The journey to a successful photography career wasn’t easy for this Malaysian artist, who left the camera behind and found himself pursuing other interests. But from the ashes of his discarded passion, the camera continued to call. As he shared with Vatsala Devi, when the call was finally answered, something amazing was reborn.
About the Photographer
Photography and painting are born of the same creative process, one in which imagination is brought to life in a tangible form, whether on film or canvas. Photography is a unique and powerful medium of expression and communication, its skilled execution offering an infinite variety of perception and interpretation. Fundamentally, photography is all about creativity, art, and science – the science of capturing the exact moment in order to achieve the desired shot with account of measures of light, distance, and more. Some have likened photography to “painting with light.” And Hairul Azizi Harun would know a thing or two about the science and art of painting with light, as he is the winner of the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards Open Competition, under the “Split Second” category.
“It is more the eye than the tool that can get you the picture you have in your mind. It is always about seeing that something and knowing how you want it to look and making it to appear the exact way you want it to,” said Hairul. “Making objects and images appear the way you want it to is the easy part; but seeing it in the first place is what makes a photographer. The power of observation is everything.”
Born and bred in Kampung Seberang Takir, a small fishing village in Kuala Terengganu, Hairul, the oldest of six children, said that he was always attracted to drawing as it has a calming effect on him. “My father was working in an oil rig overseas, and it was down to my mother, who was a housewife, to raise the six of us. She took on odd jobs, so being the oldest in the family, I would stay home to help her with the house chores. In a way, that is how drawing became my companion. I was content to stay at home and draw for hours,” said the 37-year-old.
Hairul’s rise to fame in the photography circuit is truly remarkable considering that he never really felt the tug of photography till he was in his early 30s, though he always had a creative side. “Growing up, I was never really into photography because my hobby was drawing. And also because I don’t come from a well-to-do family, a camera was a luxury I couldn’t afford. That, combined with my lack of knowledge of and exposure to photography, I was happy to stick with drawing,” he reminisced.
So how could someone with so little exposure in photography go on to win the Sony World Photography Awards? “The path to winning the award this year was littered with hurdles, which I overcame through grit and hard work,” Hairul said. “I came to Kuala Lumpur in 1996 with the intention of furthering my education and enrolled in Insititut Teknologi Mara, now known as UiTM, to pursue a course in photography. But it was fraught with challenges as my financial constraints made it impossible to own a camera, and it is common knowledge that to become better at photography, one must practise. Not wanting to give up, I borrowed a camera from my friend,” he recalled.
A Flame Rekindled
Perhaps understandably, not having his own camera contributed to Hairul losing interest in photography, and finally, two years into the course, he left the photography programme to pursue advertising and drawing. After an 11-year hiatus, Hairul found himself determined to make a name for himself in a field that had challenged and mocked him for so long. He explained, “I was given a second chance to change my opinion on photography, and I credit the college I was attached to and some local photographers, including Yaman Ibrahim, who gave me a new perception in the field of photography, for changing my mindset. “My college was running a certificate course on photography and had entrusted me to take on the class. So I was sent on a two-day course to meet and learn from experienced photographers,” he reflected.
“It was a meeting that changed my life, as they inspired me to give photography another try. And although I was starting over at a relatively late age, and had to start from scratch: to learn to operate the camera and the technicalities that came with it, I was determined. And when I believed and put my mind to it, the tides of fortune changed and led me to win my first photography award in 2012 – the Maybank Photography Award. And a few other awards followed suit, with the latest being the Sony World Photography Award 2014,” enthused the man who also finds contentment in collecting classic cars and Transformers figures in his free time.
Bagging The Prize
The Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA) is widely recognised as one of the leading global photography awards programmes today. Launched in 2008, the awards are dedicated to supporting and cultivating photographic talent. Through a range of annual competitions, the team at SWPA hope to discover new talent in the world of photography and moving image. The competitions which comes in four series; professional competition, open competition, student focus and youth award are judged each year by new juries selected from the World Photographic Academy and wider global industry.
Speaking on the Open Competition category, Nigel Atherton, Jury Chair said “Photography is a language that transcends national borders and cultures, race, gender, and social background. Its poetry touches the hearts and minds of people all over the world, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in these awards. No two of this year’s Open Category winners are from the same country, but all share the ability to visually interpret the world around them in a unique and captivating way. The winning and shortlisted images demonstrate this gift with aplomb.”
Hairul, who currently lives in Indera Mahkota, Kuantan, and teaches in the Arts faculty of a local community college said that he joined the SWPA at the urging of a friend. “My friend told me about this competition, but unfortunately it came to his attention quite late and left me with very little time to submit my pictures. I studied the categories available during last year’s competition and found that ‘Split Second’ category is something new and it attracted my attention, and like destiny calling out to me, I even had a picture that fit the category,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Devil In The Details
Speaking on the winning shot, Hairul explained that the shot was taken in a small village tilling paddy fields in Kuantan. “I set the shutter speed and aperture according to the specification I needed to capture the image I had visualised in my mind, and using the natural sunlight, I captured the water movement and nailed the shot in one go. I was lucky to get it right on the first try,” he said enthusiastically, while explaining the precision required in making the shot a success, and stressing that the smallest details, when capturing the image, can ultimately make or break the final photograph. He also explained that some older people might not like their faces photographed, as they may feel embarrassed, or uncomfortable, underscoring the conscientious photographer’s unwritten policy of asking potential subjects before snapping photos of them!
Hairul detailed the thoughts behind the winning photograph: “This photo narrates my own pains and gains of being a photographer, the heritage of an old house, traditional games being played by local children, and the older generations meeting the new, which I felt complemented each other well,” he explained, further stating that his dream project is to shoot photos at hospitals throughout the country and capture the emotion of the people there, as he believes the hospital is the epicentre of all human emotions. “Being a photographer is not easy,” Hairul says. “People may not know the many challenges photographers face to capture the perfect image. Sometimes the story behind the image is much more compelling than what is seen in the picture. It is our job as a photographer to convey the story and breathe life to that image in the best possible manner.”
Source: Senses of Malaysia May/June 2014
Read More Articles on Malaysian Photographers:
- A Malaysian Photographer with an Eye for the People
- Capturing Captivating Moments – Photography
- Tales of the Unexpected From a Malaysian Photographer
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