Back in time : Kuala Lumpur

It’s Sunday and where I live it’s now Tier 2 of the latest Covid-designated level of restrictions. Tier 1 being Medium risk, 2 meaning High and Tier 3 is the absolutely no mingling stay home, pub-closing variety. Anyway the scientists (who listen to scientists anymore, I wonder) say all these tiers are confusing and pointless, since the virus cannot read and they fly around in the boundary-less air with the wind, and they will come and infect you whether you are drinking in the pub, exercising in the gym or do sweaty yoga unless you are in Westminster and your name is Dominic or so they say.

But I digress. Here are some pictures of KL central, from way back, yes in 2008, when I was hoping to be a successful ‘street’ photographer (don’t we all) since almost every photowalk that has ever been organised that I recall always starts in Petaling Street and teaches street photography.

Has it changed? I wonder where these people are today, their faces frozen in time. Do you recognise them, it would surely be interesting to know. Apologies for the garish oversaturated colours, but like sepia and spot colouring, it was in trend back then. I’m more into muted tones now.

Engaging Street Portraits – Workshop

In conjunction with the 10th Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards 2018 exhibition in KL (8 – 17 September 2018) I will be hosting a ‘walkabout’ practice session in photographing strangers we meet on the street.

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Many people find taking pictures of strangers difficult, and so they end up photographing from a distance or the backs of them. We will practice how to engage strangers and capture their portraits, with their consent mostly.

This is a totally ‘free to join’ session for 2 – 3 hours, where you will practice approaching strangers and making engaging portraits, and having fun at the same time.


Who is this for?

Anyone who appreciates the challenges and reward of street photography and making portraits that communicate with the audience.

Skill level

You must be well versed in using your camera and its exposure settings. This will not be a tutorial on camera settings and functions, just taking great portraits. Do not let the camera controls hinder your picture taking. Carry a camera and one lens, preferably 50mm or 85mm. Avoid long zooms. It should be an enjoyable experience.

Group size & Registration

10 maximum. Free to join. Advance registration required.

Email :

Date and Time

11.00 am to 2:00 pm  |  Saturday 15 September, 2018

Meeting Point

KL city centre – to be confirmed


Steven Lee is the founder director of Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards.

He began his photographic career as a documentary, travel and fashion photographer in the late 90’s when began writing travel related articles for magazines and journals. In 2000, he published his first coffee-table book titled Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur, which received the Asian Prize at PhotoCity Sagamihara Festival of the Image, Japan in 2007.

In 2007 he published his second coffee-table book MALAYSIANS, with 500 faces of diverse Malaysians.  In 2008, he released MUSEO, comprising a collection of black & white abstract studies of antiquities, statuary, and architecture photographed in Europe from 2001 – 2005 is now available as a print-on-demand publication. Steven released LUMINA in 2011 his fourth book.

In 2009, Steven initiated the KUALA LUMPUR INTERNATIONAL PHOTOAWARDS, an annual international portrait photography competition centred in Malaysia, focussing on the best in contemporary portrait photography and has attracted the participation of some top international photographers. Steven continues to run photography educational workshops through EXPOSURE+ Photo Mentoring platform in Kuala Lumpur with other Malaysian photographers, and has been a portfolio reviewer and judge at international photo festivals and contests.

Steven ran classes on Documentary and Lifestyle / Street photography at City Academy, London from 2014-2016 and his latest initiative was organising the first PhotoSymposium Asia in 2017 and 2018.

Just Portraits

I’m currently in Kuala Lumpur, having attended the Mt Rokko Photo Festival last weekend as a reviewer (I will write an in-depth post about that amazing festival shortly), and I just had fantastic KLPA awards and exhibition, celebrating 10 years of the awards. The last weeks had been incredible,  making new connections with creative people and seeing many interesting photo projects, especially from young photographers, or even non-creative people attempting their first photo projects.

Meanwhile, I shot a few portraits below in preparation for a Street Portrait workshop this coming Saturday with my ‘new’ Nikon 1 V1 camera I got from Facebook Marketplace last month for a mere £100!


Nadirah Zakariya


Prakash Daniel

DSC_0936 copy

Elena Herrero

Thirty Pieces of Silver – K. Azril Ismail



Popped by the stunning Wei-Ling Gallery, a Colonial-era shophouse in Brickfields which is currently showing Dr. K Azril Ismail’s collection of 30 hand-crafted plates, all framed and set in dark wood and black backgrounds. This collection includes plates produced during the years Azril spent in the UK researching, studying and photographing, often producing daguerrotypes, tintypes and salt prints, and some, of more recent productions in Malaysia. This is is second solo exhibition.

Bearing in mind the long processes needed, and the single edition plates, there are some stunning still life imagery to behold, but up close, since the plates are merely about 4 x5 inches of smaller and some are gorgeously presented in a folding leather display case.

There is a planned talk on 4 October, details forthcoming.

