In the summer of 2010, Brandon Stanton began a blog that captured the attention of New York City dwellers and somewhere along the way, that blog made waves with readers all over the world. What began with 10,000 photographs, is now a New York Times bestselling book imprinted with stories of people he met on the streets of New York.
In an attempt to document the people of Kuala Lumpur, armed with cameras and sheer will to approach strangers, Faces of Kuala Lumpur (FOKL) first started as a collective project by a group of photographers. As more and more of us are taking the less sociable approach to meeting new people, ie. mobile phones, the group sets out to Kuala Lumpur every other day to converse with people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and photograph them.
The people in the photographs are usually captured without a specific criterion. The team approaches people who are seen as a couple or waiting alone and try to avoid large groups. What started as a personal project to explore and find himself, the curator of FOKL, Joe Kit Yong said, it soon became a team effort of five people.
If you have been following FOKL, the team began late last year with just an idea, three photographs, not-so-great stories and no social media page to kickoff the project. As the team materialise their photographs and as people go about their daily lives, the project took on an exciting turn for the better.
“A while ago I got to talk to a street busker and the interview went pretty cool, he told me about how street buskers were not beggars and how he did it for his passion and love for the art and not money. As we were finishing, he looked at my camera and said, ‘I want you, to shoot my album cover when my album comes out’,” Joe said.
“So we did, I brought our best photographer, Crystal Ng, and we just shot a full set on the very same train station where I bumped into him. After a few weeks worth of mulling over the editing work, finally we’ve come up with that photo. So yes, that’s an example of our project going beyond the boundaries of just a Facebook page.”
The FOKL project was set out to give a voice to those who didn’t see the need. According to Joe, the project helps create a sense of understanding of people beyond their physical appearance, playing a role as a listener as they interview people alongside photographs of them and to document true reality. To produce the right response from people they interview, the team narrowed down questions to, one’s happiest memory, one’s saddest memory and one’s greatest struggle.
When we asked Joe to pick his top three photographs, this was the outcome of our chat with him.
“I’m eighty, kid. If I die now, it doesn’t really matter at all. I was laughing when I made it pass seventy but here? Here it’s just the wait. Four out of my seven closest friends are already dead. The last one who lived just around my house and used to hang out with me just passed away, I still remember calling his son about it like it was yesterday. Nowadays I just think whether I lived a good life. And I believe, the answer is yes, and I’m ready for death.
“So in this long life, what was your happiest moment?”
“Finding out that the girl I loved, loved me too.”
“What’s your dream?”
“To be someone successful.”
When I asked him “why”, he spent a great deal of time staring afar before finally answering:
“So I can help the people who need it the most.”
“What’s your saddest memory?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it was my saddest. But I remember the day when my mom said she got cancer. The sadness didn’t happen when they announced it, I was too young to understand anyways, but it was seeing her weaken every single day and noticing how someone you knew that was so strong becoming so frail over time because of the chemo, that really broke me. I was eight when it happened, she made it through in the end and I’m just really thankful for her and my dad who was so so strong throughout the whole period keeping us all together.”
The Faces of KL team occasionally organises trips to Kuala Lumpur for their project shoots, to contact them about a feature story, reach them at their Facebook page.