“Adults are outdated children,” said Dr Seuss. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” professed Nelson Mandela. “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see,” insisted former US President John F. Kennedy.
“I believe that a child is innocent, true, with a beautiful light in their soul – they are our future,” says Kiran Kreer.
The Malaysian’s name may not reverberate with the same significance as those others, but the sentiment comes from the same place: a pure heart.
The Ipoh-born documentary photographer and social activist is intimately clued in to the trials and tribulations of the underprivileged, especially children – who often become casualties of poverty, war, human rights abuse and disasters – having traversed South-East Asia to capture human stories with his camera.
But getting to the point where he answered his calling involved nothing conventional. In fact, the 39-year-old completely broke the mould by quitting his corporate day job and trading it for a life lived out of a backpack and behind the lens, much to the disappointment of his parents.
“I had my own company and a job in marketing and sales, but one day it occurred to me that I had lost sight of myself and my identity … I became like most individuals with a monthly salary, with material wealth an important key to my happiness,” he says during a recent interview for AXN Attitude, a short form TV series that celebrates individuals who embrace life in unexpected and extraordinary ways.
Kiran then took that big leap that prised him away from the steely spires of office buildings and ejected him straight into the heart of underdeveloped nations and those in turmoil, which is when he realised that there is more to life than material existence.
Out of all the causes he could have possibly expended his energy on, children living in poverty and struggling with social issues were what spoke loudest to him. “Knowing that millions of children live in poverty, hunger, and in the dark with no proper homes, keeps me going till today.”
A lot of us stand accused of viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses, and turning a blind eye to injustice around us, yet Kiran hasn’t lost faith in the human race’s sense of solicitude.
“I think that every simple act of compassion makes life worth living and fighting for. I hope that my photographs will someday change people’s perspective in creating awareness about life and humanity. It would mean the world to me even if a single photograph or story makes an impact or inspires someone,” he says.
Naturally, with the good comes the bad and ugly, too. He may have seen less-than-desirable scenes in the course of his crusade, but to him, there is no good or bad. Every experience is a life lesson.
The only thing that gets Kiran down is the lack of empathy he sometimes encounters. “Of course, there have been times when I’ve felt helpless, mainly when it comes to raising funds. My best moments, though, are always when I get to complete a project.”
The road he travels is not a lonely one. In fact, countless humanitarians like him dedicate their very existence to saving the human species, but that doesn’t take away from what makes Kiran special, even if he reckons he is far from unique in any way. He insists he is who he is, and charts his course based on his instincts.
“I do what makes me happy first, and I live one day at a time. I guess, photographically-speaking, I have earned an identity from what I capture, and my storytelling and reflections of humanity define who I am.”
Having a big picture has rewarded him accordingly, and that “remuneration” has come in the guise of earning the freedom of choice, a much sought-after commodity in many parts of the world. He aspires to be able to tell untold stories of people in conflict locations and war zones, tales that are often kept under wraps, shackled by bureaucracy, politics and the megalomania of nations’ leaders.
“Also, I want to help open more minds, so they can see there is always a choice, and to tell them to never give up as there are many ways of living life. We don’t have to be slaves to the system.”
Kiran made the right choice from an early age, opting to indulge in his passion for photography during early adulthood (he gave up painting when he realised it wasn’t quite his calling). He was always the guy with the camera, earning a basic tutorial understanding of photography, and then embellishing it by honing his skill out in the field, inspired, no less, by Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado.
Growing up in Ipoh surrounded by a tight-knit family comprising his parents and two sisters, Kiran was always grounded. His dad put food on the table as an insurance salesman while his mother tended to home needs.
He credits the firm grounding of a secure family unit and his blue collar setting with his opportunity to now be able to be his own man.
“This was crucial and made up an important part of family life. I’m very close to my parents and sisters – they are the driving force behind what I am doing now. Being the only son, of course, it was never easy for them to accept my decision to give up everything and just leave.”
Fortunately, reservation soon turned to pride when his parents observed his work being appreciated and lauded. “My dad was so intrigued that he rang me up and shared how proud he was. He has a folder today of all my media interviews and articles.”
Kiran might have earned his wings only recently, but he is definitely in a position to impart advice to those wanting to break free from the drudgery of mundane living.
“Stop being materialistic… forget your status and labels. Leave your comfort zone and venture into something unknown, and find your true self first. Stop making excuses for yourself.
“I hear so many of my friends saying ‘I wish I could do what you do’. I say, ‘Go do it, don’t just wish it’. Rest assured, the life that you are looking for will gradually appear like you are seeing it for the very first time.”
Find out more about Kiran’s short story via the AXN Asia Facebook page at tinyurl.com/jkoq6q4.