge for some of the eight students was staying awake through the night and dealing with only a few hours of sleep.

Briton Keirsten Clark chose to focus on the nightlife along Jalan Alor and in the back alleys.

“The nicest bit for me was shooting using film in the wee hours of the rainy morning in Jalan Alor. There were nice reflections on the water puddles and I got some good pictures of the traders packing up,” said Clark, who works in a media agency by day.

In the back alleys, Clark, who hails from London, focused on capturing the empty spaces and the businesses that go on around it, which she found mysterious.

“I have an obsession with chairs and stools, especially ones that have been left in disarray. It signifies there were some activities and then the people dispersed for some reason,” she said.

On the first night, when it rained heavily, Clark said she had to seek shelter in a stairwell where she took a picture of the space that had a bicycle stowed away in the background.

One of the challenges she faced was dealing with unfriendly people.

“But it was interesting to see how Bukit Bintang comes alive at an ungodly hour. Also, copious amounts of coffee helped me to stay awake,” she said.

She was on her own the first night but then she later buddied with another photographer just to be safe.

They all bunked in a hotel room in Bukit Bintang so they could get in a few hours sleep along the way.

Why did Gadd choose Bukit Bintang as the venue for this assignment?

“It is one of the only places in Kuala Lumpur that has a diverse mix of people and is alive 24 hours.

“I wanted it to be a challenge for them where they had to follow the brief and stick to a deadline to produce a good photo essay,” he said.

He described Bukit Bintang as an area of contrast and diversity.

“On one end, you have the posh facades of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Starhill Gallery and then you come to a crossroads with dark back alleys and areas that people prefer not to think about.”

Since the 1980s, Bukit Bintang has undergone a transformation to become one of the hippest destinations in the city.

Jalan Bukit Bintang, in particular, will undergo a major transformation once the construction of the Bukit Bintang MRT station is under way.

It will also see an influx of people and businesses and the urban landscape and its surroundings will experience a make-over that will see many of its ageing buildings forced to take on a more modern look to remain in business.

Corporate finance executive Linda Chin was more cautious and avoided exploring the dark alleys, as she wasn’t that familiar with this part of Bukit Bintang.

“I focused on Jalan Alor, the markets along Jalan Imbi and outside Starhill Gallery. Because I was on my own most of the time, I preferred to stick to the busy areas,” she said.

The biggest eye opener for her during the project was when she realised there were so many foreign workers in Bukit Bintang, especially along the stretch heading to Jalan Pudu.

“I felt like a foreigner in my own country. This was a new side of Bukit Bintang to me.”

She said a friend had advised her to bring along pepper spray during the outing.

“I didn’t bother... I just avoided the seedier areas,” she said.

As this was her first photo shoot, Chin said it was enjoyable because she was with a group who shared a similar interest.

Jessica Saw, 27, said she had participated because she felt that film photography had more soul than digital.

“For ‘48’, I focused on candid portraits of people,” said Saw.

Some of the challenges she faced were coming across camera-shy people.

“You cannot expect everyone on the street to want to be photographed. I used up seven rolls of film but only 25 pictures were good enough to print,” said Saw, who works as a payroll officer by day.

Marketing executive Alia Zulasmin, 28, on the other hand, said portraits were not her forte. She prefers to capture cityscapes and textures like grilles and doors as well as abstract subjects.

“It is hard to compose a photograph when one is sleep-deprived,” she said, “but it was fun on this assignment because I got to see how people lived and raised their children in the old houses of Bukit Bintang.”

Having experienced going on a photoshoot by herself around Bukit Bintang in the past, she said she was less worried this time because there was group participation.

“Most of us set out alone to photograph, but we stayed close by to look out for each other. I don’t frequent Bukit Bintang much because I live in Cheras and the traffic jam is terrible,” said Saw.

After hearing of crimes in the area, Saw said she took precautions by carrying only the essentials and left her belongings in the hotel room where they were putting up for the weekend.

She opined that Kuala Lumpur is not a cold city because there were friendly people on the street who took a genuine interest in what she was doing.

“There was a construction worker near the MRT project site who sincerely advised me to be careful and be mindful of my surroundings.”

The most interesting part of the project for her was seeing the diverse group of people converging in Bukit Bintang.

“You have the glitzy and posh on one side and the seedy areas on the other. A big contrast,” she added.

Aside from busy areas like Jalan Alor and Changkat Bukit Bintang, the obscure residential pockets along Jalan Mesui, for example, were unfamiliar territory for Alia.

She still went out on her own despite not knowing what she would encounter.

“I wasn’t worried until I came across a few intoxicated party-goers who were arguing among themselves on the first night I was out. To be safer, I went out in a group of three the next night,” she said.

Alia did feel apprehensive about carrying her camera equipment, fearing that she might get mugged.

“I was robbed once in Uptown Damansara so I was cautious of my surroundings this time.

“When I was scouring the backlanes for photo opportunities, some people actually thought I was a reporter or a sanitation department worker,” she added.

It is not all that seedy in Bukit Bintang, according to Alia, because there were passers-by who were friendly and courteous.

The best photographs from the “48” project will be exhibited at The Print Room in Lorong 16/9E, Petaling Jaya, from July 6 for one-and-a-half months.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Community, News, 48, Bukit Bintang, film photography, Paul Gadd

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