In­spired by the spirit of moun­tain ex­plo­ration cap­tured in the Mont­blanc 1858 col­lec­tion, Au­gust Man Malaysia presents avid trav­ellers Michael Helf­man and Is­mael Ma

AugustMan (Malaysia) - - Special Feature -


A pho­tog­ra­pher by trade and an out­door en­thu­si­ast, Is­mael Ma has all the mak­ings to ex­plore the world in de­tail and turn scenic views and per­sonal mo­ments into last­ing mem­o­ries in the form of evoca­tive, panoramic pic­tures. Upon re­ceiv­ing his first cam­era at the age of 18, he set off to Egypt on an ex­change pro­gramme and had his first taste of pho­tog­ra­phy. What he soon dis­cov­ered was a pas­sion for doc­u­ment­ing his trav­els and new ex­pe­ri­ences in vivid style.

It was later, while pur­su­ing his higher ed­u­ca­tion in Hawaii, that Is­mael’s bud­ding pas­sion re­ally flour­ished and in­spired him to take up the job of a pho­to­jour­nal­ist at the stu­dent-run news­pa­per. To­day, he cred­its the beau­ti­ful is­lands and their rugged fea­tures, trop­i­cal fo­liage and colour­ful beaches for hav­ing helped him find his fo­cus - na­ture and land­scapes - and hone his skills.

“In Hawaii, al­most every week­end we would go out on a hike, or chase the wa­ter­fall, es­pe­cially when it had been rain­ing the day be­fore. Whether it was a look­out point or a cliff, it was al­ways breath-tak­ing,” Is­mael re­calls.

Since then, Is­mael has carved out a ca­reer in pho­tog­ra­phy for him­self and joined a group of in­di­vid­u­als at Do­mus Cre­ative, a mutli-dis­ci­plinary cre­ative stu­dio spe­cialised in con­tent cre­ation and so­cial me­dia man­age­ment. While pro­duc­ing com­mer­cial work, he con­tin­ues his love af­fair with na­ture, cap­tur­ing a new dis­cov­ery with every shot he takes.

What is your ap­proach to pho­tog­ra­phy in your trav­els?

When you see some­thing breath-tak­ing, you usu­ally want to take a pic­ture first. And then you take your time and walk around, and re­ally take in the scenery and at­mos­phere, study the land­scape and go over the fram­ing, and fi­nally take the shots that you want to get. It’s a lot of trial and er­ror, but, thanks to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, you don’t have to worry about wast­ing film strips.

What do you en­joy most about ex­plor­ing the out­doors.

It’s a great way to es­cape the hus­tle and bus­tle of the city, to feel recharged and re­ju­ve­nated. You will feel lucky to be alive, es­pe­cially when you ar­rive at some­where breath-tak­ing and feel like you want to stay here a lit­tle longer.

Are there any spe­cific el­e­ments or fea­tures that you’re par­tic­u­larly drawn to?

Of­ten I dis­cover that there is more to a lo­ca­tion than what it is pop­u­larly known for. For ex­am­ple, dur­ing my re­cent trip to the Tip of Bor­neo, Sabah, I knew what the tip was go­ing to look like, what kind of land­marks and sym­bols it has, like the big bronze globe mon­u­ment, but I didn’t know that the sur­round­ing beaches are so pris­tine. Ev­ery­one asked me where I took those pic­tures and said that they never knew such places ex­isted in Malaysia. They are like th­ese lit­tle hid­den gems that you ac­ci­den­tally stum­ble upon, and they are usu­ally the finest.

What is the main take­away for you every time you take a photo?

A pic­ture with­out a cap­tion is just a pic­ture. It’s the story be­hind that makes a photo mean­ing­ful. For ex­am­ple, the Ba­jau Laut peo­ple, the “Sea Gyp­sies”... I have just learned a lot about their cul­ture, how they barter trade, etc. They don’t even know their own age be­cause they are born and raised on an is­land and all they do is barter fish for rice and other ba­sic needs. That back­ground story that goes with the pho­tos is what I’m try­ing to cap­ture the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Na­ture can be un­pre­dictable. How do you cope with an un­ex­pected change in weather?

Once, we were hit by a storm on the way to our des­ti­na­tion, but when we got there, the storm cleared up and, for a mo­ment, a small win­dow of sun­shine ap­peared and it was breath-tak­ing. Things don’t al­ways go right and that’s fine. You just have to take one step at a time, play it by ear and stay pos­i­tive - that’s when you find your sil­ver lin­ing.

