Smile, what's the use in crying?

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 21 Dec 2013

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile / If you just smile.

IN an age of discontentment, when everyone seems to have something to complain about, one person has chosen to highlight the good that he sees in life.

Singapore-based Malaysian portrait photographer John Cheong is holding a month-long exhibition entitled Senyum Sajalah (Just Smile) at the Camera Museum in George Town based on the notion that by choosing to smile, we begin our journey with a positive attitude, and thus “ flatten the hills in our paths and smooth the roads we ride over”.

Cheong, who hails from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, studied graphic design, and went on to design and brand communications before changing his career path in 2000. He has since moved on to management development, professional coaching, green-technology consulting and, recently, added photography to his portfolio.

The art event came about after he had chronicled the journey of Malaysian architect Clifford Tan’s son from womb to birth with stills and time-lapse photography. Also based in Singapore, Tan is one of the founding partners behind The Camera Museum and the Owl Museum on Penang Hill. He asked whether Cheong would be interested in exhibiting his work.

Cheong jumped at the opportunity to create “a counterpoint to the pervasiveness of negativity in our world today”.

“What if someone told you that things could be better tomorrow? Or that your problems could seem smaller and more manageable? That you could simply choose to be happier?

Senyum Sajalah has a number of components. The first comprises dozens of pictures of smiling Malaysians and visitors to Malaysia whom I had met, and the stories behind those smiles. These were taken over a period of six months when I was travelling around the country,” explains Cheong, 48.

Presented in an editorial fashion, this first section offers an inspiring read and a pictorial feast. Some of the stories featured come in the form of short snippets of conversations, while others are in longer prose. They are funny, eye-opening and some, moving encounters, all of which leave you with the trace of a smile on your face.

The exhibition is not all one-way – it also has a growing collection of visitor contributions. Dubbed “Smilistas”, visitors get to add their own smiles and stories too, using Fujifilm’s Instax cameras and prints. Over 80 contributions were collected in the first two weeks of the event.

These will be reviewed by a panel at the end of this month and the ones that make the panellists smile the most will win prizes such as Fujfilm Instax Mini 7 cameras, special edition coasters, mugs and postcards from George Town World Heritage Inc.

The third component involves personal interaction with the photographer himself, who is stationed at the museum.

“It is this aspect that makes Senyum Sajalah a little different. How many creative people have you met who have a clear intent, an open objective, of changing you? And then present themselves before you, engage with you, and absorb your own ideas about happiness and positivity?” says Cheong.

If you visit when he’s prowling about, expect a smile and a conversation that might end up on the walls of the next Senyum Sajalah event, or on a webpage at the Senyum Sajalah Tumblr and Facebook. He intends to release an e-book with all the contents of the exhibition, including life-long updates.

“This event isn’t about ignoring those times in our lives when smiling seems especially difficult. Sadness, in effect, is not the absence of happiness. Instead, it is sometimes a companion of the other,” he says.

Senyum Sajalah is not just a set of pretty pictures, a technical show. It’s not about F-stops, shutter speeds or camera lenses, but an emotional journey – what makes people special, having chosen to smile and be positive, sometimes in the face of adversity,” Cheong concludes.

Senyum Sajalah is currently on at The Camera Museum in George Town (No. 49, Lebuh Muntri) till the end of this month. For more details, check out and or contact John Cheong at

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Across the site