Thursday, 25 October 2007

MALAYSIANS : Official Launch and Exhibition

Dear friends, the official launch of MALAYSIANS took place on Tuesday 23rd October at The Bijan Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, officiated by Her Royal Highness Raja Puan Besar of Perak, Tuanku Zara Salim. Despite the forecast of rain, it stayed dry and we had a successful event.

A 5-piece gamelan orchestra played soothing sounds in the background, whilst guests browsed and chatted amongst themselves.

Rachel, the subject of our 'cover' was hounded by the press photographers too, posing with the mock-cover of the book which was unveiled from a 'ketupat' casing by Tuanku Zara earlier.

All in all, we had about 100 guests including the media crew. Thanks to Selena of The Bijan for presenting the venue so well and producing a superb canapes menu. The honey calamansi juice was a treat!

I would sincerely like to thank all our guests, family and friends who came along to lend their support, and hope that you will enjoy the book as much as we have in producing it.

We have set up a small exhibition of photographs from the book, at the the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 24th to 28th (Sunday) October on Level 3, and Haliza and I will be present to meet visitors and sign books also. Margy my wife is helping out in manning the stand, bless her. Hope to see you there!

Friday, 19 October 2007

The long wait is over!

I am happy to announce that MALAYSIANS is finally bound and printed and will be available at MPH stores, Borders and Kinokuniya from early next week. Overseas orders can be placed directly from the this link priced at RM149 or equivalent, plus postage and packing.There will be an official book launch event on the 23rd October plus an exhibition of selected portraits at KL Convention Centre from 24th - 28th October from 11 - 4 pm daily.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.4

Goodbye Tokyo, Hello Kitty!
I am posting this in Narita Airport, at the free Yahoo Cafe. I have no photos to post as I am using the cafe's terminals (Window's based). No coffee served but only PC stations overlooking the control tower of the airport. I got here in good time from Shibuya by the Airport Limousine coach service, which took slightly over an hour. Pickup was handled efficiently at the Cerulean Tower Hotel at 0810 am and arrived at the airport a little past 1000.
Yesterday, I visited the Tokyo Museum of Photography at Ebisu Gardens, a bit disappointed with the displays, but I managed to chat to a couple of Sisters of Mercy nuns promoting books and items from Mother Theresa's charity cause at the center. I then ventured on to Ginza and will post some pictures later.
On the way back on the subway, I heard some English words muttered in a Singaporean accent from a woman chatting next to me and asked if she was Singaporean, so I guessed right. (Hi Danielle and Shinji!) If you are a non-native speaker here in Japan, English words are unfiltered from your consciousness, and goes straight into your head. My ears are thus 'tuned in' to the English frequency all the time. My head was spinning a bit before, having spent a good hour in the loud-blaring, audio visual assault-filled BIC Camera store in Ginza. 7 floors of the latest high-tech plasma TVs, cameras, video and everything electric you can think of. Computers, PDAs, phones you name it its here or not invented yet. Oops, got to go, my gate beckons....

Monday, 15 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.3

Today, I decided to venture out further than my area of Shibuya. Although Shibuya has everything to offer a visitor, departmental stores, food, shopping, sights, and people, 2 stops away on the JR rail network took me north to Shinjuku, one of the most vibrant spots in Tokyo day or night. Lost In Translation, the movie was filmed primarily in both these areas.

I passed by Hachiko Square again, so I took a snap (for you Luz) of the Akita.

The ride to Shinjuku costs 150 yen (about £0.70) and takes a few minutes. It is purportedly the world's busiest railway station, combining 4 separate stations serving several main lines in, out and around Tokyo, plus the Narita Airport express train. Above the main station are shopping malls, foodcourts and offices. Its a monster to most of us but the Japanese thrive on railway stations, everything centres around stations, they rely on this (very) efficient and relatively cheap form of transportation to get to work.

For you Hello Kitty fans out there, here's a photo of a Hello Kitty stall in the station, selling Hello Kitty cakes and merchandise!

I walked and walked and walked all over Shinjuku today, visiting Isetan and the Takeshimaya stores and I gathered the Japanese love designer goods. Its really quite astounding to see so many well dressed locals. The only other city I can compare to Tokyo where the locals really dress well is Paris. I feel that the French and the Japanese are really quite simple, in their love for food, fashion and style.

I am slowly getting the hang of using the train now in my second day. Figuring out the route still takes a bit of time as there are so many stations and lines. A lot of people fall asleep on the subway, perhaps its the long hours they put in or they live a long distance away.

