Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof took this photograph of mak yong dancer Mak Nab Raja in 1975.
Tangkap Gambar wants us to look beyond the technical and mechanical aspects of a picture, and challenge our understanding and perception of photographs and photographers.
Photography, with its aesthetic consideration, can certainly be art. Purists in the field, however, might frown on today’s selfie generation and point-and-shoot culture. For most modern-day photography enthusiasts, the fear concerning expenditure, time and space needed to maintain a darkroom has been framed out. Photography is for everyone now. But to say that photography has moved away from technical craft, or doesn't require hours of training and hard work, is absurd.
Documenting this evolution and journey of photography and shutterbugs is the new exhibition called Tangkap Gambar: Sebuah Dokumentasi, by the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Visual Arts Organisation (Pertubuhan Pengkarya Seni Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor, or KSEVO). It features 20 works by five photographers, including one of Malaysia’s most distinguished scholars, Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof. The other photographers are Elias Yamani Ismail, Ady Ezwan Nordin, Halim Rahim and Associate Professor Hasnul Jamal Saidon.
Elias, KSEVO chairman and also the curator for Tangkap Gambar, says that the direction of the exhibition is "to take photography to another level". This is not solely on the technical aspects of photography, "but also one that challenges your understanding and perception of photography as an audience” he says.
This is important, Elias adds, because he believes people are afraid to talk about photography. “Because they associate it with the mechanical aspects,” he says, and so a change of perception is necessary. And that is KSEVO's mission: to engage the masses and make art – visual art in particular – accessible to them. “My personal view is that the role of the artist is becoming too exclusive,” says Elias.
Ady, who is experienced in traditional Malay art and heritage, adds that KSEVO, through its initiatives, will eventually move into other realms of art. The exhibits at Tangkap Gambar aren't entirely straightforward. They range from conventional to experimental, with actual objects in the photographs placed next to it. Pos Box 1 by Elias is his own take on the graffiti movement. He says he “disrupted the spaces with the post box” and other objects, like any other graffiti. “You won’t find a post box on cars or billboards,” he quips.
There's a flip side to this. Tailoring an exhibition to an intended end is crucial, Elias explains, more than just mounting artworks on the wall. A narrative that pricks the imagination and perception is necessary. The exhibition design is also crucial. “Everything is placed very fluidly and precisely. We were very calculative about it as we had to think about the audience's point of view. Like when a person turns left, what does he see, and when he walks straight, what does he see,” says Elias.
Though the public is free to roam the exhibition space, Tangkap Gambar is designed in chronological fashion. It begins with the works of Ghulam, whose black and white prints show Zainab Samad, one of the leading performers of mak yong from the 1950s. Taken in 1975 as part of his research, the photographs show Zainab – or Mak Nab Raja, as she's fondly known – as an elderly woman in full vigour and vitality. The manner in which he frames the image focuses our attention on her graceful and dextrous dance moves.
From film-based photography, the exhibition moves into the modern and the conceptual. Ady’s images of boats from a Kuala Selangor fishing village aren't hanged on the wall like other photographs. They're video projected onto a wall, so the images keep moving in a loop. Actual objects from the village are placed in the room to recreate the environment and atmosphere of the actual place.
“It is up to the audience to find a relation between these objects and the photographs and create their own story. I will not dictate how they should perceive the photos just because I had my own thought process behind it,” says Ady. As with the rest of Tangkap Gambar, the evolution of photography comes with the evolution of photographers.
Tangkap Gambar: Sebuah Dokumentasi" is at Galeri Shah Alam, Persiaran Tasik, Tasik Barat, Shah Alam until April 25. Open daily 9am–5pm. Free admission. For more details, click on http://goo.gl/tVtPg8 or call (03) 55105344 / 6045.