Photobookclub Kuala Lumpur: "A photobook is a statement that indulges the audience with a personal level of intimacy"

In conjunction with Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day, Zontiga is holding the first ever Malaysian Photobook Exhibition, from 26 August to 18 September at Zontiga, Taman Paramount. This is also the start of the Malaysian Photobook Archive, an online record of photobooks across the country.

With the aim to promote the love for photobooks, this event is in collaboration with the Photobookclub Kuala Lumpur (PBKL), a photobook appreciation group. We had a quick chat with PBKL on their insight of the photobook scene in Malaysia. 

Zontiga: What was the thought process behind organising and bringing to life the Malaysian Photobook Exhibition?

PBKL: It's been a while since we (Photobook Club Kuala Lumpur) have organised any photobook meetups. The last one was held in October 2019, just before the COVID-19 outbreak.

In May 2022, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Lau (Zontiga) for the Malaysia Photobook Grant. We immediately discussed an opportunity to collaborate and catalogue some of the existing Malaysian photobooks that are currently in our collection.

The idea of cataloguing is purely focused on keeping all the Malaysian photobooks in order, to at least have something for us and others (researchers/academicians etc.) to refer to when and where a Malaysian photographer has published a photobook.

In the long run of this project, Zontiga and PBKL will try to gather as much information on Malaysia Photobook as possible so that we can see the whole timeline of when and where it began, hence the Malaysia Photobook Archive was created.

On the etnography side of it, we would love to see visually from the beginning of Malaysian photography and how the visual literature evolves from time to time. 


Which is your favourite book from the MPE collection and why?

To be honest, I would say all of them, as the books in the collections have their own variety of voices and perspectives on how they present the visual.

For my personal favourites, I would say Brehi, a personal project of Ariff Awaluddin and Soraya Yusof Talismail. This photobook is about five performing arts that are dying in Kelantan. The opportunity present here is to be able to witness a passionate photographer documenting passionate artists during their rituals and performance. The series puts you in the front row of the performing arts, and the photographs and write-ups that accompany you through the books are simply melancholy and full of soul.

The other one is Hafiz Hamzah's Jalan Gerimbun, which is a collection of photographs of his subconscious encounters. It took a while to understand those images, but if you spend your time well enough, the feelings of goosebumps will accompany you through the images. The images are something that you can relate to while you are alone walking somewhere, and sometimes the feelings of being watched suddenly appear and you will focus on one particular area. 

How did you get into liking photobooks?

My first encounter with photobooks was during a tea session with friends. The book was called The Mennonites by Larry Towell, a documentary series of Old Colony Mennonites in rural Ontario and Mexico between 1990 and 1999.

It made me fall in love immediately. The black and white photos are amazing. The pictures and diary-like entries accompany the photos just well in sequence as if you are looking at someone's diary.

For me, a photobook is a statement that indulges the audience with a personal level of intimacy where we are forced to participate in a narrative that is prefixed by the photographers. 


Which photobook, including but not limited to this collection, made the biggest impact in your life?

The photobook titled Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat by Miyoko Ihara, is the one that has had such an impact on how I see photography and photobooks.

This photobook told a story of a grandmother and her cat, who were always together. This series captures the everyday life of the grandmother, Misao, who bends herself working the small farm with her cat, Fukumaru.

I'm fascinated by how personal and intimate the photographs are and how simple the storyline is, enough to invoke a sense of love and care.

What expectations do you have for this exhibition?

We hope for this to become a platform to nurture appreciation for our local photographers' works, especially photobooks.

We are also hoping that this platform will invite more and more Malaysian photographers to showcase their works, and encourage them to publish them in book format in the future.

Moving forward, are there any future plans that you can share?

We will continue to explore and catalogue Malaysian photobooks, and maybe a series of discussions on photobooks in the near future.

We are also looking at utilising social media for the archive, to make it more accessible to a wider spectrum of audiences and make Malaysian photography work much more visible than before.

All photos by Tang Chun Chueh

Thank you PBKL for allowing us into your perspective. This photobook exhibition also brings together a total of 17 Malaysian photographers for a number of engaging events. The lineup includes artist sharing sessions, book reading sessions, and photography talks. Participants are required to RSVP to attend any of the events here.

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