Malaysiakini
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COMMENT | What the common people want

James Chai

Published

COMMENT | Only rich people have their photographs taken. In the past, you could only take photographs at a studio, and this is typically an expensive affair.

You had to wear your best clothes, put on make-up and do your hair; and you need to put on your picture-perfect smile and pose like you mean it. You only had one shot and that the picture shall be a powerful tool to show that you have lived.

Photographs used to be reserved for the Malay royalty and aristocrats - only they could afford this. Photographing equipment were out of reach to many. The Malay phrase “ambil gambar” (taking photographs) implies that photography was a craftsman’s trade and not a skill you could just easily pick up.

But as the years went by, photographs became cheaper to own. At every new town, there will be a few photo studios for the common people. More and more people could walk into the studio, day or night, formal or casual, group or solo, standard or trick; photographs could be taken for you.

This meant that memories could be memorialised to eternity. Photos taken of your family during graduation, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries could be recorded, shared and passed down from one generation to the next.

Young Malaysians could look up their family wall and see the faces of their ancestors, hung high in a slight tilt, in a symbol of respect for their contribution to the family and community.

I visited Ilham Gallery last weekend. The current exhibition was about photography and how it shapes our understanding of past societies...

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