Law or Ethics?

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While photographing inside Masjid India earlier today, an unidentified man confronted me in an aggressively decent way. I was asked to leave…"Are you muslim?" "You know its against Malaysian law to photograph inside a mosque, especially on a friday?" "How can you photograph people praying?!" he says. "Leave now or I will call the authorities."

Is there a law against it? or is it invasion of privacy?

Police Attitude

Its tough to control thousands of personnel, but surely some form of PR with the public needs to be instilled in the police force. The power vested in such individuals are always prone to abuse because the police consider themselves the guardians of public order. And to be such a guardian, one must be stern, powerful and command fear in individuals. That is probably the culture inside the force. The moment they go into training, they are subjected to it. The moment they step outside and interact with the public that’s the attitude they carry with them.

klgtu_1390.jpgOf course not all are like that, but enough of them are like that to incite a public outcry. It is very sad to experience moments like this because, prior to running into the police yesterday, all the people I interacted with were incredibly friendly and accommodating. Even the surrounding people emitted good vibes. (Honestly as a photographer you can pick up these periphery vibes)

I once made a comparison. In context of a school, model students become prefects but in the context of a country, it seems like the lesser formed apples of society become members of the police force! You know what’s the problem? In many ways its about economics and the flow of money…

A day At The ‘office’

Just after leaving my meeting with Encik Roslan at the Kampung Baharu Ruling Council office I noticed a pretty well kept Malay house nearby. Someone was working in the garden. I take a general picture and proceeded to speak with the man. Turns out he’s the owner and a story unfolds. I spent a good 30 mins talking to him. Outside, the light was dull and the house didn’t look too good for the magazine story. I made a note and continued my journey.

I walk and walk and came across another wooden Malay house. Outside there is an old man. Soon he notices me and once again a conversation unfolds. He turns out to be from Jawa Tengah (there are many Javanese here and a housing Mecca for Indonesian workers) and has been sharing his RM600 rented house for the past 16 years. After 15mins I walked away without taking a single picture.

I walk more and this time coming across a ‘Pasar Malam’ (night market). The sky grows threatening. I scout around and got talking to a vendor who tells me that the majority of traders here are not from Kampung Baharu. In another stroke of luck, I managed to capture a lightning flash in between the twin towers – Of course in the context of the night market.

I wondered up and down that rather small night market. Looking for a piece of Kampung Baharu to take away. After a while I spotted another house. This one was in the best condition and design I had ever seen so far. An old man was sitting on the verandah. I approached and he called me nearer due to his hearing deficit. Although friendly, he had his own interpretations and his replies wander off at tangents. He tells me in order to take pictures of his house, I need to get a letter from DBKL, otherwise he gets in trouble. He tells me how several years ago, some Hong Kong magazine had featured his house and they gave him RM500 although he didn’t ask for anything. I knew he would be a tough nut to handle and I hadn’t even started asking questions. I chose to retreat and bid my goodbyes.

I walk some more, this time taking a different route to the LRT station. The stretch is mostly newer concrete houses. I come across the abandoned outdoor futsal park project, Roslan says its due to unresolved agreements with DBKL. Then a police car slowly pulls up infront of me. I stood there waiting for it to come closer, my eye in the camera viewfinder looking for an angle to incorporate the police vehicle. There was nothing enticing, so I continued walking. That was when the police man on the passenger side ‘grunted’ at me, rudely gesturing for me to move aside.

It was time to go home…

Pejabat Lembaga Pentadbiran (M.A.S.) Kampung Baharu

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So yesterday I turned up at Encik Roslan’s office. (The Honorary Secretary for the Kampung Baharu Ruling Council). Effable and accommodating as ever, our friendly conversation continued from where we left off several days before.

He says that his title with Honorary in it means that he isn’t paid to perform his duties. In his late fifties, he boldly claims how he used to be a hotshot businessman and now its time for him to give back to the community. His office is housed upstairs from a low key multi-purpose community hall. Inside, there is minimal staff.

“The powers of this council have been cut.” “Since 1974, the government has given enforcement powers to DBKL, and before I took over, several months ago, the council has only been operating for two hours a day.” He adds that “Although enforcement has been ceded to DBKL, decisions still lie with the ruling council.” Herein lies the ambiguity and is amplified into administrative dilemmas.

He tells me of his efforts in organizing parking systems for cars in the neighbourhood and employing local youths to administer it. DBKL wasn’t happy and have since dismantled his efforts. He uses the word ‘Duplicity’, when commenting on issues between the council and DBKL. There is no clear authority and this is one of the several revolving issues besides clear ownership of land titles and a burgeoning Indonesian population which is eminent to Kampung Baharu’s unique position, as a – Malay Agricultural Settlement (MAS)

I received two more contacts from him. Two names and mobile numbers of village heads from the 7 villages within Kampung Baharu. “Call Shamsuri, he will show you the houses you are looking for.” “He speaks good English, so no problems, but don’t call him today because he is coming with me to the DBKL meeting at 4pm” says Roslan.

