By Hari Ho
The traditional wet market that was Central Market, Kuala Lumpur closed in 1985 and the traders relocated to other markets in the outer suburbs of the city. These portraits are of the traders and other people who worked in the Market, some of whom had been there for generations.
Although the portraits are situated within a particular milieu, my main aim was to portray the humanity of each subject, cutting across arbitrary divisions of race, class and wealth.
I went to the Market daily in its final weeks often from before dawn when the hustle and bustle began. Much of what I did initially was getting to know some of the people there and making them feel comfortable with my presence and what I was doing. Making the portraits in this way felt more like a collaborative process.
I wanted the significance of the portraits to be about the subject, their presence, and their individual sense of themselves without any overt imposition or interpretation by me as the photographer. An unassuming frontal orientation seemed the best way to give a classical stillness to their portraits. It was the neutral gaze that I wanted from them.
My attempt to elicit this sense of the subjects’ felt identity and to have them project this to my camera was essentially a process of reduction. I worked to have less of the extraneous and more in revealing the depth of the subject. Although I started with colour film I soon abandoned it and turned to black & white. Colour was too distracting, pulling the eye away from the essence of the subject. Monochromes imbued the portraits with the depth and quietude that was appropriate for what I wanted.
The subjects had a palpable sense of occasion with the imminent closure of the Market. This gave the portraits a feeling of formality that was balanced by the casual nature of the subjects being photographed within their own environment by someone they had become familiar with. I looked for ease of gestural expression in how the subjects sat or stood with their hands, arms and legs positioned with the least self-consciousness. Some delighted me with spontaneous gestures: Wong Chee Mun an eccentric collector of military paraphernalia snapped to attention and saluted, while Wong Yen Hoon who fed all the stray cats in the Market, waved his hand as if in benediction, telling me afterwards that for this portrait he would like to “greet the world”.
CENTRAL MARKET will be showing at Wei-Ling Gallery from 2nd August to 10th September 2017.
Wei-Ling Gallery is located 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Admission hours are Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-5pm
Please call 0322601106 / 0322828323 or email: email@example.com for more information.