Penang at a Glance
Photobook & Exhibition
Hundreds of years ago, merchants and labourers sailed from faraway lands and laid anchor off Penang, to make their fortunes. They brought with them their own languages, customs and traditions. Over time, the state evolved into a melting pot of cultures with a blend of eastern and western influences, evident by the different places of worship, diverse heritage food, vibrant celebrations and more. Certainly, our culture’s diverse richness is one of many things that are central to Penang’s multicultural, multiethnic and multifaith identity.
Today, this vibrant state in Malaysia exudes a fascinating personality of its own, straddling the new and the old. Hoping to preserve Penang’s unique diversity, George Town Festival is releasing Penang at a Glance, a photobook that showcases both the familiar and the never-before-seen scenes of Penang captured by Govindarajoo Selvathurai, Oh Chin Eng, Sherwynd Rylan Kessler and Thum Chia Chieh. These talented photographers from different backgrounds have beautifully recorded the state’s fantastic landscapes, time-honoured traditions and friendly people. They have also documented Penang’s year-long events and festivals, from religious and cultural to homegrown arts.
Penang at a Glance is now available for purchase in stores and online. The book’s publication will be followed by a photo exhibition, scheduled to be held alongside George Town Festival 2021 this year.
George Town Festival is pleased to present the Penang at a Glance photography exhibition, featuring familiar and rare snapshots of Penang captured from the lenses of four local shutterbugs from four different backgrounds – engineers Govindarajoo Selvathurai and Thum Chia Chieh, civil servant Oh Chin Eng and professional photographer Sherwynd Rylan Kessler. See the state at its most dramatic, graceful and unexpected at this stunning exhibition, from its breathtaking landscapes, festivals, celebrations, arts, culture, heritage, people and lifestyles. The exhibition aims to enable locals and visitors to get to know Penang in a deeper way by highlighting the state’s diversity and inspiring a more profound desire to cherish and conserve its prized heritage through photography.
About the Photographers
Sherwynd Rylan Kessler
I’m always on the hunt for unique and organic moments to capture. To me, some of the best photos – from a double rainbow arching over a majestic hill to candid dance moves at a wedding – are captured when least expected. These moments are rare, but when they happen, it’s magical. My career as a professional photographer specialising in various fields – from wedding to lifestyle photography – has taken me to many places in the region. Still, Penang’s wide-ranging photogenic features – from its colonial and heritage buildings to its people, culture, rugged landscapes, idyllic seascapes and humble street food – are a shutterbug’s paradise. They are all worth capturing from every perspective – inside out, left and right, down below and up above. As a true-blue Penangite and a visual storyteller, I feel that I have the responsibility to preserve Penang’s amazing diversity and heritage, and share them with the world. To me, Penang is home. This is where I grew up, and this is where I am building a family. By capturing snapshots of our beloved state, I am safeguarding its memories for our future generations. I hope this book and the sentiment it represents will resonate with you too.
Thum Chia Chieh
I spent my childhood on Lebuh Tek Soon in George Town. Penang’s tallest building, KOMTAR, is just in my backyard; and I saw the pride of Penang being built. Can you imagine if I had had my camera then – the memories I could have preserved? My journey in photography began when I was in university as I did not want my varsity days to escape me. I’m an electronics engineer now, but I still endeavour to capture George Town. The bustling old streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and its surroundings may be filled with visitors charmed by its old-world vibes, heritage shophouses and various landmarks, but these were my childhood playground. I’ve seen its changing landscapes and streetscapes, and what I see today may not be the same in the eyes of future generations. That’s why I try to capture the way I see the streets as I walk through them with my trusted camera in hand. No matter the year, no matter the century, George Town remains a city with its own life. And each of us is a part of its life.
As an engineer, working in an office can make me feel a little boxed-in – the endless sea of cubicles, the windowless halls and the grey-toned walls are nothing to write home about. Since 2018, aerial and landscape photography has provided me with the escapism I never thought I needed. Having lived in Penang all my life, I realise how lucky I am to be able to experience its diversity every day. With grand colonial mansions sitting cheek-by-jowl with towering skyscrapers; hipster cafes flourishing next to old school kopitiams; and its friendly, multicultural communities – Penang truly has it all. Fuelled by love and driven by passion, I started to capture the state every chance I could get. While I enjoy taking snapshots of Penang’s old-world charm and modern vibes, I also find myself drawn to its simplicity and often-overlooked perspectives – it is a beauty in itself. After all, photography is an art of observation; it is about finding the unique in the ordinary. Come and join me on this journey to explore the new perspectives of our beloved state. I hope that my photographs will give the unrecognised landscapes and streetscapes a second glance that they truly deserve.
Oh Chin Eng
I grew up surrounded by framed photos of weddings and family members, hung in both my grandmothers’ houses. My dad used to take photos of my siblings and myself, then develop them and sort them into albums. I guess that experience influenced my interest in photography. Besides, being sentimental has also encouraged me to document things visually before they disappear. As humankind evolves, our lifestyles change too. Therefore, I feel there’s a need for documentation so that future generations will be able to have a glimpse into the past. I travel around Penang on my motorcycle, exploring the small lanes and hidden gems and to get me closer (and faster) to the community – my fellow “Penang lang”. As a special officer in the Chief Minister’s Office, I meet all kinds of people, and I realise that we all share one thing in common: we are fiercely proud of Penang – so much so that we brought this passion into our lifestyles, culture, traditions, attires and festivals. The vibrancy is just crazy. Through my photographs, I hope to put our people as the centerpiece – they are just as compelling as Penang’s food, murals, landmarks and attractions.