A world of their own

Pho­tog­ra­pher Hari Ho cap­tures the faces at KL’s Cen­tral Mar­ket dur­ing its last days as a wet mar­ket in 1985.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By ROUWEN LIN star2@thes­tar.com.my

THERE is a boy in one of the portraits who re­mains a bit of a mys­tery to the pho­tog­ra­pher till this very day, more than three decades from when it was taken. It is the only pic­ture hang­ing on the wall at the Cen­tral Mar­ket ex­hi­bi­tion at Wei-Ling Gallery in Brick­fields, Kuala Lumpur that the pho­tog­ra­pher has un­fin­ished busi­ness with.

The por­trait shows the child sit­ting on a wooden bar­rel sur­rounded by gunny sacks, light stream­ing in from the sky­light over­head and bathing ev­ery­thing it touched in light and shadow. This sin­gle mo­ment of tran­quil­ity amid the hus­tle and bus­tle of the mar­ket was cap­tured by Aus­tralian-based pho­tog­ra­pher Hari Ho just mo­ments be­fore the boy was called away to work. It was a for­tu­itous meet­ing be­tween the boy and Ho, set against the back­drop of the im­pend­ing clo­sure of KL’s Cen­tral Mar­ket in Septem­ber 1985. They never met again. “Among the peo­ple I did portraits of, this boy is the only one whose name I do not have. I asked around and was told he was a lolly chai in Can­tonese – an as­sis­tant with a lorry team help­ing to load and un­load sup­plies at the mar­ket. But even though I re­turned to the mar­ket ev­ery day af­ter that, I didn’t see him again,” says Ho, 69, dur­ing a chat at the gallery.

He re­calls that the boy had a “good face, very sweet yet strong”, and that he just had to take that pho­to­graph when he saw him sit­ting there that morn­ing.

“At that very mo­ment, he looked like a lit­tle prince sit­ting on his throne. He was called away for work right af­ter I pho­tographed him. I still won­der what he looks like now and what has be­come of him, and I think, wouldn’t it be nice to meet him again,” he muses.

Lorry Boy is one of the 28 por­trait shots fea­tured in his solo show Cen­tral Mar­ket at the gallery.

There is the ec­cen­tric man who struts around the mar­ket with mil­i­tary para­pher­na­lia and toy guns hung around his belt; the pork seller cou­ple who re­turn to the mar­ket even on their days off in their sun­day best, seem­ingly un­able to pry them­selves away from fa­mil­iar stomp­ing ground; a guy re­ferred to fondly by the mar­ket folk as “the man with one tooth and two wives”; and a man sell­ing gin­ger, pump­kins, pota­toes, and other root veg­eta­bles, who took it upon him­self to feed all the stray cats in the mar­ket.

“He is a very kind man who is al­ways dressed in a white shirt and white pants, nicely pressed and al­ways spot­less. When I was do­ing his por­trait, he raised his hand, telling me later that when you meet a friend, you shake his hand or hug him. ‘But for this por­trait,’ he said, ‘I would like to greet the world’. I thought that was so beau­ti­ful,” says Ho, who is cur­rently based in New­cas­tle, Aus­tralia.

The Ipoh-born Ho stud­ied in the US be­fore work­ing as an ad­ver­tis­ing copy­writer and as­so­ciate cre­ative di­rec­tor at an ad­ver­tis­ing agency in KL and teach­ing at the Univer­siti of Malaya. Af­ter found­ing and op­er­at­ing a de­sign com­pany in KL, Ho set­tled in Aus­tralia in the late 1980s, be­com­ing head of pro­duc­tion and de­sign at a fine art pub­lish­ing firm in Syd­ney.

As he re­calls, this Cen­tral Mar­ket project was sev­eral months in the mak­ing, the ini­tial weeks sim­ply spent on vis­its to the mar­ket and get­ting to know the peo­ple there. In turn, they grew to be com­fort­able around Ho as he be­came a fa­mil­iar pres­ence.

“At first, I was there just to talk to peo­ple, the photography came later. But there was this sense of oc­ca­sion hang­ing over ev­ery­thing be­cause ev­ery­one knew the mar­ket was due to be de­mol­ished. In the last few days be­fore its clo­sure, I couldn’t work fast enough be­cause so many peo­ple wanted their pho­to­graph taken,” he re­lates.

Ho was adamant that the photographs ex­ude hon­esty and au­then­tic­ity, two things he con­sid­ers im­por­tant in his por­trai­ture work. The shots in Cen­tral Mar­ket have all the sub­jects look­ing straight at the camera and pho­tographed in a frontal ori­en­ta­tion.

“It was a plain and sim­ple ap­proach that I had. I wanted them to be re­laxed and com­fort­able, do­ing what they usu­ally do, then very calmly and slowly pro­ject­ing that into the camera. What I wanted from them was what I call the neutral gaze, which I think shows bet­ter who the per­son re­ally is, com­pared to a for­mal pose or an ac­tion shot. I re­ally just wanted them to be them­selves,” he says.

These portraits in Cen­tral

Mar­ket have never been pre­sented to­gether be­fore, so this is the first time they are ex­hib­ited as an en­tity. Ho left for Syd­ney shortly af­ter he fin­ished this project and it never re­ally felt quite right for them to be shown.

“It is a body of work which I did and liked very much, so I have al­ways wanted to show it. But be­ing in Aus­tralia, the con­text was not quite right and I knew I would have to show it in Kuala Lumpur first. It is like hav­ing a tiny bit of sand in your shoe: you try and ig­nore it but it keeps re­mind­ing you it is there, you know?” he says.

In­deed, there is no time like the present, es­pe­cially when it comes to look­ing back at the past, and Ho would like vis­i­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion to revel in the sense of his­tory that this body of work cap­tures in its throw­back to the wet mar­ket of the 1980s.

“It is like a doc­u­men­ta­tion of that era, of how peo­ple were and how they lived, and in terms of its his­tor­i­cal and so­cial con­text, how they got their food. I like the fact that it also por­trays the peo­ple who are part of an im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tion in the city,” says Ho.

Three decades on, the peo­ple in Ho’s Cen­tral Mar­ket might have grown up, moved on, passed on. But in this show, their voice rings out as crys­tal clear to­day as it did yes­ter­day.

Cen­tral Mar­ket is on at Wei-Ling Gallery, 8, Jalan Scott, Brick­fields in KL till Sept 10. For more info, call 03-2260 1106 or visit weil­ing-gallery. com. Open­ing hours 10am-6pm (Mon­day-Fri­day), 10am-5pm (Satur­day). Closed on Sun­day and pub­lic hol­i­days.

Cheong Yew, Khor Leong Wah (archival pig­ment on cot­ton rag, 2017). — Pho­tos: Hari Ho

Phoon Chien, Loke Woon (archival pig­ment on cot­ton rag, 2017).

Lorry Boy (archival pig­ment on cot­ton rag, 2017).

Mah Kum Lin (archival pig­ment on cot­ton rag, 2017).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.