Malaysian doctor is a finalist in London's Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize


  • People
  • Wednesday, 23 Aug 2023

Dr Byron's documentary photography project 'Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita' has been selected as a finalist in London's 2023 Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize award. Photos: Dr Byron Mohammad Hamzah

Nottingham, Britain-based Dr Byron Mohammad Hamzah's documentary photography project Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita (All That Is Left Is Us) has been selected as a finalist in the 2023 Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize award, one of the biggest international documentary portrait prizes organised by London's National Portrait Gallery.

"The announcement was made yesterday (Aug 21), and it feels great to be an exhibitor at the National Portrait Gallery at St Martin's Place in London.

"There were 1,785 photography submissions received worldwide, and 51 finalists were chosen for the final exhibition. The winner will be announced in November, and I feel honoured to be among the finalists," said Kuala Lumpur-born Dr Byron, 40, in an email interview recently.

His works will be exhibited alongside renowned Moroccan contemporary artist Hassan Hajjaj.

Dr Byron's Malaysian-based documentary photography work of his mother has been selected for the final exhibition in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize this year at the National Portrait Gallery, London.Dr Byron's Malaysian-based documentary photography work of his mother has been selected for the final exhibition in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize this year at the National Portrait Gallery, London.Last year, the medical practitioner with Britain's National Health Service came up with two documentary photography projects – Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita and Salam Malaya (Hello Malaya) – which were driven by his desire to explore the depths of familial bonds and reconnect with his homeland respectively.

"When the pandemic happened, I could not see my family in Malaysia for almost three years. I remember when the pandemic entered the third year, I started to get depressed, missing everyone, particularly my nephews.

"However, during the long period apart, it allowed me to re-evaluate my relationship not just with my family, but also with my identity and home country. That inspired me to come up with the photography projects when I was back in Malaysia for a short holiday last year," said Dr Byron, who has been living in Britain for over 20 years, having earned his medical degree from University of Cardiff, Wales.

'It’s also great that I get to represent Malaysia, my culture and my home at the world stage,' says Dr Byron.'It’s also great that I get to represent Malaysia, my culture and my home at the world stage,' says Dr Byron.Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita is Dr Byron's narrative on his immediate family, comprising his mother, Farah Abdullah, 75, older sister Hildah Hamzah, 44, and nephews, Adam Omar, 14, and Imran Omar, 11, who are based in KL.

The project delves into their relationships and their connection to the world around them.

"I wanted the narrative of this project to be simple: my family," explained Dr Byron, who shares photos from both projects on his Instagram.

In 2020, the avid photographer was selected as one of the winners of the British Journal of Photography's Portrait of Britain 2020 photography competition.

Dr Byron's photo of Rehan, a healthcare worker in Britain during the height of the pandemic, earned him a prize in the British Journal of Photography's 'Portrait of Britain 2020' competition.Dr Byron's photo of Rehan, a healthcare worker in Britain during the height of the pandemic, earned him a prize in the British Journal of Photography's 'Portrait of Britain 2020' competition.His photo portrays a British healthcare worker celebrating resilience during the pandemic. For Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita, he adopted a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, capturing unguarded moments and authentic emotions.

"Initially, my portraits of my family members veered towards a more formal and staged approach as I wanted to create a sense of severity and restrain. I wanted to see how they responded to being photographed and conducted themselves in front of the camera.

"Being photographed is an act that exposes one's vulnerability and it can be intrusive, but the way they have accommodated and responded to the experience was truly touching," said the former student of KL's Victoria Institution who has been involved in photography for seven years.

Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita features many photos of his mother in her towering role in his life and the trials she endured to raise her children.

"When it came to my mother, I was particularly keen to examine her relationship with her faith as a Muslim convert and how it has become such an integral aspect of her life after my father's demise. I was also intrigued to explore her relationship with my nephews and her grandchildren.

For 'Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita', Dr Byron adopted a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, capturing unguarded moments and authentic emotions.For 'Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita', Dr Byron adopted a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, capturing unguarded moments and authentic emotions."The experience was particularly interesting with my mother; she hates having photos taken of herself and there are hardly any recent formal photos of her. For her to allow herself to be depicted in a rather honest and vulnerable manner was a side I never thought I'd see."

Dr Byron predominantly uses medium format vintage film cameras for his documentary and street portrait photographs.

Next month, he will also start his Masters in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at the University of the Arts in London. He intends to exhibit photos from Yang Tinggal Hanya Kita as part of his final exhibition project.

Dr Byron's nephews, Adam (top) and Imran (bottom) are featured in his documentary photography project.Dr Byron's nephews, Adam (top) and Imran (bottom) are featured in his documentary photography project."I want to be more introspective as I believe different aspects can still be covered and explored. I was also thinking of incorporating film montages and old photos as part of this project; hence this would be a new medium for me to experiment on.

"As my projects have been predominantly based in Malaysia, I am also currently considering starting another project in Britain that is still along the lines of the Malaysian diaspora in this part of the world," said Dr Byron, who is a fan of American documentary photojournalists Dorothea Lange and Steve McCurry (Afghan Girl), and Chinese photographer Lu Guang.

Salam Malaya is an ongoing project which Dr Byron started during his last trip to Malaysia. For this, he intends to travel across the country to photograph Malaysians he meets along the way. So far, he has explored five states – Penang, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu and Pahang.

"This adventure has led me to stay in random villages as a base to explore Malaysia and meet various local people to photograph. The premise of this project is to explore parts of Malaysia I have not visited before and have taken for granted. The pandemic not only made me reassess my relationship with my family, but also made me re-examine the connection I have with my home country."

'Salam Malaya' is an on-going project where Dr Byron intends to travel across the country to photograph Malaysians he meets along the way.'Salam Malaya' is an on-going project where Dr Byron intends to travel across the country to photograph Malaysians he meets along the way.He's made a pact with himself to explore different Malaysian states during his next trip home.

"When you have been living away in a foreign country for so long, the string that links you to your past becomes fragile over time to the point that you risk losing your sense of identity. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am still an immigrant in a foreign land. Even when I return to Malaysia to see my family, I would insulate myself within the comfort of my family home in Kuala Lumpur and rarely venture beyond."

So far, he's received positive feedback on his projects, especially from the Asian immigrant community in the West.

"They seem to relate to the complex experience immigrants have with their family that they have left behind in their home country and how the distance and choices they have made affect their identity and psyche.

"I remember a person based in Singapore once told me that she understood and was able to relate to the story I am trying to convey behind the photos and the photos themselves just made it more relevant. It really made her view her mother and family in a more nuanced way. This really meant a lot to me," he shared on a concluding note.


Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In People

Malaysian deaf artist promotes heritage buildings through art
Sabahan mural artist draws from jungle upbringing for inspiration
Of tradition and ambition: Elizabeth Marini on Chinese New Year and 2024 goals
Volunteer divers protect Oman’s coral reefs by removing damaging fishing nets
Groovy Malaysian deejay finds joy crafting hats in Langkawi
Meet the Cameroon immigrant, father of 5 who graduated from UT Dallas
We Rise Together: An economic recovery effort aiding Black and Latinx communities
Black-led nonprofit to take over a longtime community hub to benefit the people
How fasting, tai chi and a rooftop garden help this art restorer excel
Seeking protection for India's sewage cleaners

Others Also Read