Hot Shots

22 December 2016

Malaysian photographers share the best photos they took in 2016.

Nadia J. Mahfix

Where was the photo taken?
Somewhere in Gua Musang, Kelantan back in February when I did a short residency with other visual artists for Projek Dialog.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
On that day, eight of us went for a visit to a Temiar village somewhere in the heart of Gua Musang. To get to the village, we had to ride a pick-up truck (not the kind of truck one tends to imagine but more of a beat-up version). So there we were – one person seated in front and seven people huddled together in the back.

The trip towards the village wasn't so bad but the trip back from the village was a very memorable one. We didn't think it was going to be really cold, but we had no choice but to brave it. Especially after having watched a supposed "exorcism" ritual by the Temiar people and going off road surrounded by darkness and nothing else. But, the view of the sky was totally something else – it was beautiful. We asked the driver to stop the truck so we can enjoy the view for a few minutes. Then, it happened. As we were stargazing, one of us mentioned, "You know what would be cool? If there is a shooting star." And what do you know – out of nowhere, a shooting star appeared! I managed to capture it on my camera. For that one minute there, we were in awe, realising we’re just a tiny speck in this vast universe.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
Because of that very moment before I captured it – you can say it was an epiphany. The shooting star reminds me not to stop in my search for answers. The signs are all out there; it's just a matter of whether we want to believe or not, as cliché as it sounds.

 

Kenny Loh

Where was the photo taken?
At a barbershop in a village called Kampung Valdor in Seberang Perai.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
The significance is the age of these two brothers who are barbers: Cheng Toh Ni who is 85 and the other, Mu Ming is 76. Toh Ni (extreme right) has been a barber for 65 years. He became a barber when the British rounded up all the Chinese and put them in villages in 1951. He didn’t know what else to do. His brother, Mu Ming, later became his apprentice.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
Because it captures the mood of the barbers – you can see him smiling away as he gets ready to cut the hair of the little boy. Everything is simple and beautiful down to the antique barber chairs. I will always remember this barbershop.

 

Chris Lim

Where was the photo taken?

This photo was taken at Furry Friends Farm in July 2016 while on assignment for Malaysia.my

Tell us the story behind the photo.
Furry Friends Farm is an animal sanctuary which rescues and rehomes abandoned animals from all across the country, housing just under 500 dogs and cats. This particular cat was extremely curious and coy, taking a while to warm up to the camera. It was an eye-opener to think that all the animals there were strays or abandoned, unwanted, and yet there was so much joy and life in them. I always love a good story and there were so many stories to be told at a place like Furry Friends Farm – from the wonderful people who run and work at the sanctuary selflessly, to the animals that have miraculously found a haven where they are cared for and given a better life. 

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
It’s always difficult to shoot animals, especially in this particular setting with 150 cats surrounding me, clambering for attention, while the dogs were barking incessantly at a stranger with a camera, with torrential rain hitting forcefully on the zinc roof. This cat decided that the best place to be was away from the crowd, perched high up to get a better look at all the commotion. I don’t consider myself a photographer but my job at The Spacemen and my freelance assignments do take me down many wonderful rabbit holes.

Of course, there are tons of photos from this year that were technically better, but the candidness of this photo, paired with the story behind it makes it my favourite of the year. I’ve always been told that a curious cat is a happy cat and I think at the end of the day, that’s what Furry Friends Farm is all about – bringing happiness to as many rescue animals as they possibly can. 

 

Mahen Bala

Where was the photo taken?
On a train in Sabah.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
I knew time was running out for these old coaches. The tracks belonging to the Sabah State Railway will soon be upgraded and the coaches replaced with newer units. This bodes well for the thousands who rely on the service every single day, but not so much for romantics who revel in all things old. I planted myself on the various trains that plied the Tg. Aru-Tenom route, desperate to photograph as much as I could, for posterity if not for myself.

A classroom of students boarded the train at Halogilat, on their way home. There was something exceedingly charming about them, a careless display of youth and a zest for life that is rarely seen on the other side of Malaysia. It was as if the concept of home extended well beyond the four walls of a house, and included the train and all the accompanying stations. I thought about the stories these kids would share in their old age, of the days when there was a train shuttling them from the kampung to literally the front gate of the school. The coaches were like books, with every page revealing something new, all of them different and yet they all spoke of the same thing. Different strokes on the same canvas, forming a portrait of Sabah. The real Sabah.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
It’s an honest photograph. All I’m interested in is capturing the true essence of the scene, without interference or gimmicks. This photo captures the atmosphere perfectly; you could almost hear the laughter of these kids, the silent stare of the woman seated at the back, the firm yet relenting grip of the man standing between the two coaches, and the sweltering afternoon sun oozing through the windows as the coach rattled its way to the next halt. 

