A Walk of Life with Che’ Ahmad Azhar
The first time I came across the name Che’ Ahmad Azhar was quite a few years ago. An IPA fan from Malaysia dropped us a note out of the blue – ‘Hey fellas, you should check this guy out.’ He sent a link to a page written in Malay. It looked like a photography event of some sort. I couldn’t read the text, but loved the one picture posted as a masthead. The picture was surprising. I had never seen a photograph from Malaysia quite like it. It was a classic, black and white frame filled to the brim with gestures and nuances of daily life in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Who was this heroic revolutionary sounding Che’ photographer? A google search revealed nothing. No website, no flickr, no further mention, just that one page with that one surprising street photograph. Che’ was apparently a college teacher. I asked if we could see if there were more pictures, and perhaps even do an interview with him. The IPA fan, if I remember correctly was Vig Nachname, but I may be wrong as it’s been a while. Vig willingly obliged and said he’d try and contact Che’ for more.
One week passed, then two, three and four. A few months later, I asked Vig “What happened to Mister Che’?” The guy is shy, hesitant and embarrassed to show his pictures. He doesn’t know what to say in the interview too, Vig replied. Che’ went quiet and disappeared.
A few years later in 2012, Malaysian photographer Rahman Roslan came to Singapore with a friend for a Masterclass with Magnum photographer Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb which I was co-producing with Tay Kay Chin. The friend was a thin man in his forties who sported a baseball cap, thick-framed specs and a well-trimmed mustache. He introduced himself as Che’. “The Che’ who ran away and disappeared a few years ago!?” I asked. He blushed.
The above introduction was part of an impromptu speach I winged when Che’ pulled another surprise on me by inviting me to officiate his first ever solo exhibition ‘Walk Of Life’ at the Leica @ Starhill Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was honored and extremely happy to see that Che’ had finally taken that one step forward to exhibiting his deserved work to the world. Seeing his classic photographs in large, wonderful prints was an experience.
Many young Malaysians doing well in various creative fields today remember Che’ as that very strict, no nonsense teacher who drummed in discipline and design in their photography and graphic design classes during early college years. Che’ was a former ad man before educator. His knowledge of design and pin-sharp attention to detail was very evident in the advices he shared with students when he co-mentored workshops with me. I feel Che’s biggest strength are his witt and sense of humor (the guy is one of the funniest I know ie. he gets my jokes :-D) and his humility – despite his vast experience and mastery, Che’s is still looking to learn and improve his craft.
They say every photograph is, in fact, a self-portrait – that photographs reveal more about the photographer than the subjects. Well, Che’s street photographs reveal a man of great humanity, humor and love for his fellow citizens.
Every city, every neighborhood needs a time keeper, someone who keeps time and freezes honest memories for future generations. Kuala Lumpur is very lucky to have Che’ Ahmad Azhar take that role and walk her streets of life.