WHAT matters most to Amani Azlin is the clarity of a vision when it comes to storytelling through photographs – without a story, a photograph has no significance.
When her poetic photographs are allowed to speak, they speak in metaphorical subtleties, rather than literal representations to express or suggest symbolic meanings.
It is then that the story of an image opens up to new interpretations among the viewers, other than Amani’s own.
She shares: “It’s encouraging to receive constructive feedback, even if it’s criticism. At least the viewers are thinking about the message, and are interested enough to comment on my work. I would rather have you get excited about something, even if it’s negative, than have no response at all.”
Has isolation due to the MCO led to increased creativity?
“Definitely, but at the same time, just because you’re in quarantine, doesn’t mean you’ve to force yourself to create, thinking you’re wasting time for being unproductive. I think that’s quite damaging to our mental health, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for that.
“I didn’t do anything in the first month of quarantine. Each time I sat down trying to create, I’d end up with nothing.”
So how did you get out of the creative rut?
“I bought an Apple Pencil in the second month of quarantine, so I was drawing non-stop, and one thing led to another, I realised I was designing new compositions for future photoshoots. In a way, I was unconsciously daydreaming of the projects I wanted to do after we get out of quarantine, so there’s this whole creative process that happens organically, unforced.
“I don’t think anything substantial or worthy can come out of being pressured to create, especially [with] work that is very personal.
“Yes, you are your harshest critic, but remember you’re also the one executing everything, so don’t be too hard on yourself.”
There is a unique conceptual element with puzzling symbolism found in your work.
“I always say that I’m a minimalist, and very often the themes I tend to explore are about the female gaze, and how culture and heritage could define either my identity or influence someone else’s narrative.
“I do think my work has a certain level of personal sentiment, even if it’s a commercial work, because as a storyteller you want to share stories that you’re familiar with, [which are] at the same time relatable to others.”
Give us an example.
“One of my most recent [projects] as the creative director for local fashion brand Anaabu’s Raya 2020 campaign Alam has symbolism and depictions of nature.
“However, the Raya campaign received quite a lot of backlash on Twitter, as people were misinterpreting the inspiration, saying we were worshipping other things or entities, like the sun, but all I wanted to portray was our appreciation of Mother Nature.
“However, I do appreciate the feedback and I’m open to varying [interpretations] from the viewers. At least, they’re interested enough to speak their mind. In fact, I’d prefer not to explain my work; I realise once you’ve established a fixed rationale, then it leaves no space for interpretation.
“Though it became a lesson for me to be vocal because the campaign isn’t just about my work for a client, it also involved other people as well.”
Speaking of criticism, how do you critique your own work?
“I’m grateful for my friends who are also in the creative field, they would offer their constructive advice, be it the visual narrative of my work, or if the photographs speak louder individually or as a series.
“I also really believe in the idea of mentorship programmes, because I didn’t have a proper education in photography, so when I first started, I didn’t know how to work with lighting.
“So I’d shadow someone who is great at that to learn about lighting, and when I was working at an art gallery, I’d shadow a curator so that I could learn how to curate my own work. From there, I was able to build that intuition to know what works, and what’s redundant. It’s a very instinctive creative process.”
How do you view the recent trend in doing photoshoots virtually via FaceTime or Zoom calls?
“I’m actually quite impressed because technically, it’s not as easy as putting the camera down and directing the model. To get an image involves so much more than that, considering other factors like art direction, lighting and props.
“When I started seeing the trend, I did plan a photoshoot using FaceTime, but I realised I took a long time planning it, so at one point I thought the photoshoot probably wouldn’t work out.
“However, I’m doing a project trying to challenge how conscious you are directing someone and how the person is receiving and interpreting that direction.”