Michael Helf­man THE HIKE OF A LIFE­TIME

Hail­ing from the US, New Yorker Michael Helf­man has made Malaysia his sec­ond home for close to 10 years now. He started out in me­dia and ad­ver­tis­ing, and, later, charmed by the mys­tique and rich cul­ture of Bor­neo, pro­duced and di­rected the ad­ven­ture-thriller The Bor­neo In­ci­dent (2012), star­ring Henry Gold­ing in his first fea­ture-length role. The found-footage film tells the story of five fun-lov­ing friends doc­u­ment­ing their trav­els from New York to Bor­neo, par­tic­u­larly Henry’s search for his Iban roots, and the hor­rors that fol­low af­ter delv­ing too deep into the wilder­ness.

Since then, Michael has gone from cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion to de­light­ing the palate, in char­ac­ter­is­tic New York style, by es­tab­lish­ing his own F&B busi­ness which now in­cludes Mikey’s Orig­i­nal New York Pizza, set up with the help of fa­mous New York pizza chef An­drew Bel­lucci to bring the New York Slice to Malaysia, and the newly open NY Burger Co. at 1 Mont Kiara, de­signed to of­fer gourmet-qual­ity burg­ers at an ac­ces­si­ble price point.

“I think food is a very im­por­tant way to ex­pe­ri­ence a cul­ture. Wher­ever I go, I would try the lo­cal cui­sine. Be­ing an Amer­i­can, from New York, I miss my cui­sine. That’s why I want to bring it here and have some­thing that re­minds me of home, a bit of my home­town that I can share with the peo­ple here,” said Michael.

In ad­di­tion, Michael has started a fam­ily of his own with Gabrielle Tan, the di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for The Gar­dens Mall, and to­gether they have a son. Hav­ing hiked the Ap­palachian Trail from Ge­or­gia all the way to Maine and climbed Mount Wash­ing­ton in New Hamp­shire, the F&B en­tre­pre­neur in­spires his wife with his wan­der­lust and love for the out­doors. To­gether, they have trekked the An­na­purna Cir­cuit and, just two years ago, hiked as far as all the way to the Ever­est Base Camp. In the fol­low­ing, Michael gives a per­sonal in­sight into their ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney and what they took home with them.

What kind of land­scapes did you have to trek through and what did you see along the way?

When you get near Mount Ever­est, it’s al­most like a desert, huge fields of sand, miles of glaciers, a 5km-long quarry with gi­gan­tic boul­ders. You feel like you’re on an­other planet, be­cause it’s like noth­ing you’ll ever ex­pe­ri­ence in ev­ery­day life. There was no road, no car; the trail is the high­way. It’s the high­way of the peo­ple, the high­way of busi­ness. You’ll see some peo­ple walk­ing with 10 rolls of toi­let pa­per or a few cases of beer on their back. The per­son is ba­si­cally the beer truck, un­be­liev­able. The mules are like the trains. We were just awed by the com­pletely dif­fer­ent way of life. It’s in­cred­i­ble how they man­aged to build a com­mu­nity there. As you go higher, the land­scape just gets more bar­ren, but then ev­ery­thing just seems so much big­ger - the moun­tains, the val­leys, ev­ery­thing. If you ever want an ego check, you go to Nepal and you go hik­ing.

Which part of the ad­ven­ture did you find most thrilling?

The flight from Kath­mandu to Lukla, the jumpoff point into the Ever­est re­gion. The air­port in Lukla is cer­tainly one of the most dan­ger­ous air­ports in the world. I would say it has a run­way with a range of about 250m, cut into the side of the moun­tain. If you over­shoot the run­way, you’ll crash right into the moun­tains; when tak­ing off, if you don’t have enough air­speed, you’ll fall off the moun­tain. Th­ese pi­lots are badass. They are land­ing at this air­port mul­ti­ple times every day.

How has the jour­ney changed your life?

It makes you ap­pre­ci­ate what we have. It gives you the per­spec­tive of just how small we are, but it also gives you the per­spec­tive of how much a per­son can ac­com­plish from be­ing able to climb a moun­tain like that. My wife and I have de­cided that go­ing to the Ever­est Base Camp is go­ing to be one of the rites of pas­sage for my son, some­thing which I’ve no­ticed is largely miss­ing for kids th­ese days. Tra­di­tion­ally, cul­tures have had ini­ti­a­tions or cer­e­monies of some kind where a per­son goes from a child to an adult, usu­ally a phys­i­cal task. But we’ve lost a lot of that. That’s some­thing that we’re go­ing to re­in­state in our fam­ily. Also, it felt re­ally great to be dis­con­nected. Once you’re dis­con­nected, you will re­alise that so much of all th­ese things hap­pen­ing in the news, in our lives, don’t mat­ter as much as you think they do at the end of the day. And then you re­alise you’re not miss­ing that much. The world goes on, and when you come back, it’s like it never hap­pened. AM

Is­mael Ma wears MONT­BLANC1858 Geo­sphere in steel with aged Sfu­mato calf­skin bund strap

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