 

Lillian Wee

Where was the photo taken?
The food court of Rifle Range Flats, Penang, during a photojournalism workshop I attended in collaboration with Think City.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
Dawn was about to break and already, residents meandered around the food court, indistinct chatter growing as the sun came up. The scent of roti canai, char kuey teow and variations of noodle soup wafted in the air, the clanging of pots and pans providing a soundtrack to the bustling atmosphere. In the ’70s, the Penang state government first thought of the Rifle Range Flats as one of the grandest, most modern housing plans of its time. As the first pre-cast concrete cluster in Penang, it represented a governmental desire to prosper economically by providing low-cost housing to the poor, inadvertently concealing the façade of poverty from the face of Malaysia’s national identity. However, as with most public housing schemes, Rifle Range Flats fell into its decrepit hole as time passed, with the lack of maintenance and an aging population. I was there to capture the lives enclosed in each flat, to get a sense of their despair, hope and an overarching sense of community, most visible in the food court itself.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
I love this photo because it captures the quiet intimacy of long-time friends having breakfast together. I think that encapsulates something very intrinsic in human desire, that in spite of poverty or age, or whatever life throws at us, we can all find consolation in friendship and food. That is what many will call home.

 

Nadirah Zakariya

Where was the photo taken?

In Kuala Lumpur last April 2016.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
This photograph is a part of a body of work called GIRLHOOD, which explores the wonders of the relationship between sisters and the strong bond that they share together. Images of daydreams, hopes, fears, secrets and the layers of emotions shared between sisters are depicted, honouring the magical ties between the female siblings.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
It’s tough to choose the best photograph because I consider each work I do a work in progress. However, I have been pursuing Wei Xuan (awake) and her sisters for the past year and a half to be able to finally photograph them. The relationship that we have forged is one of the best highlights of my year, thus making this photograph especially meaningful to me.


Al Ibrahim

Where was the photo taken?
A petrol station off the Plus Highway, somewhere between KL and Ipoh.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
We were about halfway into our journey when the gas light came up. Low fuel. According to the car's dashboard, we'd hit zero in 10km.
"Don't worry," my friend who was driving said, "we'd still have 7km in reserve after we hit zero".

That wasn't very reassuring.

I typed "gas station" into Waze, and the nearest one was 14km away. With the 10km in the tank and 7km in reserve, we should be fine, but just in case, we slowed down, switched off the AC and rolled down the windows. The car's bluetooth system doesn't run on gas, but we turned that off also. No Spotify. No music. We drove slowly, and in silence.

"What if the gas station is closed?" my friend asked, breaking the silence.

"Why would the gas station be closed?"

"I don't know, for renovations or something"

"I don't know," I said, "but it's better to be stranded at a gas station than on the side of the highway"

We got to the gas station with 6km still in the tank.

Why is it the best photo you've taken this year?
2016 has been a difficult year for me, creatively. I didn't produce much in terms of images (or videos), but after this particular trip, I felt reinvigorated.  It helped pull me out of my funk, so to speak. In a way, this is a picture of a trip that could've gone a lot differently. It's also a picture of a trip that went exceedingly well.


SC Shekar

Where was this photo taken?
Kilim Karst Geopark in Langkawi.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
This picture is part of my ongoing project to document our mangrove forests here in Malaysia. Often latched onto negative connotations of swamp and dirt, I wanted to show Malaysians the inherent beauty that belies these forests, before it was too late.

Why is it the best photo you’ve taken this year?
This picture reminds me that there’s so much more our country can offer, if we only look hard enough.

 

Wong Yok Teng

Where was this photo taken?
Blue Boy Mansion, Kuala Lumpur.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
Omar is a Myanmar-Muslim who has been in Kuala Lumpur for years. He goes through his bouts of drug addiction, having been in and out of jail for the past ten years. He’s stuck in a loop, he says, thinking that there isn’t a way out for him – a solution that could finally restore his life back again.

Why is it the best photo you’ve taken this year?
You can see it in his eyes that Omar has a lot of grief, but beyond that a glimpse of strength that I won’t be able to find anywhere else. This picture is honest, unpretentious and it tells a story of the different facets of life we may or may not see in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Teoh Eng Hooi

Where was this photo taken?
Kampung Inderasabah, Sabah.

Tell us the story behind the photo.
It’s a simple, blissful moment where kids, with their mind full of possibilities and imagination, built themselves a makeshift playground. There’s a sense of purity in what lies in this frame. In that moment, nothing troubled them. Kids just want to have fun.

Why is it the best photo you’ve taken this year?
It is genuine, and full of joy – a sight I rarely see nowadays.

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