I am so glad that my hotel has free broadband connection so that I can update this blog daily. I hope to visit some museums tomorrow as most are closed today, a Monday.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.2


I left Sagamihara this morning headed for Tokyo, with my assigned interpreter Ken Nakanishi, who was very kind to be my 'guide' for the day, which, being Sunday means no work for him. Kenji Mukasa from the City Hall surprised us by seeing us off at the Hashimoto Station in Sagamihara. It was a bit of a moment then, as we had been communicating early on back in June with his first email, but as he spoke no English, it was Ken who was responding for Kenji in his emails to me. Strange situation, but then came good, and now I am departing Sagamihara, not having really had the opportunity to speak directly with him. I feel really grateful to him.

The train ride to Tokyo Shibuya Station where I will be staying took around 50 minutes only, and this is not the Shinkansen, or bullet train. Its a normal commuter fare. Shibuya, however is another world. The station is a huge complex combining the subway, rail,a bus station and shopping and retail all in one. Its high-tech and crawling with trendy Tokyo-ites.

Its also on the doorstep to Shinjuku, one stop away, which, apparently is has the world's largest railway station, department stores like Takeshimaya, Isetan and Tokyu Hands.

Shibuya, however, has Hachiko Square, a little memorial to Hachiko, a dog whose endearing story goes like this. This faithful Akita dog waited everyday for his master's return from work for 7 years at the same spot after his master had died.

Shibuya also has the famous street junction crossroad where hundreds of people gather on 4 sides of the intersection and cross at the same time. You have probably seen this in travel documentaries, ads and movies like Fast and Furious. Its a real sight. We went up to the Starbucks on one side of the intersection and watch from a cool first floor vantage point, whilst sipping green tea frappucino. Yes, green tea.

Friday, 12 October 2007


The weathergirl on NHK television says its fine for the weekend, so its fine. The temperature is still pleasant, around 22 - 24C during the day, and 18C at night. At least there is no rain forecast. Yesterday, Otsuka took me to the venue of the exhibition, and there was a team of personnel there setting up, measuring and banging nails into the panels. The gallery is quite large and they have sectioned off about 25 m for 20 of my framed pictures. They are also showing Hiroshi Watanabe's brilliant collection of portraits from an Ecuadorian mental hospital titled 'I See Angels Everyday'. Hiroshi lives in LA, and is the Grand Prize Winner.

This photo below shows Mitsuhiro Otsuka (L) (who represents the Civic Engagement Promotion Dept) who collected me from the airport and Kenji Mukasa from the Cultural and International Relations Division, who contacted me orginally.

I am to give a short 1 minute speech at the reception and award ceremony tomorrow when the City Mayor, Toshio Kayama will be present. Yikes! I'm not one for speeches, preferring pictures instead of words, but I think I'll get by. At least I am promised an interpreter. More later....

Japan in Widescreen Pt.1

This is my first ever trip to Japan and although I wanted to blog about reason I am here, I cannot leave out the senses and taste in particular, when I am surrounded by new experiences, sights, sounds and smells. One thing's for sure, the Japanese are extremely polite and helpful. Now, there's something we Malaysians can learn from, especially in departmental stores. Do you know they have recycling bins in shopping centres, and airports, and the Japanese love vending machines, and the streets are spotlessly clean. I also love it when chauffeurs and taxis drives wear white gloves, its so formal and...nice. Now, why can't KL taxis, stop it..that would be a sight for sore eyes..

Its also a very contrasting country, like this photograph :

and this, I grabbed this (below) near the Hashimoto Railway Station in Sagamihara City, so practical to ferry school kids around in converted shopping trolleys. Now, why can't London, nevermind.

Now, I really like Japanese food. I am spoilt for choice here. Every corner, there's a sushi bar, or noodle house, and its actually quite cheap, compared to the UK. £2:00 to £5:00 buys you a bento box lunch or tempura set. Even 7 Eleven's sell bento sets and sushi, so one won't go hungry here.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


As promised, I said earlier that I will blog about my trip to Japan to receive an Award by the Photo City Sagamihara organising committee. Well, I arrived in Narita Airport yesterday evening after a smooth flight. Everything here works! Its as simple and functional as that. My luggage was already on the carousel only 10 minutes after landing. That's an impossibility for Heathrow, or KLIA for that matter.

I was greeted by Otsuka Mitsuhiro from the Cultural & International Relations Division of the Sagamihara City Hall, who spoke good English, and his white-gloved limo driver, whose name I did not get. The highways are smooth, and fast, the streets are clean and orderly. Sagamihara City which I learned is twinned with Toronto, is about 40 kms south-west of Tokyo with a population of about 700,000. Today, I am helping the organisers hang my 20 framed photographs from the Outside Looking In book, at the City Hall for the public exhibition which begins on Saturday and ends on the 29th October.

