On the Streets with Affendi Haluan Kanan

On the Streets with Affendi Haluan Kanan

An interview with the Malaysia based street photographer

We had a great opportunity to chat with Malaysian street photographer Affendi Haluan Kanan following the release of some interviews with friends of his. After chatting and going through some of his images we brought him on for an interview to share his stories and experiences. The one thing we can be sure of is every photographer has his own set of eyes, they see differently even if they’re from the same country, city, or even town. They have their own unique stories and experiences. And those their own unique photographs from the street. Have a look at Affendi’s photography, then Kevin Lim, or Marvin Buhian, they’re all from the same country, they’ve all walked down the same streets and even photographed in the same areas. (Different streets and areas as well) Yet they are able to tell their own stories and use their own styles to show the beauty and lives of the people in their country. Today Affendi shares his story with us.

We appreciate you being here with us today Affendi! Could you introduce yourself and your photography for us?

“Hello, I’m Affendi, I have been working as an Engineer in an Oil and Gas Company for 19 years now. I started into photography somewhere in 2004 when I got my 1st DSLR, which was a Nikon D70 At first, my interest in photography was leaning more towards landscape, macro and product photography. However in 2008 I felt some emptiness in my photos and I started to look for something more challenging and interesting and that was when I discovered ‘Street Photography’.”


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Sounds great, and we’re happy that you’ve found the genre of photography that you can find both challenging and enjoyable. Could you tell us, when you do street photography what do you look for in the scene and in the subject of your photograph?

“Normally when I go out for street shooting, I try to focus on three things which are:

  1. Human Condition (normally candid moments of people on the street which include shots of similarities between subjects and decisive moments.)
  2. Shadow Play
  3. Juxtaposition* (among people and the things around them)”

(*note juxtaposition is a fancy word of contrast. It could be a contrast of blue on a background of red. But often times street photographers refer to this term to refer to separate objects in a photograph that seem to be interacting with each other. Ex. a person that is seemingly engaged by a movie poster, or ad.)

People in different areas of the world often react very differently from people in other parts of the world. This makes us ask what is the view of street photography among the people in Malaysia?

“Street Photography is still new in Malaysia and it’s circling around in the city areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang. As for other states (Malaysia has 14 states), there are certain constraints and challenges that street photographers are faced with such as the response from people, the safety issue and the environment itself.

  • As for the response of the people there are varied reactions, even in the city areas where it’s easy to find people strapped with a camera around their necks. For example in Kuala Lumpur itself, where if you go to places which have a lot of tourists, then it will be easy for you to photograph things since people will ignore you. But for those area where only local people are around, then you may get the uneasy stares if you try to photograph their activity.
  • As a developing country, Malaysia is facing some issues with drugs, prostitution and all sorts of illegal activities known to the world and this presents a real challenge for street photographer to go and try to shoot openly without been watched.”

What difficulties do you often face when doing your photography? And how do you overcome those challenges?

“In the beginning when I started with street photography the challenge and difficulties that I faced was to get close to my subject. I started shooting using a telephoto lense (70-200mm) and would shoot people discretely. I was afraid that people will notice me and that they would do something bad to me.

  • Later after reading and studying photos from other prominent photographers such as those in In-Public, of Magnum, Vivian Maier, Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz and Henri Cartier Bresson as a start, I tried to challenge myself by using a shorter prime lense such as the 21mm in order for me to go really close to my subject.
  • I tried to get myself a camera body which pushed me to use the viewfinder instead of looking through the LCD to capture the photo. This way I managed to contain my fear since once I am looking through the viewfinder, I am in my own world.”

Are there any specific projects that you have worked on in the past, and are there some projects that you’re working on now?

“I have one specific project which I call in ‘Life Within the Frame’, which shall show on how a single frame can play an important role in our life. For example on how we structured ourselves in Time FRAME, how we kept things in FRAME and sometimes on how we hide ourselves in FRAME.”

Can you share with us a few of your favourite photographs and explain the story behind them? What was the setting? The challenge of capturing the moment?

“The man with the watermelon head was waiting for the seller to select a watermelon for him. First I notice only him but in a sudden  I saw a ball resembling the watermelon hanging exactly at the height of his head. If you notice at the left low corner of the photo there was a woman sitting while having her dinner with her child. I have to ask for her permission to lean a bit across the table just to get few shots of the man.”

