I felt compelled to rediscover the land of my birth. This journey of discovery would take me across the length and breadth of Malaysia. Trips to visit places I knew as a boy would be lled with apprehension…would it be as I remembered? Would it even be there? – Kenny Loh
Although looking for all intents and purposes like your typical colourful photographic journal, Born in Malaysia: A Photographer’s Journeyis, for the most part, in a league of its own. It’s more than just a collection of photographs and stories – it’s a highly personal sojourn into the inmost thoughts of a true-blue Malaysian, reflected in familiar surroundings and places and viewed through heartfelt eyes. From another perspective, Born in Malaysia can also be likened to a time capsule. As Kenny Loh (the photographer) recalls, my memories are of growing up in a small town [Ipoh] filled with pre-war architecture, wide open spaces and most vividly of all, the engaging characters. The things which he remembers with fondness are the same things which warm the hearts of those born during more ‘halcyon times’. Although self-described as a ‘commercial photographer’, his photographs take you to places and introduce you to people usually sidelined or neglected by guided tours and indiscriminate camera-packing tourists.
He divides the book into five compass points which make up the country – central, north, south, east, and East Malaysia. After reading through the book however, you realize that the only guide Kenny truly uses, most of the time, is the compass of the heart, instinctively directing him to destinations like a near-forgotten photo studio from the 40s in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown; an old-fashioned printer; the one and only Sinhalese bar in the country; a defunct Indian barbershop; assorted family run businesses and ‘junk’ shops; a Chinese opera artiste; a heritage conservationist, amongst others. A nice touch is the inclusion of a small tribute to caregivers and volunteer workers entitled appropriately, Compassion in action.
The insentient march of progress exacts a heavy price – giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Kenny notes with a hint of bittersweetness: I assumed they would always be around for future generations to appreciate. I could not have been more wrong. Most of these people and places from the landscape of my childhood have vanished. For the most part, this process of extinction is taking place without any fanfare. Unless time travel were somehow possible, it is safe to assume that one can never return to the past, be it a real or an idealized one. But like a familiar scent triggering forgotten childhood memories, this book brings you pretty close to the next best thing! Born in Malaysia also served as the leitmotif for a unity-themed exhibition in Kuala Lumpur and Penang in 2014.
Born in Malaysia: A Photographer’s Journey was edited by Tan Joo Lee and designed by Allie Hill. The book is currently in its second edition and plans are afoot to produce Malay and Chinese editions. Kenny also manages a similarly titled website.
The book is now available from Areca Books at RM64.90 per copy.