FEMALE Talks To: Photographer SC Shekar On Telling Malaysia’s Unseen Stories And His Work On The Laneige Waterful Sharing Campaign

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Laneige is an expert in hydration in more ways than one!

When was the last time you thought about where your water comes from? We probably all take water for granted, only realising how important a stable water supply is when we see how inconvenient life becomes during a water cut.

But for many rural orang asli communities in Malaysia, that inconvenience is an unavoidable aspect of their daily lives. Without a steady supply of clean water, most of the girls and women in these communities have to spend up to 6 hours travelling great distances by foot to bring water from a distant source back to their homes. Every single day.

Laneige wants to change that.

In 2017, Laneige kicked off their Waterful Sharing Campaign by raising funds through the sale of its specially-packaged CSR Water Sleeping Mask to improve clean water access for rural communities in Malaysia– an effort that raised RM100,000 and improved the lives of more than 880 residents across five villages in rural Malaysia. This year, the campaign is back again and it’s the newly upgraded Water Bank Cream EX series that’ll be raising money for 5 rural villages across Malaysia.

The campaign was launched in a grand roadshow which saw Pavilion’s Centre Court transformed into a luminous Water Bank Avenue full of activities and experiences!

A highlight of the Avenue was a striking black-and-white photo display, a result of Laneige’s partnership with the renowned Malaysian documentary photographer, SC Shekar. To capture the real face of Malaysia’s rural communities and their water struggles, he spent a few days in the Kampung Binjai orang asli village in Pahang to tell their story in his signature style.

As a fan of Shekar’s photography, I jumped at the chance to talk to him about his work on this campaign, how he uses photography as a tool, and why it’s so important to tell the story of Malaysia’s unseen communities.

FEMALEHi Shekar, could you tell me about yourself and your work? How did you get started with photography?

Shekar: “Right after university – I’m a lawyer by training but I never practiced – I joined the newspapers. In 1979, I joined The Star as a journalist and photographer until they were shut down by the government in Operasi Lalang in 1986. So I worked for a newspaper in Hong Kong, then one in the Philippines and finally a news agency in New York for about 10 years. But all through that while, there was always this burning desire to come home and document this country. I was very influenced by the works of great American photographer Eugene Smith, who documented America and its people during the Great Depression.”

F: Why do you think photography is the right medium to share this campaign’s message with Malaysia?

S: “Because it appeals to everyone. You don’t even have to be literate. You just look at a picture and it speaks to you.” 

F: Do you have a message to get across with your photography or do you let it speak for itself?

S: “Well, I think photography always has to have a purpose. It must mean something. At some point, it must help with a vision. You have to tell a story with it, otherwise it becomes just empty, pretty pictures. But when you are able to impact another person with the images you take, then I think you are getting somewhere. I also love the idea of using photography as a means to educate.”

F: Is this your first time working with Laneige? What about the campaign attracted you to this collaboration?

S: “When Laneige wanted me to do this project with them, I was so, so excited. Being a man, I had never heard of this Korean beauty brand, but when I did research into what they were doing with the Waterful Sharing Campaign, I thought it was fantastic. I wrote back immediately and said “You had me at water.”

F: So this water burden was an issue you’ve encountered before in your previous shoots and travels?

S: “Oh yes. I’ve been working with indigenous communities for the last 35 years and this issue has always been present. Every single community has started with a water source – and our orang asli used to live in the same way, but they had to move when they had their lands taken away. So when you’re in a situation like that, what do you do? How do you get water? Water is an irreplaceable commodity – you can’t replace it with anything else.”

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