David S. T. Loh’s last posting was Editor-in-Charge (EIC) Global Pictures Desk, Reuters in Singapore. His job was to coordinate the pool of photographers, edit the photos and making sure the best would be sent out to publishers all over the world. David may have left the position but he has never left his passion and keen eye for capturing a good photo at that right moment. Here he presents a new take of an old tired subject – Penang, his home.
You have shown a perspective of Penang that few, even Penangites, couldn’t achieve. Is there really such an interesting hidden side to Penang or is that just through your lens?
Penang is such an amazing place where there seems to be non-stop events, activities, things to do, and places to go. Every day, I discover new and interesting things to see and to photograph. If you are prepared to go out and look, you will never be bored in Penang. My relatives and friends tell me that I am showing a side of Penang that they never knew existed even though I have only been back for a few months.
My philosophy to good photography is very simple. Wow your viewers. Give them something they have not seen before. I took up drone, 360 video and stills to get a new perspective to a normal scene and this will immediately grab viewers’ attention. And I am always standing away from the group of photographers, unless I am shooting news, to get an interesting angle that’s different from everyone else.
I am lucky that my years of working as a photojournalist help me to make quick assessment of a scene and know where to stand to capture the right moment. A photographer depends a lot on luck to get their shot, but the more prepared they are, the luckier they get.
Please give a brief description of your career as a professional photographer and what is your favourite subject to shoot?
I have been in the media industry for over 26 years, with 21 years spent at Reuters. I started as a photographer with The Star, Malaysia, then moving on as a photojournalist to Reuters Malaysia and subsequently as an editor based in Singapore. I left Reuters in 2016 and am now working for a news portal called The Malaysian Insight. Previously based in Kuala Lumpur, London and Singapore, my images have been published in many global newspapers, including the top global newspaper and websites like the New York Times, Washington Post, FT, UK Times, Times magazine, Yahoo and others. I had the privilege of being on the judging panel for the China International Press Photo competition in 2016.
My favourite subject is photographing people. I enjoy getting close and capturing the expressions of people, from the streets to their home – their response to a situation, their reaction at an event. Sometimes I feel as if I’m stealing from the subject, capturing the essence of the subject and showing their true self. My clients hire me because they say I capture unguarded moments beautifully.
How much of your photography is because of your familiarity with Penang or because of your journalistic ability to seek out all sides to a story?
I don’t know Penang that well. I get around using Waze and find new things every day. I am always curious and am willing to work hard to capture a good image. Put me in any setting and I will view things with a curious mind. Having been away for 30 over years working and living abroad has given me a sense of exploration. I am still discovering new things in this island that I was born in.
Personally how do you think a visitor to Penang should approach this destination so that he/she would get the best of Penang?
Penang has many amazing and interesting sights and food, hidden even from most Penangites. Personally, Penang should not just be promoted as a dying heritage using gentrification to lure the tourist, but to see Penang as it really is. Penang is unique as it is a living city where the residents live with the balance of modernisation alongside preservations of our heritage. Come with the mindset of seeing the place as it really is. There are many hidden gems that only the locals would know. Hire a local guide, walk the streets and taste the food that the locals eat.
The aerial shot that I took of Georgetown from a drone off the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal. That one frame shows the harmony between modernisation and old heritage buildings, the quirky and unplanned web of streets meander around town, and how small George Town really is.
Go to David S. T. Loh’s website for more of his photographs.
Words by YY Chen and photos by David Loh