“It was toward the end of my long day of shooting and I feel exhausted but still need to find a last shot before I call it a day. I came across the stool with a tiger face on it. It interested me but there was nothing to balance the photo. Suddenly I saw someone walking with his shadow getting longer and longer. I wait at the right moment and snap. In this photo I try to show of our nature of fearing stranger especially during the night on a dark alley.”

“I saw the two figure standing and sitting behind the mannequin. I have to adjust my distant from them just to get the right angle where their head meet with the mannequine and lucky for me, those two girl walk into my frame and I got the moment. The thing that I like about this photo is about the head scarf (we call it “tudung” here in Malaysia). All the 4 subjects were wearing it but with a different way and different color. If you notice the girl standing behind the mannequin was wearing shirt which match the color of the  head scarf.”

“What I want to show in this photo is about the faith of a woman. The mannequin resemble a woman who was left “naked” and “broken” and the floor mops were left for “her” to “clean” up….the challenge was I have to wait for the right subject to fill the left frame and in a sudden a man came across while pulling up his pant…its just complete my story.”

“The woman was really leaning and sleeping on the shoulder of a LEGO man. It was built from LEGO and was placed on the bench looking like it was sleeping. I didn’t know either the woman did it on purpose or maybe she was missing someone. Everyone was watching her and I quicly grab my camera and walk as close as possibly to capture the moment.”

Can you tell us what a typical day of shooting is like? Take us with you and explain the ins and outs.

Normally I will go out shooting on the weekends, starting early in the morning and spend around 5 or 6 hours on the street. I will plan out a route at least a few days ahead of time in order for me to plan what I would like to capture. Before attempting each walkabout I will do a bit of study of photographs from other street photographers and try to visualize if there is any similarity along the route which I may come across during the walk. I also try to think a bit outside the box on something I might be able to create.

Other factors such as weather need to be considered, as well as the type of light I can expect. Since the equator line is just above Malaysia, the sun will be directly above our head during the noon time and may cause a shorter shadow compared to other countries which are away from the equator. That’s one of the challenges here in Malaysia if we need to shoot shadow. Fortunately though due to the harsh lighting we can still easily have a hard contrast between highlights and shadows.

As of my camera setting during my walkabout, I normally keep everything in manual mode. Since I am using Voigtlander Color Skopar 21mm f/4, I have to set the focal range up to 2m and set my aperture between f5.6 and f8. I keep my shutter speed at 1/250 and Auto Iso (with the maximum set at iso 640)

The advantage of using the 21mm lense is that I can get closer to my subject and t try to be as close as 2m and it gives me the opportunity to blend into the crowd and take a shot without being noticed. I try to avoid using flash since I don’t like to get too much attention.

Some street photographers love to shoot from the hip but I try to avoid it since I feel much safer and much more composed to look through the viewfinder of my camera. It was said once, if you look into the viewfinder it is like you are in your own world and you are the director of anything that you want to shoot.

Once I return from my walkabout, I seldom look into what I have shot. I may sometimes keep it for weeks. This is because I am not a full time photographer and I have other commitments to attend to. But the advantage of doing it, I may have come up with a story which may develop much later and only then I will go through the my photos to find photos which are suitable for the series.

What advice would you give to fellow photographers, and others starting out in street photography?

Affendi Haluan Kanan

Photography is a whole life process of learning and it involves reading and studying other photographer photos. Don’t spend too much money on the gadget but keep buying books that are related to anything that interests you.

Do not shy away from joining any street photography competitions. What we find is not that great about our photo might be different from others perspectives. Keep on shooting using the viewfinder and avoid hip level kind of shooting. This will slowly help you overcome your fear of photographing people.

Do not let the weather stop you from shooting. If its raining bring along an umbrella because good moments don’t stop because of the weather.

About Affendi Haluan Kanan

Affendi started in photography 2004 when he got his 1st DSLR. He started out with landscape, macro and product photography. However became a bit bored with his style and so tried to challenge himself and got into street photography in 2008. You can see more of Affendi’s work on his Instagram or through Facebook.

You may also enjoy the interviews and work of a few other Malaysian based photographers we’ve talk to including Kevin Lim, Marvin Buhian, Zamri Jasi, and Agoes Alwie.

If you’re a lover of street photography you won’t want to miss the collective project we’ve been working on with street photographers around the globe!

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