Highly recommended if not for the curiosity factor.

What : Leather bounded salt prints, ambrotypes, tintypes and daguerreotypes, special interest, vintage processes

Where : WEI-LING GALLERY  8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“These pieces are hand-crafted, one of a kind, image-objects, with the lending hands of the great giants of photographic pioneers: Louis Daguerre, William Henry Fox Talbot, and Frederick Scott Archer, alongside with Herschel, Wedgwood, Scheele, Davy, Niépce, and Bayard. The tactile qualities and the idea of presenting an ephemeral experience to his works, all ties in with the artist’s belief that objects created by craftsmen are essential keepsakes.

Thirty Pieces of Silver is Dr. K. Azril Ismail’s second exhibition with the gallery following his seminal ‘Live Animals Inside‘ (2009) which documented the now demolished Pudu Jail. “

12 September  ~ 31 October, 2017

More info

Heavenly bodies

Depictions of Kuan Yin, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, Kuala Lumpur

Time to depart Kuala Lumpur after a short visit to oversee the judging of KLPA2016. What an intense week focussing on portrait photography, discussions about ethics and integrity – the unfolding McCurry saga, and great plans in the near future for photography in KL.

I can’t wait to announce the shortlisted finalists, and once all the backroom validations etc have been done, I will do so. Meanwhile, there are exhibitions and events to plan, and the groundwork for a new KL project has started following my announcement on 6 May. This new and exciting project will involve KL photographers and will begin a new chapter in visual mapping and documentation, illuminated by the myriad lights of the city.

LookBack : The Forgotten Sufferers – The Lepers of Sungei Buloh, 1999

A recent posting on a friend’s personal blog about her visit to the leprosarium in Sungei Buloh just outside Kuala Lumpur urged me to dig out this series of images I had put together way back in 2000 for a grant submission, photographed at the same colony. Built by the British in the 1930s, this is a vast area in the foothills surrounded by lush tropical forests and plantations. There is a clinic building, blocks of houses where the inmates lived in basic conditions, a small chapel, mosque and Hindu temple, shops and schools back then. It appears that there are still many inmates living there in semi-isolation, and the public are free to make visits. Many have used their spare time to grow vegetables and make handicrafts, whilst others just hang out in the coffee shops.


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These are just scans, as I have lost the original negatives or perhaps, misplaced them. They will eventually surface in the future, no doubt. These were shot in film, using a Konica Hexar 35, one of the best film cameras then and still is. It has a ‘stealth’ mode, when set, produces an absolutely silent shutter. Self-printed also, with full frame edge borders. (How I miss making prints in my bathroom!)


I only got my first digital camera in 2003.

Muzium Negara : Sticks, stones and mannequins

It’s been a good 20 years at least, that I paid a visit to KL’s National Museum, Muzium Negara. When I was growing up as a teen, we used to drive along Jalan Bangsar to KL and the imposing and still amazing iconic design of the Muzium always impressed me. All I recall was this great big red tiled roof structure that is practically half the height of this building, very distinctive. Just like the major iconic KL structures designed and built in the 40′ to 60’s, like our National Mosque, RTM studio and Parliament House; the Muzium Negara still remains a strong contender for the top public building in my books. (see here ) I was always amazed by the large murals which flanked both sides of the frontage.


This must still be the cheapest public museum to visit in SE Asia, (apart from the free ones) at RM2.00 a pop for nationals. I was actually surprised by the quality of the displays, the presentation booths, AV quality and interactive highlights. I had been expecting a dusty, broken down rickety old museum with unconvincing displays, but everywhere I looked, I saw professionally captioned artifacts, clear and concise explanations and although rather dimly lit, the display cabinets housing amazing pre-history stone instruments and items are well presented. Only some of the mannequins used to highlight our European-dominated past was a bit suspect. The hair. No, Portuguese sailors did not wear their hair like Johnny Depp.

Overall, although the galleries were small, the historical content was educational, and illuminating of Malaysia’s varied past, both in it’s early history and also more modern Colonial times. What is most striking for me is the cultural impact of Hindu and Buddhist influence on this region for centuries before as can be witnessed by the numerous artifacts from these early cultures found in the peninsula.


“This statue of Avalokitesvara was found in a tin mine belonging to Anglo Oriental, at Bidor in Perak in 1936. It is made of bronze and has eight arms of which, however, one is broken. It is dated sometime between the 7th and the 12th centuries AD, when the culture of the region was Hindu-Buddhist. The statue weighs 63 kilograms and stands 93cm high. This artefact is declared as Tangible Heritage Object under the National Heritage List 2009.” ~ Muzium Negara


An early hand scripted Holy Quran on display

Overall, I was suitably impressed with the current state of the museum, although I was looking out for a more comprehensive display of insects and beasts, as well, and I do encourage visitors and citizens alike to make a visit, even if to experience the architecture of this iconic 60s building.  I did chuckle a bit to see a Proton Saga in the external displays though.