Malaysian photographer turns spotlight on old world traders and their stories

A photograph by Teo titled 'Rattan Furniture Maker'. Photo: Annice Teo Ann Lyn

Despite the pandemic and the movement control orders, this year has been an eventful one for self-taught photographer Annice Teo Ann Lyn.

She was part of a few photography exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur, including Bridging The Distance: Documenting National Responses To The Covid-19 Pandemic, HER. Perspective By Women Photographers Malaysia and a finalist in the Women Street Photographers Exhibition.

The Kuala Lumpur-born documentary and sports photographer also recently concluded her Faces Of The Heartlands (Heartlands) exhibition at the Zhongshan building (part of the KL20X20 project).

This ongoing series sees Teo (an architecture graduate from UCSI) turning the spotlight on proprietors of old skilled trades and crafts in KL and Selangor that may well not survive the next generation.

Teo started working on Heartlands in August last year, with 25 to date.

"Often times, we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. We tend to take the familiar right turn home or walk past shops during our weekly errands, unaware of our surroundings or what is in front of us. This collective documentation of environmental portraits explores the stories of a few urban business tenants and their resilience to change, surviving recessions,” says Teo, 28.

In these pandemic times, there are countless stories of such business owners suffering from losses and struggling to secure livelihood.

In her 'Faces Of The Heartlands' postcard project, Teo has also added information and addresses so that people can support these traders and vendors. Photo: Annice Teo Ann LynIn her 'Faces Of The Heartlands' postcard project, Teo has also added information and addresses so that people can support these traders and vendors. Photo: Annice Teo Ann Lyn

From June to August this year, Teo added on photographs to document these businesses during the movement control order.

Teo, a former national figure skater, weaves a deeply personal and poignant visual story in this photography series, which is also now available as a postcard series. From her 25 photographs, 15 have been handpicked for her postcard bundle.

“The idea for this project came about as I believe that everyone has a story to tell – to be heard, to be seen, to be acknowledged and to be understood.

“I wanted to share their life stories and continue to tell their stories as they are the vessels of our daily life and they matter, ” says Teo.

From traditional button shops and floral stands to confectionery shops and rattan furniture stores, Teo shows that there is soulful life and substance in our cities than just concrete buildings.

A work called 'Optometrist'. Photo: Annice Teo Ann Lyn. A work called 'Optometrist'. Photo: Annice Teo Ann Lyn.

Her focus is on individuals who operate these businesses rather than the shops themselves.

She mentions that she did not want Heartlands to be just another click and post on Instagram series. Her a postcard bundle is also informative.

“I wanted to do something interactive and engaging.”

Her postcards contain locations of the local businesses, and those who purchase the Heartlands bundle can visit these traders and vendors to support them.

Another big development for Teo this year was co-founding Women Photographers Malaysia (WPM) collective in April.

With 128 members to date, Teo hopes this platform will give women photographers in the country more opportunities to exhibit works, discuss issues and build a solid network base.

An image titled 'Cobbler' (2019). Photo: Annice Teo Ann LynAn image titled 'Cobbler' (2019). Photo: Annice Teo Ann Lyn

"We hope to develop an inclusive culture that increases gender equality and to ensure better support and empowerment of women photographers through visual storytelling, ” she explains.

Teo is currently planning a new exhibition for WPM, slated for year-end or early 2021.

She also intends to grow her Heartlands series to 100 portraits by 2022 by venturing to other states, including Sabah and Sarawak. There are plans for a Heartlands book.

"The proceeds garnered will help to fund for the Faces Of The Heartlands project as it is a long term project to aid the creative and research process and contribute to funding a book in 2022," she says.

Teo's previous photographic works have been used by international news agencies such as The Guardian, Forbes and The Washington Post.

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