Photo Essay: The Penang of the Past

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I had so much positive feedback on my column – Christmas Past – in the December issue of Penang International that I have realised that there is considerable interest in the recent past – the past that is still within living memory. With this in mind, this month’s photo story is devoted to some of the images that my mother, Barbara Wilks, took during our stay in Penang in the early 1960s.

She was a keen photographer who was fascinated by the culture of Penang. So she snapped people carrying ‘kavadis’ at Thaipusam, Buddhist monks in meditation, Chinese funeral customs, as well as scenes of fishing life and jungle people. Before she took up photography, she had been a classically trained painter, and her images are carefully composed and balanced. She used converging sight lines and shadows like a painter to give enliven perspective and create the impression of depth – turning the fl at celluloid form into three dimensions.

Back in UK, she gave lectures on these topics at the Commonwealth Institute in London. After her death, many of these colour slides slowly faded in a tin box in my brother’s attic until one day last month, he decided to see if he could bring them back to life as digital images. These are some of the results. As with most old film, some of the details and the colour has been lost and yet these pictures give a window into an age gone by.

Source: Penang International Magazine February/March 2014

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