Meet Emma, a Malaysian architect and photographer who recently did a successful exhibition, ROJAK. In today’s Featured Interview, Emma shares about her personal stories and experiences, as well as the definition behind her photoseries, I AM MALAYSIAN which was showcased at ROJAK. Read on to learn more about the person behind FYI Photography!
1. Hi Emma, please tell us more about yourself!
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I’m Emma Khoo, and I regard myself as a fashion and beauty photographer. I am also known as FYi Photography (as in “for your information”) to most on social media. “FYi” really has a double meaning – it is an abbreviation for my Chinese name. Photography has always been an absolute passionate hobby for me, a creative outlet to balance out my other interest in academia. Right now, I’m studying at the University of Nottingham campus in China as a PhD candidate, namely studying copyright and China’s architecture industry.
I started photography about five years ago, when I studied architecture in the UK. Meeting so many talented and inspirational artists and joining the fashion club at university really pushed to do better. After graduation, I came back to work in Malaysia for two years. Whilst doing so, I managed to connect with the local talents in Malaysia!
2. What inspired you to get into photography, and why?
I was inspired by two female Chinese photographers, Zhang Jingna and Chen Man. Chen Man, especially is the reason why I started. Her works are so ethereal, edgy and jaw-droppingly gorgeous, combining high fashion and graphic design at times. I definitely hope to work with couture gowns and designers to create visual masterpieces. Furthermore, it is also a pleasant sight to see such successful female photographers in the male-dominated industry.
3. Where did you draw inspirations from which have influenced your style of photography?
Other than the two photographers I’ve mentioned above, I have many sources but it is a combination of film, anime, fine arts, Pinterest and the artists I follow on Instagram. My personal work tends to incorporate fantasy-styled conventions but I would say I like to be versatile with my photography style according to the client or theme I am working with. My work could be dark and scary one day, and bright and playful next. All this depends on the concept I want to bring out.
4. Please share with us your recent experience with ROJAK.
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We certainly would have liked more time to set things up and organize ROJAK! It was a bit of a whirlwind the moment we started getting things together in a span of 2 weeks. It was certainly not easy but the end result was certainly a fun and fulfilling one. The three of us (Daniel, John and I) learned so much within that short span of time: from planning, reaching out to sponsors, setting up the exhibition and completing our work.
Opening Night was extremely surreal for me especially when the set-up was completed and people started turning up. The amount of the support we received was phenomenal and I could not be more grateful to have John Kam and Daniel Adams as co-organizers of ROJAK.
5. What are the highlights and lowlights about the ROJAK exhibition, and how can you apply what you’ve learnt on exhibitions to come?
The highlight was certainly Opening Night when everything is set in place, people are enjoying themselves and you realize that your work is the one that is showcased! ROJAK would not be as successful if it weren’t for our sponsors: APW Bangsar, Gentle Rice, Rapscape, SayaBake, Red’s Revenge, J Cinematics Studios and the Latin ballroom dancers who opened the show (Alfred Choo and Joey Chan). The venue was transformed into a magical Malaysian jungle. Because of this experience, I learned so much about the organizing an exhibition and I’m sure things will go a lot smoother if there is a next!
The low: We should do this a month and a half in advance! Not in 2 weeks! Also, not everything works out according to plan so doing this reminded me to be flexible. When a door closes, another one opens.
6. What is your personal take on fashion being a reflection of Malaysia’s culture and attitude towards diversity?
So for my photoseries, I AM MALAYSIAN, showcased at ROJAK, I embedded my own interests in fashion with a local narrative, using familiar everyday backdrops and mixing traditional Malaysian clothing with contemporary pieces. Before, I would say I have a very “international” and slightly homogeneous style but as I grew closer to leaving Malaysia, I decided to let the Malaysian in me take over.
Each model has a story or a different character to play. The most challenging but also most enjoyable part about this series is when I took into consideration the model’s ethnic background, traditional clothes available and backdrops. For instance, I enjoyed having various characters such as the McDonald delivery girl, Chinese shopkeeper, the Scottish-Chinese tourist, construction girl and much more. Each piece of clothing and accessories are meticulously thought out to enhance the model’s ethnic background and to showcase the our vibrant culture in Malaysia.
7. Do you believe there’s a specific style shared amongst Malaysians? Why is that so?
At the moment, I would say portrait and lifestyle photography are extremely popular amongst Malaysians because of the practicality, convenience and the influence of Instagram’s aesthetic. This probably is a common style shared among us, not necessarily a Malaysian style. Similar filters are also used among one another. The downside to this is of course, the homogeneity of style and concepts. However, I see many Malaysian photographers now breaking free from the conventional and I really like it when a photographer makes a style his/her own because it becomes a distinctive trait to their style. To me, that is when their talents really shine through.
8. How did architecture and the history of Malaysia made you choose to do a fashion photography series for ROJAK?
As you know, I came from an architecture background and this allowed me to take notice of the beauty behind the “rojak” elements in Kuala Lumpur’s urban infrastructure and architecture. You have the colonial buildings, Chinatown, Little India to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers; you can see the history and progress of Malaysia through its architecture. Kuala Lumpur is every buzzing with so many things to see on street level as well with the street vendors, shopkeepers, civil servants, white-collared workers and more. This combination of the old and the new was what inspired the styling and narrative of I AM MALAYSIAN.
9. Describe your photography style in 3 words.
Versatile. Glamorous. Diverse.
10. What are your advises to budding photographers who would like to do their very own photography exhibition here in Malaysia?
Be passionate. Be proactive. Don’t stop halfway but carry on even when it seems grim. Get a good exhibition proposal nailed. Be clear about the aim and ideas. Presentation and marketing are really key factors when pitching your proposal to potential sponsors.