© Amir Shariff
Where are we from?
Where are we now?
Where are we heading?
A Changing City
As photographers, we have an inherent duty to document and archive our changing cities, especially the city we live or have been raised in. A city like Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, a developing nation in South East Asia, has seen significant changes over the last two and a half decades.
‘KL’ as it is often referred to by the population and visitors alike, began as a sleepy outpost set up by a Malay Chief and Chinese prospectors in tin, to mine the rich ore in the surrounding areas. The ‘muddy confluence’, Kuala Lumpur was thus established in around 1857 and today, some 150 years later it is one of Asia’s most prominent and dynamic cities. The iconic skyline peaked by the twin Petronas Towers is now firmly regarded as a symbol of prosperity, reaching new heights in economic growth, cultural and international identity that is, modern Malaysia.
And yet, when one is looking at KL with a spyglass, as a place where people gather from the rural areas in search of job opportunities, immigrants finding new horizons, locals jostling within this cultural hot pot, - there are often stories or narratives missed or overlooked - away from the glitter and glamour of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre and the Golden Triangle - which is just as integral to the social weave and development of the city.
The city-scape is a fabric, not unlike real material, weaved in and out with many levels of complexity that encompasses infrastructure, roadways, buildings, transportation hubs, retail and offices, and most importantly, housing and it’s inhabitants. Kuala Lumpur-Ga or KL-Ga, is an exciting new initiative, working in collaboration and as an extension, with Tokyo-Ga (www.tokyo-ga.org).
This new initiative will attempt to document and archive the urban narratives of the city, a living and breathing behemoth that is growing ever larger by the years.
Kuala Lumpur Scapes
In 2000, I personally published ‘Outside Looking In - Kuala Lumpur’ - a book with 71 black and white images of the city, mainly taken in the surrounding streets and alleys of Chinatown and the heritage areas. Looking back at this from 2016, a period just under two decades, changes to the city are already too evident. For better or worse.
For inspiration, I often look at the writings of Berenice Abbott, one of the greatest and more intellectual of American photographers. She returned from Paris having worked closely with Man Ray, and embarked on a major project photographing New York City in the late 1930s, her seminal work Changing New York became an important archive for the city comprising over 2000 of her photographs.
“Just living in a place is not enough. You can live in a community and not understand it. Just looking at it won’t do. I almost believe we don’t see anything until we understand it. Look into the history of the area – why it started, how it developed. The more research you can do the place, the more you may realize that you don’t know it as well as you thought you did. Let the subject speak for itself. Be true to the subject. Pretty pictures are only an escape from the subject. Don’t photograph a good-looking branch just because it looks nice; the branch should mean something about the community. Photography
is statement; it has to tell us things about a place.” - Berenice Abbott
I wrote in my Introduction then -
“KL today is in transition, undergoing massive refurbishment and improvement of its road and transport networks, and when completed, would bring the city firmly into the 21st century.”... “I sensed I had to record some moments which may also be in various stages of disappearing forever and some more contemporary.”
With this and Ms. Abbot’s message in mind, KL-Ga will allow photographers who live and work in the city to express themselves freely with their keen eyes and lenses, a portrait of Kuala Lumpur that is a truthful and candid representation, unrestricted and personal.
The responsibility of documenting Kuala Lumpur can no longer rest with one or even a few photographers. Initially, 30 specially selected photographers will form the core group of KL-Ga photographers who will share their personal visions of Kuala Lumpur through their photography - with the view to inform, document and archive the daily activities, glimpses & glances, surreptitious moments, concepts and human experiences that make up the ‘material’ of this vibrant city, in all it’s positivity.
The multifaceted nature of photography with its different genres and disciplines is what KL-Ga will bring together to today’s fast-paced image-led socially aware audience. We also cherish short photo-stories and artistic representations to broaden the experience economy.
Steven V-L Lee
A City in Transition
Kuala Lumpur, seen as the heart of Malaysia is a city in transition. A bustling capital that tells the tale of development successes and failures. It is a melting pot of cultures which offers something for everyone.
The magical mayhem of this fast paced city with its weaving train lines, traffic and tall buildings is also a place where a myriad of people interact in multiple languages and every street corner greets you with an array of local delicacies. But the city’s development plans have failed to preserve its heritage, slowly tearing away its rich history in exchange for a common foreign modernity. Soon the city will be unrecognisable, as it quickly segregates the old and new, the haves and the havenots.
That is why the KL-Ga is extremely important in recording today’s history so that its essence and stories are captured in as true a form as possible. History is important. The telling of history is powerful and the people who record it play a crucial role in providing different perspectives and narratives.
Likewise, the photographs compiled for the KL-Ga not only have the power to go beyond what is written but provides rich layers to the stories being told and by extension creates an archive of the untold truths of this nation.
Natalie Shobana Ambrose
Natalie sings the Negara-Ku with pride and believes in a Malaysia for everyone. She has a regular
column 'On Pointe' in the Sun Daily.