Kenny Loh takes us on a journey of courage and unity into Malaysia’s past, present and future by photographing the seeds that grew the culture and history of this country.
Malaysia has come a long way since independence from that one fateful day when our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, chanted ‘Merdeka’ for seven times with the echoing cries of Malaysians at Dataran Merdeka.
The same heightened sense of patriotic spirit surrounds Kenny today as he agreed to share his photographer’s journey in his published ‘Born in Malaysia’ photobook with us. Unknown to him, I was beyond excited to meet the talent who remind us of the pillars and backbone of this country.
People say a picture is worth a thousand words. For Kenny, it explores something beyond. It is an on-going attempt to capture the daily lives of people by passionately sharing their memories that we never would have known.
After spending more than 20 years abroad, Kenny revisits his homeland and places in his childhood memories, not as a tourist but as a traveller that would unfold and revive the many narratives in Malaysia. “It took me 3 years of travelling and gathering everyone’s personal story into a book. It was a long journey.”
Considering the courage it takes to get people you just met to share their personal lives, it is amazing how Kenny who started out as a shy quiet boy in his schooling days, found out that he can get people to smile behind camera.
“The camera is my cloak and security blanket to know a lot of people,” Kenny laughingly puts it adding that it was an interest he learned from watching his father taking photographs during his childhood days.
“Having worked at NGOs in China and previously as a fashion photographer, my project ‘Born in Malaysia’ is more intimate as it gives room for individual stories with aspirations for diversity.”
“The people who helped mould Malaysia into what is it today is slowly forgotten. Such as one is my barber at where I grew up. He used to cut my hair in the past and he’s still there after so many years,” he refers to Thirunavu, the friendly neighbourhood barber at Star Barber back in Ipoh that he managed to visit one last time before Thirunavu closed his business.
Kenny etch the memories of a barber’s craft in the olden days and lament for another lost trade. Similarly, he explored all over the country and photographed many others regardless of socio-economic backgrounds, age, race, religion and culture. Therefore, ‘Born in Malaysia’ is more relevant now as perception changes as a person grow and this photobook helps one to cherish the multifaceted portrayal of Malaysians in their own special way. Kenny works closely with Tan Joo Lee, writer of the book, in cementing their tales.
When asked about his way of getting people to share their private stories to a stranger, “I would first observe the person and collect courage to start a conversation. You will be surprised at their friendliness with a simple ‘hello’.” This journey, Kenny feels, has given him a whole new perspective in life. Kenny’s upcoming book ‘Born in Merdeka – The Orang Asli Story’ is centered on his journey for ‘orang asli’, the indigenous people of Malaysia that is often marginalised to highlight their plights in our developing country. Working closely with Jahabar Sadiq the book writer and antropologist Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, this project follows different tribes of orang asli in getting their voices out.
For more inspiring stories and photographs, go to Kenny Loh’s website here.
Find ‘Born in Malaysia’ selling on bookshelves at most major bookstores in Malaysia.
Words by Jessy Wong
Photos by Kenny Loh