Amid the lively action and bright colours of the ongoing George Town Festival in Penang, there is a photography exhibition that stands tall and proud at the Whiteaways Arcade.
Noted, a collaborative effort between writer Chen May Yee and photojournalist S.C. Shekar, presents 32 striking black and white portraits of journalists, documentary filmmakers, poets, cartoonists and artists, and of pages from their notebooks – essentially offering a glimpse into their world of storytelling. It is one where truth prevails, come hell or high water, and one that is shaped by values that stand the test of time.
At its core, Noted is an ode to the dying art of note-taking, a nod to the meticulous skill of observation and attention to detail.
“When you write something down, your brain processes it differently than if you were to record it on audio or video. When I saw the call for proposals (for the George Town Festival), I knew I wanted to do something around this theme – the importance of documentation, of talking to people in real life and of real stories. And slowly, the idea coalesced around the notebook and how it is from notes that tales emerge,” says Chen.
She notes how commonplace it seems now for us to wrap ourselves in our social media bubble and steer clear of – whether by design or by default – making tangible connections in the “real” world.
“All we do is post comment after comment without really understanding. We have stopped talking to anyone outside, or in real life, about anything that really matters. I notice that these days, kids do research by Googling and they don’t take notes, or talk to live people, which disturbs me. I am also worried about the state of journalism in Malaysia and our shrinking media space,” she adds.
Noted draws inspiration from the men and women who do the work of getting out there, asking questions, keeping us informed and making us think.
Many work behind the scenes, while some are familiar names with faces unknown to the public.
“Why do they do what they do? Some of these people have faced lawsuits and arrest and had their work confiscated, simply for doing their jobs. Without their words and their visuals, we would all be poorer in mind and spirit,” says Chen.
In Noted, the execution, the look and feel of the portraits, and of the photos of notebook pages, are Shekar’s artistic vision. Together, he and Chen decided who to feature in Noted; people who explain the world around them, who are Malaysians, and still working on their craft. The 16 men and women featured in this photography show are A. Samad Said, Anis Ibrahim, Anurendra Jegadeva, Nicholas Cheng, Dina Zaman, Ho Kay Tat, P.K. Katharason, Sharaad Kuttan, Leslie Lopez, R. Nadeswaran (Citizen Nades), Poh Si Teng, Mahi Ramakrishnan, Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib, Jules Rahman Ong, Jahabar Sadiq and Zulkiflee Anwar Haque (Zunar).
Many weekends were spent putting this exhibition together. In Shekar’s studio, he shot the subjects and Chen interviewed them to produce short bios.
“All the photographs in this exhibition were shot and displayed in black and white. The reason for this is that traditionally, photojournalists have always worked with this medium. When you remove the embellishment of colour, all you are left with is true form. No colours to distract you,” explains Shekar.
Of course, another reason is that there is a timeless quality about black and white images, and this was in line with the general concept of the exhibition, he adds.
“Like May Yee says, my reason too, for participating in this exhibition is to pay homage to these extraordinary individuals who often put their lives at risk just so the public can have access to the truth. Collectively, we owe them a debt of gratitude from the depths of our hearts,” he says.
Chen hopes that visitors to Noted will leave the show with newfound respect for what these people among us do. In the spirit of Noted, there will be notebooks specially printed by APW that you can pick up at the exhibition.
“Start talking to people and taking your own notes. You can interview anyone … it can be your own grandmother or your best friend, and you will be surprised at what you find out, what you never knew,” urges Chen.
Noted is on at Whiteaways Arcade, George Town in Penang till Sept 3. Opening hourse are from 11am to 6pm. Free admission. Visit www.georgetownfestival.com for more information.