THE people and places that make up the country’s rich tapestry are celebrated in a solo exhibition by Kenny Loh titled ‘Born In Malaysia: A Photographer’s Journey’.
Currently ongoing at China House in George Town, it features 36 images depicting individuals from all walks of life within their natural environments.
The show is an extension of Loh’s award-winning photo essay book of the same title which was published last year to commemorate Malaysia’s 50th Anniversary.
The book has sold over 5,000 copies thus far.
It was a labour of love by the commercial photographer who initially set out to document familiar sights from his youth in Ipoh, but grew into something bigger as more and more interesting subjects presented themselves.
The 52-year-old has been based in countries such as Hong Kong, China and Taiwan for nearly two decades, and upon returning to Malaysia in 2010, embarked on the three-year-long journey with his trusty cameras.
“When you’ve been away for so many years, coming back makes you feel like a stranger,” he said during the show’s opening ceremony recently.
“My fondest memories are of my dad driving the whole family around to different corners of the country, and I set out to re-trace those journeys.
“I met many interesting people, who were all strangers at first, but once you sit down and talk to them, they would open up with rich and insightful stories.
“As a professional photographer, you always think you can get a better shot, so I ended up returning to some places several times and my subjects became friends,” he revealed.
Loh planned his trips well, but also allowed himself the freedom to deviate. Whenever possible, he tried to be a guest in someone’s home, via homestay programmes, in order to get closer to his subjects.
Eschewing bulky studio lighting also allowed his subjects to feel more at ease, and he would casually photograph them as they chatted. In most cases, he left the setting as it was, not tidying anything.
And having been in an industry of staged and manufactured photographs for so long, the experience was a liberating one.
Over 100 pictures and 80 short stories would eventually make the book, which he believes in a comprehensive representation of the various people from different regions in Malaysia.
Many of the topics highlight traditional crafts and businesses, once the backbone of the local economy, that are slowly vanishing. Loh hopes they will spur some interest and appreciation, among the current generation.
“I look at the book as my little contribution to society, because Malaysia’s diversity is definitely something worth celebrating,” he noted, adding that it was something he had always wanted to do.
Loh’s 196-page softcover book is available at most major bookshops for RM64.90.
The ‘Born In Malaysia’ exhibition is a collaboration between China House and Artemis Art, and will be on until Nov 30.
It also includes a Penang Photo Contest with weekly prizes up for grabs.
To participate, one has to submit an image taken in Penang (the island or mainland) via private message at www.facebook.com/BornInMalaysia or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a short description.