A bit about the award. Photo City Sagamihara or PCS started as a cultural project to create awareness in photography amongst amateurs and professionals in the local area and abroad in 2001. Each year since 2002 the PCS commitee awards a Grand Prix Asia Prize to an Asia photographer, and Malaysia was the nation they selected from for 2007. Past winners came from Thailand, Vietnam,Taiwan, Korea and China.

Last evening at 10.23 pm (Japan time) Malaysia sent their first astronaut into space from Baikonur in the form of Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. Congratulations Dr Shukor, another Malaysia Boleh! achievement. I desperately wanted to watch the live telecast but the blast-off wasn't covered here on Japanese TV. I searched in vain also for internet webcasts from Malaysian TV station websites but again drew a blank. I guess in years to come, when people ask where I was on this very special day, I can say I was tucked away in a neat little hotel in the suburbs of Tokyo watching Japanese gameshows on TV. Sigh..

More later....

Friday, 5 October 2007

Friedlander in Palma

Photo : la caixa, espana

I spent 6 days of what's left of the British Summer in Palma, Majorca last week and I encountered even wetter climate than in Malaysia, 4 out of the 6 days were wash-outs, with persistent dark skies, light flooding, even the car park at the Carrefour by Palma airport was temporary flooded. Shopping trolley carts were stuck and shoppers had to roll-up their trousers to wade across 5 inches of rainwater to access their cars.

The good days were indeed brilliant, with temperatures hovering 22C as can been seen in the above photo of Plaza Mayor the focal point of this cathedral city.

Luck has it that there was a Lee Friedlander retrospective exhibition in town, and quickly found the venue, CAIXA FORUM , a spectacular gothic building just off the Mayor, showing over 500 photographs from his collection, in chronological order, what a gem!

For those who are not familiar Lee Friedlander, he is one of the most influential American social photographers this century. He documented mundane street and storewindow scenes across America in the 60s and 70s with a candid humour, often including his own reflection, and loves the interpretation of layers in his works. Here's what Wiki has to say..

Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center of Los Angeles. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazz musicians for record covers. His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans. In 1960, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Friedlander a grant to focus on his art and made subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977.

Working primarily with Leica 35mm cameras and black and white film, Friedlander's style focused on the "social landscape". His art used detached images of urban life, store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, and posters and signs all combining to capture the look of modern life.

In 1963, the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House mounted Friedlander's first solo museum show. Friedlander was then a key figure in the 1967 "New Documents" exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In 1990, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Friedlander a MacArthur Fellowship.

Friedlander now works primarily with medium format cameras. While suffering from arthritis and housebound, he focused on photographing his surroundings. His book, Stems, reflects his life during the time of his knee replacement surgery. He has said that his "limbs" reminded him of plant stems. These images display textures which were not a feature of his older work. In this sense, the images are similar to those of Josef Sudek who also photographed the confines of his home and studio.

In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art displayed a major retrospective of Friedlander works. In the same year he received a 2005 Hasselblad International Award.

As I entered the exhibition hall, there was a huge printed panel with one of his quotes which basically sums up his work :


Friedlander is a humble and unpretentious photographer, with a clear but skewed vision often seeing outside the camera frame. Like in this photograph below :

Lee Friedlander, Mt Rushmore 1969

and another :

Lee Friedlander, Revolving Door
New York 1963

The exhibition also included some of his early diaries, workbooks and series of his self-portraits. It was a wonderful display and I can't remember the last time I was so excited to see a photography exhibition, perhaps that was the Diane Arbus retro at the V&A 2 years ago.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Get your wallpaper now!

I am pleased to say that the book is finally, finally with the printers which means really the end of the road for us in terms of changes, amendments and editing. Felt like a long time ago that we first put the images together after finishing the travel part back in May.

I spent some time today looking back at the files from the trips and discovered many 'non' people shots that I 'd really like, so I decided to put a few, nine to be precise, up as wallpapers to share with you, my readers! I sized them up for 1024 x 768 pixels seeing that 60% or so of visitors to the site have this screen size, (which means that 60% of you don't have a brilliant wide-screen
1440 x 900 pixels Apple iMac ! Hah!)

As I travelled through the country, especially in Penang, little things caught my eye, like the photo above of four pairs of hair clippers lined up in a row, ancient I mean, which barber still use these implements? They belong actually to a Hokkien gentlemen who runs the barber shop in Armenian Street. They red Brylcreem tub gives away the age of this establishment. Its really like walking back 30 years, here.

There are also a couple landscape photographs taken in the East Coast, a shot of the rising sun creeping up behind Mount Kinabalu which I think is rather stunning, a photo of a sleeping cat photographed a small 'keropok lekor'- manufacturing community off Terrenganu, and a colourful Thaipusam image which i like very much. Enjoy!