Remember this article from last year on mysterious artist MAM.08? Good news: the mystery is solved! I recently got an e-mail from the artist to let me know he had a new website, and I asked him if he’d be willing to answer some questions and clear up the mystery surrounding his presence. Enjoy!
Bleaq: Could you introduce yourself and your work in a few sentences?
Azlan: I was born in Balik Pulau, Penang Island, Malaysia in 1974. I studied at the College of Medical Imaging at the University of Malaya, majoring in interventional Radiological and Cardiac procedures. I am now specializing in Multi Slice CT Coronary Angiogram and Coronary Imaging in HealthScan Malaysia.
I had a formal education in the fundamentals, basics and principles of photography during my undergraduate study in college. I previously worked with a digital photographic technology and now work with medium format, analogue photography, Photogram-cyanotype, manual post processing, alternative hand tinting and collage. I am a writer of conceptual and fine art photography for a local magazine, Fotografika.
I work with multiple disciplines or styles to deliver the different emotional feelings in my photographic approach and methodology, but the three most distinctive descriptions about myself and my representations are: poignant, emotive and surrealistic.
I try to give people an imaginary possession that photography is a mental subject and it is what we see and contemplate in our conscious and subconscious stage. The most important imperative purpose is to demonstrate the depth of emotions with my personal touch in dealing with reality. I am such a dreamer but assign myself with many angles of concrete reality.
When did you get into photography? Did you have a specific moment when you knew that photography was a career path you’d like to follow?
Azlan: I don’t really have a specific timeline or moment about my passion in photography. Art is my primary interest since childhood. Growing up in the heart of Kuala Lumpur (capital city of Malaysia), I was exposed early to the daily struggles of life in the city: the disparity between the lives of the rich, the middle class and the poor is more amplified here than anywhere else in our country. This fascinated me even at an early age and it compelled me to ‘document’ numerous scenes of the daily inflections via my sketches and caricatures. It has since then developed into a rhetorical ‘calling’ for me – a social order that I feel should be represented artistically with another medium and in this case I have opted for photography and camera as my medium of choice. My sketch work has been the early foundation of my art and methodology as a fine art photographer before I moved to use my cameras as flimsy variant of the inescapable metaphor that everyone unconsciously or self-consciously employs. I am a medical worker that produces medical imaging and an have an artistic representation as well.
You have a very interesting technique: you combine your photographic work with collage style image manipulation. Can you tell us a bit more about this technique and why you like to work this way?
Azlan: My collage style image manipulation is just one of the techniques that I apply in my portfolio. I love to work in a minimalistic form like that but adding a satirical unique figure is one of my favorite approaches. It manifests something a-typical with unique projections, thus it stimulates more poignant drama of humankind, thought provoking, visually stimulating, mentally challenging and intriguing. Collage is always like a rebirth of our unwanted scene. It could generate and degenerate at the same time. It is all about feelings. They amplify a better understanding in visual perception, of course in a mysterious way.
I am a firm believer that an artist has to be observant even on the simplest things in life, for these images can potentially make for great stories. And not unlike a journalist, I am always searching for accounts that need to be told. Having said that however, the artist in me will try to accentuate the composition of my pictures to ensure that they do not remain just simply stories, but stories that are well told. There is a marked difference between a picture that tells a thousand words and a snapshot that serves only as an illustration. Hence the question I always ask myself before I compose is: will this be a story or just a print? If it’s the former, than I would have done my job. I believe that candid makes for great pictures but great stories require deep thought and careful planning. An intuitive judicious effort.
The work in your portfolio is divided into series, all with a very strong and unique atmosphere. Can you tell about how you get up with new ideas for series? What else gets you inspired?
Azlan: Most of my ideas are primarily from my readings and pure observations about society and my surroundings. I don’t work on journalistic or documentary forms but ultimately the purpose or principle rationale is going to be the similar form of understanding. A different tributary, but from the same root.
I love to challenge people to think beyond the obvious. I want people to confront their mental processes of comprehension, judgment, memory, and reasoning, as opposed to emotional and volitional processes. When dealing with visual representations of society, I feel I can best illuminate them through what I call ancillary criticism. My photographs portray the irony of life through faceless portraits or images, strong shadows, dark silhouettes and those are more often with the intent of bringing about improvement. I see folly everywhere and I try to capture these fragments of society through metaphoric analogies. This, I believe should be one of the photographer’s ‘code of ethics’, along with genuine representation of the artist’s point of view.
Can you name three of your favorite artists? How do they inspire your work?
Azlan: Andre Kertesz, Diane Arbus and Susan Burnstine. They make me ‘lost’ in their own conceptualized, visual, perspectives. Very intriguing and stimulating. They have given me a different visual interpretation, ideas, concepts and perception. The experience is about capturing the world you see and they make me believe that it is hard to distinguish the dreams and the reality. Something that I always stamp and engrave in my artworks. Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph. We have to give them (the photographs) an interpretation.
It’s probably like asking parents which of their kids they like best, but do you have a piece or pieces from your work that you like best? If so, why that one?
Azlan: I like most of my pictures. I am a selective person. I love things that have their own personality even if they are not the most beautiful creation. Consciousness and full awareness of being in a certain location taught me how to be very selective and particular about my frames. Most of my sets of images are truly an intimate ‘photograph’ to me, those are my elements of life, the place that made me feel comfortable. The images made me believe that my way of thinking is in line with those projections via my lens. This is a proper way to educate ourselves in gaining better visual content and to for me to create a legacy for myself. Personal manifestation is important as an artist, it is your artist statement. Each single picture from my lens has their own significance and sentimental value to me. My best picture is the one that came from my heart.
With many social networking websites it’s almost hard to keep track of everything! How important is the internet for you as an artist?
Azlan: It has an important role. In such a challenging world of arts we need a good platform to penetrate the barrier for better and bigger exposure. We need more exposure to share and spread our work out there. Internet is also a good window to discover more artists and more inspiring body of works. The internet stores a treasure of educational sources. Most artists have their own website primarily to showcase their work, get attention to what they are doing or to show the progress of their current projects. It is an intellectual process. I have my own website but my Flickr account has played an important role in building my personal manifesto and my art progress. It helped me build a bigger audience. Things happened unexpectedly from it and yes, internet and social networking is important to me.
Last but not least: can you recommend a book, movie or artist you’ve enjoyed lately?
Azlan: I am currently reading ‘The Ongoing Moment’ by Geoff Dyer and Holy War by Karen Armstrong. Both are clever, provocative, witty and shrewdly on the nail.
A few months ago I watched Bunohan (known internationally as ‘Return to Murder’), a Malaysian drama thriller film directed by Dain Iskandar Said. Visually stimulating with a strong impact of disconcerted poetic feelings. The movie forcibly invites the viewers to think, contemplate and to feel it, layer by layer by skimming those multicoated scenes and chapters. This is similar to my approach and methodology of art photography. Film has played an important role in dealing with visual narratives to many photographers and visual artists. They demonstrate the superior angle of visual weight and climax.
Bleaq: That’s it for today! Hope you enjoyed learning more about the artist behind this beautiful work. A big ‘Thank you!’ goes out to to Azlan for answering all these questions and thank you for reading. What do you think of Azlan’s work? Have a lovely weekend!
Note: in this article I’ve showed Azlan’s more recent photo work, if you like to see his other work and collages be sure to check out last year’s feature.