I had been looking forward to our time in Kuala Lumpur for a while for many reasons, not the least of which being the chance to get some really great street photography time under my belt. Since well before we left on our tip I’ve been following Robin Wong, a KL-based photographer who primarily shoots street photos. In fact, it was his review of the EM-5 and the 45mm lens that prompted my purchase of both. Prior to our arrival in KL I got in touch with Robin and asked if he would be game for letting me join him on one of his shutter therapy sessions. He enthusiastically agreed, and informed me that, not only would we be walking Pudu market, but he was also going to take us to a pre-photo dim sum breakfast at a local place he knew. I was elated, and while not everything went according to plan I ended up having a great day, capturing some real winners and really opening up my skills as a street photographer.
My day started at 6 am, walking to meet Robin at the sim sum restaurant near the market. We were joined by two of his friends, Tai Foong and Kelvin Ng. I left the ordering to them, and they knocked it out of the park. This was easily some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had (and I’ve tasted the best), and I was glad we started early because the good stuff was gone by 7:30.
With such a strong start to the day, I was getting pretty excited. Until the rain started.
We spent the next two hours browsing a nearby camera store, drinking coffee and generally killing time. By the time the rain let up Robin and Kelvin both had run out of morning and had to be somewhere else. However Tai Foong was still game, so together we attacked Pudu market in its post-rain glory. Biggest tip of the day? Closed shoes. But, rain delay aside, the shooting conditions were stellar. The remains of the rain increased natural contrast and the residual clouds nicely evened out the midday sun. Add that to the fact that all the market umbrellas turned the entire place into an open-shade playground and I was in heaven.
The market was a zoo, but it didn’t matter one bit as it meant more people for me to photograph. And the people were definitely the star of this show. The entire day was a cavalcade of smiling faces, requests for photos and general good-naturedness. Anyone who says Malays aren’t friendly hasn’t been to Malaysia.
The market seemed to go on forever. As Tai Foong and I delved deeper the people became more friendly, the wares became more strange and the sludge covering the ground ran a more mysterious color after every step.
Malays of all stripes came out to do their shopping. Essentially anything you could want — food, hard goods, soft goods, snake oil — was on offer. The market was bursting with color, smells and textures.
Everywhere I turned people were busy hawking their wares, generally too busy to notice me, but bursting into a smile if they did happen to look my way.
Eventually the heat got to us and we sat down for a teh ais (black tea with condensed milk and ice—my favorite) in a little stall tucked away to the side of the main market. We shared a table with a family out doing their shopping, gathering a few curious stares as we slung our cameras over our shoulders. Tai Foong explained what we were doing and they gladly let us take a few photos of them, after adding them on Facebook, of course.
Refreshed, we waded back into the frenetic market to work our way back to where we began our day, hours earlier.
The clouds had gone away and we’d worked our way through nearly all of the market. The heat was getting oppressive and we both agreed that there was nothing more we could do for the day. It had been an overwhelming success and we had both filled our memory cards with great shots, far too many for one post.
To say that Pudu market is a street photographer’s paradise is an understatement. If you’re looking for a place to gain confidence photographing strangers, there is nowhere better. The shopkeepers in Pudu suffer none of the tourist fatigue that you would find in a more popular market: Pudu is as local as markets come, and this means if you brave the sludge you’ll be rewarded with an unmitigated glimpse into the daily lives of Malays. Even without a camera this is an immensely rewarding experience and would count as a highlight of any visit to KL for those who are curious about the culture of its inhabitants.
Tell us: Do you love street photography? Have you ever had an experience that you felt was a direct window into another culture?