Travel Spotlight – Ong Sue Yin the StreetPhotographer
I’m going to tell you a story about a dream I had about my good friend Sue Yin who is currently pursuing her passion in black & white film photography. It was so real that I felt as though I was there, standing, waving at her to get her attention. “I’m here Sue! I’m here!” Sue Yin was standing in front of her photo exhibition, dressed in her signature shorts and singlet, answering questions from the media while I look from a distance. I told her about this dream and she pursued it. A few weeks after, she told me that her photos were selected as part of the photography exhibition in Publika and will be there until mid June! For this months’ Travel Spotlight, she shares with us a story on capturing special moments in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
What Else Is There In The Streets of KL? (by Ong Sue Yin)
You know the street names. You know exactly how they look like. You know which stall or shop has the best food or coffee.
But there’s more to what you know or what you think you know about KL.
Now let’s take a step back and remove what you know. Well, that was what I did when I trudged the streets of KL (and still am). I knew I had to remove my judgement and pre-conceived notions of KL.
What was to me as a busy city with horrendous traffic during rush hour soon diminished when I pressed the shutter on my Leica M6 for the first time in the streets. KL must be experienced on foot. All you need is a topped up Touch ‘n Go card (for train and bus rides), a bottle of water, and a good pair of shoes. And of course, a camera and a few rolls of film (if you’re into film photography).
Slow down if you must when you’re on the streets. Never get swept away by the rat race. Because as I was observing the rhythm of KL, I knew instantly what I had missed. In the midst of the chaos, there were pockets of silence at every corner I turned.
Vendors at Petaling Street were busy setting up their stalls at 9.00am. And as I walked further down the street, I found a hidden coffee shop which serves the best wantan noodle soup in town. Just about 500 metres down the road, there were 2 temples – one Chinese the other Indian. I went in to both and paid my respect. Along the tiny lane adjacent to the Indian temple, there was an Indian family hanging around a motorcycle. The kids were smiley and they looked happy to see me (great photo moment for me there).
After a few kilometres of walk under the blaring sun, I realised that there must be more of this ‘other side’ of KL that we were all probably oblivious to. Then I thought to myself, as a Malaysian, I must get to know KL more than I should. Or more precisely, to get to know Malaysians better. And that was what I did! I went to the streets again in the following months and discovered queer and yet beautiful moments. Those moments fired up my passion towards film photography even more. I was soon obsessed with documenting tiny, fleeting moments. Not just in the streets but in my everyday life.
But I digress.
It’s not every day that you see a Malay guy who sells hijab and wears one himself to make a sale (he’s straight by the way). Or a brother and sister in their 50s-60s arguing at a small lane in Jalan Masjid India and they would strike a conversation with you when they are still in the middle of the argument. Or even a taxi driver who is obsessed with miniature toys and uses his taxi as a moving display cabinet while still ferrying his passengers around in the Pudu area.
There’s also an almost decrepit coffee shop that caters mostly to old men who play Chinese chess to while away the hours. One old man said he’s an RTM guy (Rehat Tunggu Mati guy). No, not the TV station. And if you were to sit in the coffee shop enjoying a good cup of kopi ‘o’ kaw while watching the old men strategising their gameplay, you’d hear sounds of mahjong tiles shuffling at the back.
These are just a fraction of ‘the other’ side of KL I discovered. I’m pretty sure there are more – raw and yet beautiful ones.
So forget about the commercialised side of KL you’re so familiar with and just think of its authenticity. Better yet, go experience it. And soon you’ll see the beauty of KL slowly unravelling itself. Because every corner and every moment is unique.
All I know is, each time when I put on my good pair of shoes, pack my camera and films in my bag, I’m absolutely, positively sure I’ll see a different KL from the last.
I’ll leave you with this quote by Elliott Erwitt. It explains perfectly why there’s more to KL than you’ll ever know.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Ong Sue Yin is an amateur street photog who dreams of travelling the world with a toothbrush, a passport, a film camera and loads of films. That’s about to happen when she no longer writes for advertising. Oh and she’s working on opening a film cafe to keep the romance of film photography alive. Her photos and stories can be seen at Snaps and Blabs www.ongsueyin.blogspot.com or on Twitter @segnic13.