Not easy to empathize

The ability to understand someone else’s feelings as if they were one’s own is not something we do easily and often. It is demanding and thankless. Perhaps that may explain why most of us are mainly concerned with the needs our own self and those of our immediate family. How others feel is hardly our interest. How about considering some empathy?

My exhibition of photos Empathy at KLPac closed on the 8 March. This third collection of images of people with disability doing their own thing in sports and in work, was on display for 7 weeks. During that time there were several write ups about the exhibition and one of the portraits of Siti Aishah made it to the front page of the Sunday People in the NST’s Sunday Times.

This media coverage of the disabled group gave all those people in this small and fragile community a much needed visual profile which they seldom get. The Star newspaper’s writer Tan Karr Wei also wrote about the portraitures with understanding.

Then there was Elaine Lau from the Option of the Edge who also gave a voice to this often voiceless fellow citizens. Ng Suzhen from the Malay Mail was the first to put this story in her CyberSpot page. The Chinese press too especially the writer Chee Nyuk Yan from Nanyang Siang Pau gave this group a center spread in their Sunday edition and this was followed by Sin Chew Daily‘s reporter Ten Yien Hsia’s news of the event. I was also invited to talk about the exhibition on TV3’s Malaysia Hari Ini morning magazine show.

After all the effort of first going out to get the cooperation of all my disabled friends to allow me to photograph them, and then to mount and promote the visibility of the subject to a larger public, it had dawn on me that this project of promoting a little more empathy for others, has been all a group effort by everyone who has been involved. This is also a note of thanks to all of you. Now I am beginning to understand.

Sharing another person’s feelings

A view of the exhibition with some visitors

Justin Hughes visiting

Lee Hong Leng taking a closer look

This exhibition has been on for a few weeks and it had many visitors. Justin Hughes, an old friend from the 80s, was one of the first visitors.  He was in Kuala Lumpur for a short visit after attending an International Law conference in Singapore. Justin is currently a Law Professor in New York.

Lee, a fellow photographer and partner of a photographic lab that printed all my prints, was also at the show to share his experiences about photography. It has been his continuing support and encouragement, over the years, that has made it possible to continue this social documentary project.

Views at Beautiful Gate

Philip Chong giving a hand to one of the disable participants

Eric Wong explaining the functions of the camera

Wilfred Tan giving some finer points about using the camera

A photographic workshop at Beautiful Gate

Last Saturday, 16 August, I invited Philip Chong to help me conduct a half day basic photographic workshop for 15 members of wheelchair user organisation, Beautiful Gate, in Petaling Jaya. Philip in turn invited three of his photographer friends (Eric Wong, Wilfred Tan, Mike) to join us.

Beautiful Gate is organising a national photographic competition and this event is open to everyone including a section for the disabled photographers. Those interested please click here for more information about the organisation and the competition.

Our aim was to provide some basic knowledge of the camera, to this disabled group, to enable them to take part in the photographic contest. Not everyone at the workshop has a camera but most of them has a hand phone with a camera and so we worked with whatever they brought along.

Within a few hours we showed them some sample pictures by the guest photographers, we got each of them to take some views of the compound at the Beautiful Gate, we went over some of their shots and make some remarks about how to improve their skills.

Just as there are many things in our daily life which are not disabled friendly, the cameras too  are not designed with the view of the disabled users. But they still make do and get by cheerfully clicking away with their camera at themselves and their environment.

Sri KDU reaching out to the disabled

In the Face of Disability on display at Sri KDU

The IB Business students and members of the Sri KDU Secondary School’s Reaching Out Club, together with their teacher and advisor, Muhammad Azhar, invited me to exhibit my photographs ‘In the Face of Disability’ and to give a talk at their school in Kota Damansara. The exhibition is from 28 July to 1 August at the school’s foyer. I gave a talk ‘ The Arts and social responsibility’ this morning, to the club members

This is the first time any school has requested to display the collection  to show to thier students, what one  small but often neglected group of our community, does for sports, in the Malaysian Paralympics. This set of pictures ‘bring’ these disabled athletes into the school and the students get to ‘meet’ them, and to know about them, perhaps not in person but in spirit.

One of the remarks I over heard as I was putting up the pictures with the help of some of the students, ‘Look over there did you see that person who can swim without his legs?’. Or ‘Do you see that they can lift weights?’ Hearing just one or two whispers among the young people make all the effort of documenting and touring these images of these athletes worthwhile.

Hopefully this exhibition and the talk will stimulate some of the students to think and look outside their classroom and their school gates.

Thanks to all of you from Sri KDU.

Photography and Disability

Photographs of Art for All

In the last three years, I have been exhibiting my photographs at the art camp. This year I showed 50 black and white pictures which I made the year before, of the camp. These photos are simply hung out on lines along certain passage ways and sometimes they are moved from one location to another within the camp area, for everyone, who care to look at them.

My main aim is to provide the campers and visitors with some personal memories of the previous years events and put on record some of the more memorable moments and faces and happenings. Besides these images also tell a story of the daily life of the five days, showing the joys and pains encountered by some of the disabled artists, musicians, dancers etc.

Of course, from the blind boy’s broad smiling face, painted with a flower by a fellow-camper, it is easy to tell that he is really happy participating and doing things with friends. At some point I wished I could imagine what he sees in his mind and what is his own idea of his own handsome and youthful face? His hearing is perfect and perhaps it would help to just describe his features to him in words rather then in picture. On the other hand, he may already know his face better then anyone can. Not surprising, he can see with the touch of his fingers better then any of us sighted can and also perhaps feel deeper in his darkness then many of us care to.

One of the other reason why me, my wife and son, who is just going to be five, are at the Art for All camp, for the last six years, was to volunteer (with no pay) as resource persons, helping out with the many tasks there.