For many people, travelling has become a race to cram as many famous or historical places into an itinerary as possible. Eager to see as much of a country as they can, most tourists hop by an attraction for just enough time to take a few photographs, or capture an Instagram story, and then immediately rush to the next one, barely taking any time to be in the moment.
Local photographer Amani Azlin is not a fan of this speedy form of sightseeing. Instead, she prefers the idea of “slow travel”, where she can take her time when exploring a new place to deeper understand its essence, or reveal hidden sides of it.
“I see it as literally going slower when you’re on a trip or travelling, and being open to things that could happen around you. To be more willing to allow yourself to develop intimate connections with a location and its people. If you’re always in a rush, you’re limiting yourself to fewer things you might see and hear,” Amani said during an interview in Bangsar South in Kuala Lumpur.
“When you’re slow travelling, many more opportunities arise for you to claim a space as yours. It’s allowing yourself to craft an emotional connection. Of course, this does mean having to take a longer time at almost each place you visit,” she added with a laugh.
While Amani enjoys capturing fascinating travel images, she’s probably most known for her fashion portfolio. The talented young photographer from KL is a multi-disciplinary visual artist who’s made a name for herself with her striking, minimalist images. You’ve probably seen her work with prominent local fashion brands such as Nelissa Hilman, Ana Abu and SHALS. Her photographs have been featured on the covers of several L’Officiel Magazine Malaysia issues, and in 2021, her photo of designer Datuk Jimmy Choo was published in the Wall Street Journal.
While travel and fashion photography may seem worlds apart, Amani believes that succeeding in either requires a keen eye for observation.
“The goal for both these styles of photography is the same, to share a story. However, with fashion photography I am usually the messenger in the middle between the client and their own mission with their brand, whether it is commercial or editorial.
“There is a lot more control and communication involved for fashion, where I lead a crew to help execute an ideal vision, (and not just) working with a muse or model,” Amani explained.
“For travel photography, I see it as something more personal where you get to choose and curate your own story out of a place or location. It’s between you and your inner self.”
Journey of discovery
The eloquent Amani revealed she first discovered her slow travel style during an early work assignment, after a client flew her to Japan for a three-day shoot.
“I walked in, they told me what they wanted, and then it was a lot of shoot then move, shoot then move. When I came back, and when people asked me how the trip had been, I realised that although I had enjoyed it, there was very little of (the experience) that I could hold personal to me. From then on, I decided to adopt a slower form of travel,” Amani said.
While Amani excels at capturing images of distant lands, her start in photography came close to home. When she was in her late teens, the budding shutterbug would frequently “borrow” her dad’s digital camera to take photos of everything in her house, from flower arrangements to family members.
“I became obsessed with documenting and begged for a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera from my parents. My first ‘real’ camera was the Nikon D60 and it became so natural to me to want to continue taking photos and attempt to frame every bit of my day-to-day. Photography was like an extension of my memory, a bonding attempt to render real life experiences to be timeless,” Amani reminisced.
Amani’s works are now featured in UNSEEN/SINGAPORE, a virtual photo exhibition organised by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in collaboration with National Geographic CreativeWorks. The exhibition invited six photographers from all over South-East Asia to venture beyond Singapore’s most famous travel attractions, to capture images of lesser-known but equally captivating sights of the city. These include the Sim Kwong Ho shophouses, Pulau Ubin, the Jurong Lake Gardens, and the Changi Chapel and Museum.
Amani is not only the sole Malaysian photographer, but also the only female in UNSEEN/SINGAPORE. The others are Tino Renato (Indonesia), Rockkhound (Thailand), Pham Gia Tung (Vietnam), Gab Mejia (Philippines) and Jayaprakash Bojan (Singapore).
Amani’s images are a celebration of beauty and whimsy in the mundane: One features an avian collector hanging a cage at a row of sky-high poles at the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, while another is an astoundingly fit senior citizen at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West flexing his muscles for the camera.
“I hope that the people who look at my photos are inspired to discover their own version of Singapore. Yes, even if they have visited the country before. If you look at the images (in the exhibition), they are completely different from every other photographer. You may not relate to all of our work, or you may only relate to one of us. But I hope you can find bits and pieces of the exhibition which you can make yours.
“Find your language, find the things that make sense to you. Find bits of home,” Amani said.
A good way to capture unexpected moments of beauty, Amani said, was to simply sit and observe a place, without any preconceived notions. “You shouldn’t set too many goals or expectations. I got my start with street photography, and I’ve been on walks where you are told, ‘oh today we are going to take photos of people’, or something like that. But when you’re only focused on what you want, you’re not open to the unexpected,” she said.
“When going to a new location, it helps to be mindful of your surroundings. You can’t predict what you are going to get. And if you do miss a moment, just let it go. Don’t hold on to things for too long. The point of travelling is to experience new things.”
Amani is currently working on a video project and is pretty excited aout it. Apparently, it involves a union of two extremely different styles of music which, in her own words, made her feel “really tingly just talking about it”. And of course, with many international travel restrictions finally clearing up this year, she hopes to see more travelling on the horizon.
“I think one of the most exciting bits about travelling is that, no matter where you go, where you visit, there are always commonalities you can find, things that remind us we are all the same. We all share the same human experience, just in different languages,” mused Amani.
The UNSEEN/SINGAPORE virtual exhibition can be viewed at www.nationalgeographic.com/unseensingapore.