Photojournalist snaps a glorious Malaysia in monochrome

  • Arts
  • Monday, 09 Oct 2017

A portrait shot of a Jahai family in front of their home in the Belum flooded forests in Perak. Photos: S.C. Shekar

There is a story behind each and every photograph that veteran photojournalist S.C. Shekar takes. But it is also what happens behind the scenes that gives deeper meaning to the images he captures on land and in the air.

What makes an impactful photo? To Shekar, it is a combination of good content and drama.

It is this inclination for drama that has him chasing after storms, the fruits of his labour evident in the beautiful cloud formations in many of his landscape shots.

“Most of my images have a strong link to weather patterns in the tropics. As opposed to the usual sunny blue skies you find featured in tourism brochures, I prefer to photograph our landscapes when there are beautiful cloud formations, especially prior to a thunderstorm. I actively chase after storms when I am in the air, must to the displeasure of my helicopter pilot!” shares Shekar, 55, in a recent interview.

A selection of these shots can be found in Grit And Grace: The Grandeur Of Monochrome Malaysia. This 330-page compilation of Malaysia’s landscapes and its people is Shekar’s newest book. Works by the former photojournalist with The Star has appeared in various exhibitions and documentary assignments, and have featured in close to 20 books.

SC Shekar
An aerial shot of George Town, Penang with Weld Quay in the foreground and Tanjung Bungah beach on the upper right.

Shekar’s latest photography project, which will certainly appeal to the Sebastiao Salgado and Steve McCurry fanbase, is something to behold.

His Grit And Grace book has more than 200 black and white images taken all over Malaysia, with 50 currently on display in an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Grit And Grace, the exhibition, comes directly after Shekar’s Noted show, which was a collaboration with writer Chen May Yee, and exhibited during the George Town Festival in August. It has been a busy past few months for the lensman and he is enjoying the momentum in publishing and exhibiting, and soon, touring – the Grit And Grace exhibition will tour the country next year.

The black and white photographs in Grit And Grace speak volumes about Shekar’s background and the message that he would like to convey.

SC Shekar
A channel next to Pulau Dayang Bunting, Langkawi, Kedah.

“I think it is my background as a photojournalist that has had an influence in my choice of expressing myself through this black and white medium. I find colour a distraction and an embellishment I do not need in my pictures,” he says.

“The other reason is that we sometimes need to be colour blind in order to see the truth for what it really is,” he adds.

SC Shekar
Children of various ethnic groups from a government boarding school on the banks of the lower Baram river in Sarawak bathe before dinner is served.

The book of the exhibition is an initiative supported by Khazanah Nasional to celebrate Malaysia’s journey and progress as a nation. All images were taken over a period of four years, with a few portraits from Shekar’s collection from a decade ago included.

“One reason for this project was to inculcate a love for the land among Malaysians. By presenting these landscape images in books and exhibitions, there is a good chance that those viewing it would be touched by the beauty and bounty of the land.

SC Shekar
Pantai Cahaya Bulan, Kelantan.

“My only hope is for everyone who looks at these images to feel a sense of pride for their country, and the need to love and protect this land they call home,” he says.

This project found its starting point in precisely such a sentiment, when Shekar was on a helicopter photographing aerial landscapes for a book titled Raising Land – The Way of Land & Life in Sarawak in 2013. Looking down from high up in the air, he was so deeply struck by the beauty of the land we live in that he felt compelled to share it.

SC Shekar
Retired ‘dulang’ (panning tray) washer of Gua Kelam, Kaki Bukit, Perlis.

“It however dawned on me that 99% of Malaysians would never have a chance of seeing the country from an elevated perspective, especially in the far reaches of rural Malaysia where there are no tall buildings to perch on, let alone the view from a helicopter. You could climb to the top of a mountain, but that would be difficult and might not be high enough a vantage point. So it was this burning desire to want to share these images of our country which resulted in this book and exhibition,” he explains.

Grit And Grace is not a helicopter ride, but it is the closest this photojournalist can get to sharing a slice of his world. And it is a gorgeous one.

The Grit And Grace: The Grandeur Of Monochrome Malaysia exhibition is on at No.2, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur (the old OCBC Bank building behind Central Market). The exhibition runs till Oct 31, from 10am-8pm daily. Admission is free. To buy the book, go to

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