Smile, what’s the use in cry­ing?

You’ll find that life is still worth­while / If you just smile.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By PATSY KAM star2@thes­tar.com.my

IN an age of dis­con­tent­ment, when ev­ery­one seems to have some­thing to com­plain about, one per­son has cho­sen to high­light the good that he sees in life.

Sin­ga­pore-based Malaysian por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher John Cheong is hold­ing a month-long ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled Senyum Sa­jalah (Just Smile) at the Cam­era Mu­seum in Ge­orge Town based on the no­tion that by choos­ing to smile, we be­gin our jour­ney with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, and thus “flat­ten the hills in our paths and smooth the roads we ride over”.

Cheong, who hails from Pe­tal­ing Jaya, Se­lan­gor, stud­ied graphic de­sign, and went on to de­sign and brand com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­fore chang­ing his ca­reer path in 2000. He has since moved on to man­age­ment de­vel­op­ment, pro­fes­sional coach­ing, green-tech­nol­ogy con­sult­ing and, re­cently, added photography to his port­fo­lio.

The art event came about af­ter he had chron­i­cled the jour­ney of Malaysian ar­chi­tect Clif­ford Tan’s son from womb to birth with stills and time-lapse photography. Also based in Sin­ga­pore, Tan is one of the found­ing part­ners be­hind The Cam­era Mu­seum and the Owl Mu­seum on Pe­nang Hill. He asked whether Cheong would be in­ter­ested in ex­hibit­ing his work.

Cheong jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate “a coun­ter­point to the per­va­sive­ness of neg­a­tiv­ity in our world to­day”.

“What if some­one told you that things could be bet­ter tomorrow? Or that your prob­lems could seem smaller and more man­age­able? That you could sim­ply choose to be hap­pier?

“Senyum Sa­jalah has a num­ber of com­po­nents. The first com­prises dozens of pic­tures of smil­ing Malaysians and visi­tors to Malaysia whom I had met, and the sto­ries be­hind those smiles. Th­ese were taken over a pe­riod of six months when I was trav­el­ling around the coun­try,” ex­plains Cheong, 48.

Pre­sented in an ed­i­to­rial fash­ion, this first sec­tion of­fers an in­spir­ing read and a pic­to­rial feast. Some of the sto­ries fea­tured come in the form of short snip­pets of con­ver­sa­tions, while oth­ers are in longer prose. They are funny, eye-open­ing and some, mov­ing en­coun­ters, all of which leave you with the trace of a smile on your face.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is not all one-way – it also has a grow­ing col­lec­tion of vis­i­tor con­tri­bu­tions. Dubbed “Smilis­tas”, visi­tors get to add their own smiles and sto­ries too, us­ing Fu­ji­film’s In­stax cam­eras and prints. Over 80 con­tri­bu­tions were col­lected in the first two weeks of the event.

Th­ese will be re­viewed by a panel at the end of this month and the ones that make the pan­el­lists smile the most will win prizes such as Fu­j­film In­stax Mini 7 cam­eras, spe­cial edi­tion coast­ers, mugs and post­cards from Ge­orge Town World Her­itage Inc.

The third com­po­nent in­volves per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion with the pho­tog­ra­pher him­self, who is sta­tioned at the mu­seum.

“It is this as­pect that makes Senyum Sa­jalah a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. How many cre­ative peo­ple have you met who have a clear in­tent, an open ob­jec­tive, of chang­ing you? And then present them­selves be­fore you, en­gage with you, and ab­sorb your own ideas about hap­pi­ness and pos­i­tiv­ity?” says Cheong.

If you visit when he’s prowl­ing about, ex­pect a smile and a con­ver­sa­tion that might end up on the walls of the next Senyum Sa­jalah event, or on a web­page at the Senyum Sa­jalah Tum­blr and Face­book. He in­tends to re­lease an e-book with all the con­tents of the ex­hi­bi­tion, in­clud­ing life-long up­dates.

“This event isn’t about ig­nor­ing those times in our lives when smil­ing seems es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult. Sad­ness, in ef­fect, is not the ab­sence of hap­pi­ness. In­stead, it is some­times a com­pan­ion of the other,” he says.

“Senyum Sa­jalah is not just a set of pretty pic­tures, a tech­ni­cal show. It’s not about F-stops, shut­ter speeds or cam­era lenses, but an emo­tional jour­ney – what makes peo­ple spe­cial, hav­ing cho­sen to smile and be pos­i­tive, some­times in the face of ad­ver­sity,” Cheong con­cludes.

Senyum Sa­jalah is cur­rently on at The Cam­era Mu­seum in Ge­orge Town (No. 49, Le­buh Mun­tri) till the end of this month. For more de­tails, check out SenyumSa­jalah. tum­blr.com and face­book.com/ SenyumSa­jalah or con­tact John Cheong at john.bu­dakkam­pung@ gmail.com.

Great grins: Just a few of the many vi­brant smil­ing faces on ex­hibit at SenyumSa­jalah.

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