My gaining access phase continues…where will these new contacts take me? What will I get out of it? My efforts in Kampung Bharu continues…

Gaining Access

Photographers doing documentary work realize how important the ability to gain access is. When you are trusted by your subjects, that position is a passport that allows you to move freely and shoot freely with minimal impact on the events that take place.

Gaining access is crucial even in at the very basic level, because it is what gets you into a position or creates the opportunities for the sought after visuals. Then as the stakes rise – the more access gained the deeper meaning your visuals can carry.

There are many different ways to gain access (depending on what you want and who your subjects are). Here is how I recently approached Kampung Baharu.

Some research has to be done first, to arm yourself with some background information. I then scout the place out by just walking (a lot of walking) and observing. I start shooting the streets and at the same time opening myself to people who have a story to tell. That usually works to an extent.

But usually not enough if you are searching for something more precise. Last week I had just spoken to an editor of a magazine, she wanted story and pictures about the Malay architecture in Kampung Baharu. That was a bonus because its in-line with KLGTU and it helps build me more content.

I visited Kampung Baharu twice. Once at night and another time during the day. It helps me build my own street contacts and give me a feel for the place. I then thought of the probable contacts I have to Kampung Baharu and by shear ‘coincidence’ I recalled Rizman (a driver for someone, whom I shot an event for, two weeks ago.) telling me enthusiastically about his father’s family currently still living in Kampung Baharu. Right, that is one source, but not enough.

I came across sources two and three the subsequent day. Walking the Kampung Baharu streets, I ‘coincidentally’ ran into two owners of hard to find intact Malay styled houses (they were just entering into their homes, of which most others have disappeared or are infused with modern construction designs,) and they were welcoming for me to comeback to take pictures and interview them.

That very same day, I ran into my forth source ‘coincidentally’ yet again. I had brushed past this particular character twice, earlier in the day. Initially it was the longish stares, then quick smiles and nods. Then I bumped into him a third time. He was sitting in a stall just outside his house. He invited me for a drink and past experiences have told me…take the invite…you never know what it may lead you to…so I walked in, smiled and sat down.

Guess who this person turns out to be? The honorary Secretary for the ruling council of Kampung Baharu! Now that blew my mind because instantly I have access to accurate information and can get hooked up with relevant residents through his contacts.

‘Coincidences’ seem to be a dominant power that helps me gain access wherever I go and whenever I need help. What is this ‘coincidence’ phenomena? Is it like the meaning it carries…(a chance encounter with no link to cause and effect) or is there something else more mysterious to it? I guess that discussion will be left for another time eh…?

Parellel to Petaling Street

“I don’t know why they won’t issue us a permit. I can understand if this was 40 years ago, because this place was started by a family of thieves. But its different now”, says an outspoken trader. “I have personally seen the man in charge in DBKL…” I can remember but he utters his full name. “He gave me a verbal agreement that they would not come and cause problems, but we have to pack up by 9.30am,” he says. “Are you a reporter? If you are come, I have many things to say to you.”

klgtu_0944.jpgTraders set up their wares for sale as early as 4.30am! and are all gone by 10am. It’s such a strange concept. They call it Pasar Karat. Its so basic that everything is displayed on the floor. But the place is packed. There is even a graffiti wall that brands the place. Its like a flea market, where you can find anything second hand, from old ornamental collectables and antiques to perhaps stolen watches and electronics appliances. Traditional medicine, second hand vcds to T-shirts and even shoes are all part of the mix.

“I tell you, now there is even a syndicate, collecting 10 ringgit from us,” the trader says. He was willing to tell stories. But my mind wasn’t ready to indulge this morning. I would have to come back anyway. So I said we would speak again. Today’s adventure was already a success. With the universe guiding and being alert to the opportunities it brings, I had found a good source.

Pudutunity

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Did you know that hidden in the building we all know so well (Pudu Raya bus station), is a taxi rental service that takes you outstation and the service implies a skew in ferrying passengers to Genting Highlands. Check this out…guess what their doing in the picture? klgtu_0585_small.jpgThese administrators of the taxi service are letting 'ladyluck' determine the order of taxis queing for passengers. They draw out taxi numbers from a plastic jar and place them in line to determine who goes first. Then taxi drivers call in to check their que status. Funnily, Genting Highlands, gambling, and the Russian Roullete nature of this service seems complementary to the whole flow of the business. Look at it another way, it's a novel and equitable way of work distribution isn't it? klgtu_0599_small.jpgThis whole place reeks with the spirit of survival. Just outside the taxi service is a pedestrain bridge and it's plastered with notices and signs, offering employment opportunities largely targeted at the foreign labour workforce. Notices for loan shark services, pawn shops and certificates for pawning gold are everywhere around. Look at it anyway you want, but you can't deny that this is a place of opportunity. Even the mentally and physically challenged have their hopes pinned to the opportunities that Puduraya offers.