Conceptual photography is defined as simply, "photography that illustrates an idea". It can range into video art or conceptual art, whereby photographers stage a clear idea and concept with the use of actors and/or props. The most important thing is that each image has a powerful message and is coded with motifs, symbols and themes. Sounds simple in theory but difficult when you get around to actually executing it. It's a type of creative freedom that can make one intimidated but photographer Shah Azman revels in the possibilities of this experimental artform and has skillfully weaved his storytelling in his powerful yet quiet stills.
When did you first step into the local creative scene?
It started when I was still in university back in 2007. I joined an indie art exhibition called ‘Rantai Art Fest’. It was a very small event, but definitely my first step into the creative scene.
What are some of the things that constantly influence your works and why?
To be me. As simple as that. In my early days I struggled to find my own voice. I believe that’s really important; to not follow the trend, but to just be yourself. That’s my biggest drive.
Can you describe your artistic and creative direction? Has it changed much over time?
I really don’t know how to describe this, but maybe I take a very huge satisfaction in seeing things that are in order or well put together. It goes to everything I do in life, not just my creative work. My style is still evolving throughout the years. In 2009, I started my photography journey doing black & white photos. It lasted for a few years, and then I progressed to shooting in film format. But the idea of producing each image remains the same from day 1, I think.
As a start, you need to understand [the theories behind art] first, and when you do, you’ll be able to break those rules and create your own art. Art is free and it will always be.
You've expressed your liking towards film photography — in your opinion, why do you prefer film to digital photography?
Yes, I love film photography a lot. Simply because the quality of image it produces. There’s something about the grain and noise in film photos that intrigue me. I don’t think I prefer film over digital, both formats have its pros and cons. Nowadays, I’ve stopped shooting in film due to the high cost. Now I shoot in digital, but will try my best to emulate the film look.
What are some of the things you're always exploring in your film and photography?
Storytelling, how to tell stories through images.
Can you share with us your creative process on how you turn abstract concepts into tangible entities?
Believe it or not, most of my ideas came from my dreams. I usually wake up and jot down these weird dreams, and when there’s a project calling, I’ll browse through the dream book for inspiration. Some days it makes me emotional but mostly excited.
In your own words, what exactly is conceptual photography and its charms?
It’s just another form of art. Using photography as the medium for art. Instead of using paintings to tell a story, you use a camera. It allows you to create your own world and get away from reality.
We've seen that VSCO has reached out to you multiple times to feature your photography on their platform, that must have been really exciting! Can you share with us your top 3 tips on how aspiring photographers can get their own works out there?
Yes they did, a lot of times actually. It was a really big encouragement for me to keep going! My 3 tips:
- Keep doing and producing whatever you have in mind.
- Don’t think about social approval.
- Be proud of your work, post it online, share it around!
Do you personally feel that photography has become more of a freeform art or will it always have certain 'rules'?
If you talk about art or design, it will always have its own theories, but it’s never a rule, those are just the guidelines for you to understand on how to produce better work. As a start, you need to understand those first, and when you do, you’ll be able to break those rules and create your own art. Art is free and it will always be.
What has been your most significant/impactful project so far and why?
Definitely a project I did for Janet Lee's cover album art. That was really important because I was eager to be an album cover artist, and Janet gave me that chance. She supported my crazy ideas and made it possible. After that project, I’ve produced a couple more album art for local musicians.
Your recent guilty pleasure(s)?
A bottle of Coca Cola.
You've mentioned in a previous interview that you find it important to not focus too much on aesthetics and instead on making sure your art still delivers meaning. In the era of instant gratification, how do you strike this balance?
It’s a challenge really. I don’t know how to answer this, because as a creator we can’t really control what the viewers want to see. So for me personally, I’ll continue to include messages in my work with hope that some people will relate to them.
What are your ultimate visions and goals as a creative?
To have my team ; Project Underscore (@Prj_____) as the fashion film powerhouse in Malaysia.
Lastly, please list 3 of your local creative crushes and their IG handles that you would like us to shoutout!
- Ana Abu : @anaabu
- Amani Azlin : @amania_
- Fariz Hanapiah : @farizhanapiah