It is fast approaching the end of July and very soon, we will be setting up a public exhibition of this entire photographic project at the Whitebox in MAP Publika in Kuala Lumpur. We will be exhibiting all photographic series by the six commissioned photographers-  three from Japan and another three from Malaysia.

Earlier in January this year when Naoko Ohta mentioned that she met the Ambassador of Malaysia and the Sabah Tourism director in Tokyo during the Visit Malaysia year opening and was impressed by the hospitality of Malaysia and the beauty that is Sabah and Sarawak, and proposed we produce a joint photography project focussing on the Mt Fuji and Mt Kinabalu, two holy peaks, I jumped at the opportunity!

Now, some 7 months have elapsed since the idea was discussed, photographers selected, projects photographed and edited, I am glad to announce that it will be our pleasure to welcome all you followers and visitors to come see the exhibition which runs from 12 to 24 August in Kuala Lumpur at Whitebox@MAP during Photomonth.

I have now had the opportunity to view all six photo series and it is my honour to present them to you the Malaysian photographers I have selected to photograph and represent this project.

It is always at the forefront in this project, for me to promote and increase the visibility of local Malaysian photographers, other than showcasing established foreign photographers, as they are so often under-represented at international photo events.  The internet has made this easier. An exercise like Two Mountains have a two-fold purpose in the long term. Creating visibility and awareness in the local photography scene by giving opportunities to promising local talent, and exposing Malaysian photography and styles to an international audience. After all, mainstream artistic photography in Malaysia is practically non-existent, barring a handful of  successful practitioners.

Starting with Nadia Jasmine Mahfix‘s BETWEEN TWO MYSTERIES, her series of gritty and atmospheric black and white images depicts a personal exploration of her journey and encounters in her task to search out ancient practices and rituals of the Kadazandusun communities living at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. Her poetic dream-like imagery, namely, the frequent use of dark symbolism and religiosity clues has become synonymous to her strong photographic style from her other projects. Her storyboard leads the viewer along a personal journey by sea, road, in the night, encounters with a black dog, (or a companion perhaps), through dark fields lit by headlamps, abandoned vehicles consumed by wild grasses, swirling clouds and stormy skies, a giant ‘floating’ crucifix, starry villagers, spirit jars, a string of human skulls.

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Ultimately, the cult of the Bobohizan (or ancient shaman priestess) she so long to discover is futile. Perhaps the answer lie in the beady eyes of the black companion. Nadia’s presentation will be a mixed media slideshow with framed prints.

Flanegan Bainon‘s FACES OF GAYO NGARAN is less dramatic but more revealing of the reality he encountered, due to his use of balanced outdoor lighting and the medium format camera. FACES OF GAYO NGARAN is a series of 15 environmental portraits of local villagers from the Kadazandusun communities living close to Kinabalu.

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Although seemingly mundane, these portraits, photographed in and around the subjects’ homes, reveal a tremendous amount of personal information, as if the viewer was personally invited into their living rooms. Familiar and personal spaces revealed for us city-folk to see. Particularly endearing is a portrait of an ‘elderly woman with sunglasses of Kampung Siba’ sitting at the entrance to her wooden house on stilts, and a poster with the 1Malaysia slogan and Mount Kinabalu peak behind her. Another is the portrait of ‘Odu (grandma) at her balcony entrance with the Crocker range in the distance’ wearing a South Korean football jersey, photographed, presumably during the FIFA World Cup week.

These portraits have a certain warmth, and honesty about them, unlike many staged portraits I have seen. The task that faced Flanegan may appear straightforward however, photographing complete strangers in a homely setting require patience, and good interpersonal skills to gain their confidence and respect. This portrait series will be exhibited as framed prints.

Rayyiu Radzi loves to travel, and his work is evident of this fact in THE QUIET LIFE OF DUSUN. He spent a week photographing village life in Bundu Tuhan, a small community of Dusun folk in the Ranau district below Mount Kinabalu. Their mode of living is agriculture, particularly growing fruit and vegetables for sale in larger towns. The atmosphere, up there is serene and cooling, and the relaxed demeanour of the people belies a life which is simple but harsh at times. Rayyiu will be presenting this as part prints and multi-media slideshow.


I will reflect briefly on the work done by the three Japanese photographers, but leave the proper review to Naoko Ohta, which will follow this.

When the images from Junpei Kato came through to me a couple of weeks back, I was simply taken aback. His series titled JUKAI consist purely landscapes of dense wooded temperate forests, rocky surfaces and caverns at first felt strange. I am familiar with the woodland from Europe and somehow these are not the same despite Japan being similar in latitude to the UK.



I have never seen forest images of Mt.Fuji like that, having always imagined this pristine, snow-capped conical mountain to be populated by perhaps, grasslands or lightly wooden bamboo forests. When I read his statement that these forests are well known for suicides due to the isolation and natural dense conditions, then these images take on another dimension. They are ‘ending’ places, where the irony of one exuberance life-form is cancelled out by another. Totally powerful images.

Mikio Hasui‘s photographs titled WATER MOUNTAIN and the source that is Mt Fuji is a holistic series which perhaps come from the Japanese appreciation and respect for nature and the environment. His photographs of sodden moss, frost and snow peaks, rocks and twisted deadwood, lush trees, and descending mists are all evocative the cycle of Life and Death, Nature’s gift of life-supporting rain, and all that is enveloped in the myth that is this extraordinary peak. Not unlike the images of Kinabalu in the clouds, but devoid of human interference.


DEVOTION is Hajime Kimura‘s set of black & white photographs, documenting the ancient cult of Fuji-kou centred on Mt Fuji as a place of pilgrimage and worship. His highly stylised approach is strong, vivid and often abstract not unlike Nadia Mahfix’s, with heavy use of black, high contrast post effects. I particularly pick out the image of the marching priests past a sacred rock, and the image of the rising smoke from a burning pile of offering, with what seemingly appears some ‘spirits’. Brilliant capture.

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The Two Mountains project, I feel, has in some way, enlightened the viewer to one of Man’s common trait, that is, his connection with the natural surroundings, the elements, wind, rain and the sky, Earth, and the stars, along with myths that continue to exist in the belief-systems of communities from our two nations as shown in these photographs. Certainly it has opened my eyes to many aspects about these two revered mountains. I thank all photographers involved in this joint project in taking time out to do what they do best, making photographs which communicate with their audience.

We are excited to welcome all of you to the Two Mountains talk where all 6 photographers will be present at Whitebox. We particularly welcome our Japanese friends, Naoko Ohta, Junpei Kato, Mikio Hasui and Hajime Kimura to Kuala Lumpur.

~ SL

All welcome!

Two Mountains exhibition 12 to 24 August, daily 11 to 6pm, Whitebox @MAP Publika

Two Mountains Talk and Walk-through Sunday, 17, August 4 to 6pm, Whitebox @MAP Publika