Visual storytelling is a powerful tool and photojournalism is a craft that is not very often celebrated in the age of social media. Farhan Akmal, the photographer behind Documenting Kuala, is someone who keeps this artform alive by capturing moments that truly depict what it means to be Malaysian today. With subjects ranging from cultural celebrations to key political moments, we asked Akmal to highlight the top shots from his portfolio.
“My interest in photography began when I was a kid. My dad had a collection of National Geographic magazines which intrigued me greatly. I used to flip through them just to look at pictures. There was just something about the storytelling element behind the photography which made me fascinated and I fell in love with photography from then on.”
“I remember playing with cameras when I was a little boy, shooting away at everything and nothing. But what I remember fondly was being given one of those science explorer kits for one of my birthdays which had a film camera in it. That was my first camera. I forced my dad to get a couple of film rolls which I ‘burned’ through quickly. Having my own camera and the freedom to use it was what really made me go deeper into exploring photography. Like how some would say, ‘the rest is history’.”
“I can’t say that I have a specific set of subjects that I am most drawn to but what intrigues me are topics that get conversations going. Whether they be different religious and cultural experiences, politically-related subjects, different sights and cities and even people. I would come across something that would spark my interest then I would proceed with planning and shooting it. Especially if the subject is something that one would consider to be “provocative” or “controversial,” basically topics that can spark deep thought and conversations.”
“I’m just hoping to start a conversation. I want my photos to compel people to question our collective and individual cultures, the influence of our religions and the places that we come from. Above all, I want those who view my photos, and all Malaysians to come to understand each other.”
“Currently, I am using the XT3 and XPro2 Fujifilm cameras. The XPro2 is a much more compact camera which I would carry around most of the time. These are what I can afford right now and am not working with any specific brand but if I ever had the opportunity, I’d like to work with a Leica (as many photographers would want to).”
“I prefer to keep my setup really minimal. Each camera body has only one lens. Some would say that would impede the work, but I feel liberated not having to worry about switching lenses and so on.”
“I get inspiration from many different people and things. But If you would ask me now, I’d say that my fellow Malaysian photojournalists are those who inspire me the most. The likes of Annice Lyn, Fazry Ismail, Shafwan Zaidon, Aznael Ishak, Seth Akmal, Afif Abd Halim, Aizzat Nordin just to name a few. I really enjoy looking at their work and I really appreciate what they have done for the industry. However, an industry idol that I look up to would definitely be Jahabar Saddiq and SC Shekar. Both are brilliant photographers and storytellers.”
As early as 6 am On the ghats of Varanasi. Students from the local yoga schools flock to the steps of the ghats leading to the Ganges and perform their morning Yoga and prayers.
Protesters march as part of the #MYClimateStrike protesting the current state of environmental affairs. The protest was also held during one of the worst haze conditions that the country has ever endured.
Marina Mahathir's reaction as Tun Dr Mahathir was sworn in as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.
A devotee is seen to be in a state of trance and tranquility as he is surrounded by his family and friends. He was carrying the kavadi up to Batu Caves as part of the Thaipusam ritual.
The small space which fits the frame is where a family of four sleeps. Families are forced into small apartments and squalid living conditions in Chow Kit where many of KL’s urban poor live.
The local muslim community in Kuala Pahang, Pekan arrive at the local mosque to perform their tarawih prayers in the month of Ramadhan.
Ganga Arti - a ritual performed daily to worship Mother Ganga.
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“Asking for a favourite shot is like asking a dad which child he loves the most! I don’t have a specific favourite shot in mind. But come to think of it, It would probably be the shot I took in Batu Tiga, Shah Alam during the aftermath of the 2021 floods. I was actually in the area to send cakes which my wife had baked for a customer in Kuantan. The LPT highway was damaged by the floods so nothing could be delivered to the East Coast. The customer told us to give the cakes off to someone who needs them more and I thought about those who were trapped and not able to get home due to the floods that hit Shah Alam.”
“When I got there, I had linked up with several volunteers who had arrived there the night before and had been assisting the families trapped by the floods. We then proceeded to distribute the cakes to those who were stuck at home and not able to get out.”
“We ended up staying on after distributing the cakes to continue helping those affected. I ended that day at 2 am the next morning in Taman Sri Muda Shah Alam helping to get the families out of one of the worst-hit flooded areas. Every time I look at it, the photo reminds me of how Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, are able to come together and work together when we need it the most. Politicians continue to try to divide us using the race and religion card, but I have faith that the rakyat are able to look past the ‘smokescreen.’ We are all in fact Malaysians.”
Feature image: Members of the ‘Boys of Straits’ of Johor Darul Takzim Football Club march with flares lit towards Bukit Jalil Stadium during a football final match.
Photos courtesy of Farhan Akmal.