Confluence & The Monsoon Masterclass Journey

When I decided to work with Tourism Selangor for the last 3 years, the one thought that became my compass was to make people change their perspective about traveling in Selangor. Somewhat of an ambitious task but with every effort, failed or otherwise was always about that. About wanting to make this state (a backyard for a majority of the urban folks especially) fun and cool.

Knowing that I was not going to continue my contract with the company, I had to make sure that I need to do one last thing I’ve been telling myself since I was at OBSCURA. To turn Selangor into a photography hub as much as Vig has turned Penang into one. Didn’t know how or when. It was just something that I planted in my head while working on #TSBreakAway which had a lot of influenced from OBSCURA itself.

Then a door opened. No, it was merely a key presented on my table by my then-boss Fazly, along the lines about having a budget to do something good before we both leave the company. That’s when I immediately called Vig and hoped that he would jump on the wagon.

That call turned out to be what we now know it as The Monsoon Masterclass program.

There are two parts to this superb program – 5 days photography masterclass workshop with James Whitlow Delano and Monsoon Artist in Residence (Monsoon AIR) with Ian Teh. I really wanted to join the workshop but fate had other plans and so I lived vicariously through seven students’ documentary-styled photography work. Which then turned into a 2 weeks exhibition at The Boulevard, Publika from March 23 – April 6, 2014.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think much about some of the work exhibited but when you read their summaries, you start to develop a storyline in your mind and analyse closely what each photograph is saying from the photographer’s point of view. You create this conversation in your head with the photos; questions like who are you, where is this or how is it possible starts to build up one after another. The next thing you know, you get absorbed into their realm. There are seven different subjects, all of which were documented around Selangor. Some of the stories can knock your socks off, that much I can tell you.

Monsoon Masterclass 01

I couldn’t have thought of anyone better to tell Irene‘s The Afterlife Architect story than Vig

K.G Monsoon Masterclass 03

K.G Krishnan walked us through his story about the Street Sisters in Klang

Hanif Maidin Monsoon Masterclass 02

Hanif Maidin‘s Tanda Mati gives a bigger impact when it’s printed

There are two entities I would go all out for an event they do and know I’ll come back inspired. One is from Kakiseni and another is Vig.

Having followed @monsoonair on instagram and facebook religiously (in other words, stalking) and heard stories from Vig about Ian Teh’s assignment for this program, I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.

Ian Teh spent three weeks in a span of two months exploring Selangor’s coastline with Hanif helping him to do the research and Nadia as his partner in crime, driving from one end of the state to another. I knew bits and pieces of it, of what’s happening, where he is going and all that jazz but if I know Selangor the way I do, she always knows how to surprise us. She just does and she did.

Ian Teh_Confluence Exhibition

Confluence is a sum of what is happening to our country in a wider perspective. It’s almost akin to Ian Teh’s love letter written to her people. Much like how I would conclude my journey with the state, I couldn’t have thought of a better word to describe it than one that he had said the first time when I asked him how did the assignment made him feel.

“It’s bittersweet.”

That’s all it takes and needs to sum it up really.

Ian Teh_Confluence 01

Ian Teh_Confluence 02

Of course, I also know that he knows a lot more about Selangor in that 3 weeks he was diligently documenting the coastline compared to the rest of the nation combined. It is only when you put yourself out there that you would know the nitty gritty side of this enchanting yet bleeding state of ours. Almost to a point that makes you want to do something to give back.

Ian Teh_Confluence 08

Oh yeah, might I add that Ian Teh is a Malaysian born (shout out to PJ peeps!) British photographer. And like everyone else, we have our own preconceived ideas about a certain place..until we actually get to know the real deal.

During the launch of his book Confluence at Publika last Saturday (his exhibition with the same name is also in Publika until April 6, 2014), I didn’t expect him to be such a jovial storyteller. Of course, I say this because, I’ve only know him through his work since OBSCURA and never had the guts to go up to him and say hello when I realised he was sitting a table next to mine at a local mamak spot in Hartamas prior to his Monsoon AIR assignment. Only a week before this launch had I manage to actually talk to him and ask some questions that were in my head for a while. Heck, my first photo of him was of his shoes when I was introduced by Vig. Being the typical doofus that I am, I was too shy and starstruck.

Ian Teh_Confluence 03

There’s this sense of humour you get that’s very British too. Making fun of yourself in a dry manner sorta way.

Anyway, it was interesting that we were gathered in front, all prepared to absorb knowledge as he narrated his journey when I suddenly felt like we were in a reading class of some sort. We were all very close to him, sitting in a semi circle. Listening intently to Cikgu Teh, Veronica chirped.

Ian Teh_Confluence 04

You see that black book he’s holding? Yeah that’s one fine piece of..sweet yummy book if it’s ever edible. It was so impeccably made to a point that the cover designed by Azeem Idzham is probably the coolest interpretation of Selangor’s map I’ve ever seen and the way Shafiq Halim designed the layout of the book, you know there were a lot of thoughts going through when each page is flipped. Tash Aw, Prof Khoo Kay Kim and Eddin Khoo enveloped their thoughts for the essays in this book.

It makes perfect sense yet it’s also capable of breaking your heart. There are only 300 copies of the black version and 100 limited ones for white which you can purchase online here. I highly recommend anyone who loves photography or books of any kind to add this to your collection. You know it’s made with lots of love. Maybe some blood, definitely sweat and tiny bit of tears were involved in the making of this beautiful piece, who knows?

Ian Teh_Confluence 06

But if you had to buy something, let it be Confluence. You won’t regret it.

Also, I managed to record some bits of his session. Wished I had recorded the whole thing! So much humility and honesty in the way he delivered his answers when we asked him some stuff.

This particular video was when someone asked him “Why did you name your book Confluence when you kept on repeating coastline instead?”

He knows his stuff yo.

And then I asked, “What is your best memory during this trip?” .. and you know his Malaysian side had to come out first when he confidently replied “Food!”

In the end, I do think the magic behind The Monsoon Masterclass and Monsoon AIR is something we should respect highly. I felt so proud knowing this finally happened the way it did. That all that hard work and frustrations resulted into this magnificent platform for all photographers and storytellers alike to grow. I only wish for this to continue to be the best it can be, changing one viewpoint a time.

Truthfully, it really couldn’t have happened without Vig, Ian, Nadia and everyone else in the team. They really pulled out a rabbit from the hat this round. They really did.

Watch out world!

Ian Teh, Vig & The Monsoon AIR

To sum up what The Monsoon Masterclass and Monsoon AIR meant to me is exactly the way I had posted on my instagram:

“The only time I had this surreal feeling (referring to the aerial shots of the coastline above) was when I watched my favourite movie from Dain Said entitled Bunohan, which was an Oscar nominated flick too. Coincidentally, both were documented during the monsoon season; only in different states of Malaysia. So my point is, there’s so many great bits in Malaysia by Malaysians..just that there’s too few to spread their magic around. Tash Aw said it well in Ian Teh’s book Confluence – we think we know who they are, we think we know their stories, but in fact, nothing is certain. It’s people like them that made me changed my mind about what I knew and what I want to do in long run.”

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