OR­DI­NARY PEO­PLE

New Straits Times - - People -

“Have you ever been there?” he asks me. With­out wait­ing for an an­swer, Ho pro­ceeds to de­scribe with re­mark­able clar­ity the mar­ket as he re­mem­bers it. “It was an amaz­ing place. You could buy any pos­si­ble kind of veg­etable, fruit and meats. Back then in the 50’s, things were very ba­sic and this mar­ket was a trea­sure trove of pro­duce you couldn’t nor­mally get any­where else.”

The litany of words trails off and he pauses mo­men­tar­ily be­fore adding halfwist­fully: “I still re­mem­ber the smell of lemons when I stepped into the mar­ket as a young boy.” For the Ipoh-born pho­tog­ra­pher, the wet mar­ket rep­re­sented a wealth of mem­o­ries that go back as far as when he was just ten years old.

When news broke that the his­tor­i­cal mar­ket was about to be shut down for good, Ho em­barked on a per­sonal project to doc­u­ment the peo­ple of Cen­tral Mar­ket in a se­ries of pho­to­graphs in the fi­nal weeks prior to its clos­ing. He ad­mits to not hav­ing a plan at the very be­gin­ning. “I was sim­ply tak­ing pic­tures of the scenes at the mar­ket at first be­fore de­cid­ing on por­traits.”

Tak­ing por­trai­tures of peo­ple how­ever, wasn’t some­thing he set out to do im­me­di­ately. “I needed them to be com­fort­able with me with the cam­era pointed straight into their faces,” he re­calls. He “hung around” them and built re­la­tion­ships with the plain-speak­ing, hard­work­ing traders, fish mon­gers, veg­etable sell­ers and the peo­ple who worked tire­lessly in the dank in­te­ri­ors of the wet mar­ket. Like his in­spi­ra­tion, Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Diane Ar­bus, Ho spent con­sid­er­able time with his sub­jects be­fore find­ing just the right mo­ment to take the best shot, us­ing an or­di­nary film cam­era.

“It was the only way I could pro­duce the type of pho­to­graphs I was aim­ing for,” ex­plains Ho, adding that he went there ev­ery day for many weeks be­fore it was closed. “I’d go there around 4.30 in the morn­ing be­cause that’s when the ac­tiv­ity starts,” he re­calls.

The sheer beauty of his shots was height­ened by the fact he never posed or planned them in any way. Each caught the drama, wit or joy of the im­me­di­ate, or “de­ci­sive,” mo­ment. “I told them to be them­selves, look into the cam­era and try to find that quiet space within. That’s why you’ll find that they’re look­ing straight at the cam­era.

They’re not pos­ing; they’re sim­ply be­ing,” he says wav­ing to the stacks of framed pho­to­graphs be­hind him.

It’s a far riskier and time-con­sum­ing propo­si­tion to forgo the ma­nip­u­lated shots and in­stead view pho­tog­ra­phy as a col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture be­tween two souls on ei­ther side of the lens. But Ho points out that the more he took him­self out of the pic­ture, the bet­ter they be­came.

Many of his monochro­matic por­traits show peo­ple on their own at a time when they’re not in­volved in busy com­mu­nal ac­tiv­i­ties; an al­most med­i­ta­tive time when

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