In Search of Truth, Beyond Borders
Abdul Rahman Roslan dreams of shooting beyond borders and speaks of making issues global. He shares his philosophies of life and photography with Neha Mutreja.
There comes a time in all our lives when certain situations and instances makes us take a look at some of the things we take for granted. One such incident happened with Abdul Rahman Roslan when he walked into a hospital’s infectious disease ward in Cambodia.
He saw a woman sitting on a bed— merely a plywood frame, a thin mat and no mattress—resting on a dirty floor. She was feeding her son clean water from a plastic bag, instead of drinking it herself. “Her gesture to make her son comfortable even though she was suffering too, moved me enormously”, Abdul looks back.
Capturing that moment made this young photojournalist realise how a photograph can speak for itself and express beyond words. He eventually made it his mission to represent the truth through his own work. While browsing through his images, one experiences multiple emotions that intertwine together and portray life in its true sense. There is no preconceived deliberation or even definitive limits to the what he shoots. There is only the intention to create awareness among people and to depict society in the clearest way possible.
“ I have freedom, I have voice, and I will try to make use of it for the benefit of the right cause.”
Abdul actually started up as an interior designer. “I chose interior designing because I love beautiful things and the process of designing”, he explains. But while in college, he took up classes for photography on the side. He slowly began to develop a keen interest in photojournalism, as he realised that he could do more than just create beautiful pictures. “I saw that I could also use photography as a tool to express my views on any issue”, he elaborates.
Abdul did his internship with Shamshahrin Shamsuddin, a wire photojournalist who currently works for EPA (European Pressphoto Agency). Two years later, he got his first international assignment, and began to dedicate himself completely to the medium. “You just have to work hard, enjoy what you’re doing, be honest and keep promoting yourself. Then you will find that doors will open for you.”
As more and more assignments began to come to him, he began enjoying the profession even more. That was when he decided to never look back. “Believe it or not, I always get assignments out of nowhere! Of course, you have to first prepare a worthy portfolio and only then forward them to different contacts for more work. Assignments, especially the ones you want, might not come immediately. The key is to keep learning, shooting and producing your own work till you get noticed enough.”
From Freelancing to Creating an Identity
Abdul sees himself as someone who is very independent and likes to explore life. His aim is to use photography to contribute to the world. He takes up any kind of assignment because it teaches him more about his profession.
He blocks out opinions that could hinder his growth and works relentlessly on issues that he feels need to be highlighted on a larger platform. “Issues like poverty have always interested me. Many people have told me that photographing the poor and their ways of life is very clichéd. But in my opinion, as long as it exists there is a need for change. People should not forget that it still exists.”
Abdul continues to work on independent assignments, because he feels that it gives him more exposure. “Being a freelance photojournalist gives me the freedom to work with someone I want, and involve myself in a story or a project that I choose. Then I can put all my heart into it, without any hesitation.”
“I try to photograph as if I was not there. I try to be as invisible as I can.”
The Philosophy Behind Storytelling
Abdul’s unique style of approaching his subjects always adds life to his photographs. He loves close-ups, ones that are very intimate. “I try to photograph as if I was not there. I try to be as invisible as I can and let people do what they normally do.”
For Abdul, both photojournalism and documentary photography are great media for storytelling. “I am interested in stories and not single images… I tell my stories through a journalistic approach (by documenting events as they are), but with a documentary angle (to convey stories).” He also believes that photojournalists have a big responsibility, because they report on events as a “witness for those who are not actually there”.
The Camera is Just a Tool
Having worked on numerous assignments with many reputed news agencies around the world, this young photojournalist believes that “a camera is just a tool”. His clarity of thought and an understanding of what he shoots make him successful. “It is more important for you to recognise what you want to achieve with your photography. Then, you will know what the right tools are”, he comments.
For Abdul, the joy lies purely in creating the images. So it is not surprising when he says that he would not mind using even a compact. “If I need to photograph an event with thousands of people in the rain, I would love to have a small 35mm compact waterproof camera with me. It would be easy for me to move around and not worry about getting wet.”
Currently based out of South East Asia, Abdul believes that it is a land of many opportunities and stories to cover. “There is not much difference between photojournalists in South East Asia and photographers outside this sub-continent. Photojournalists from many different countries come here and make it their base. What matters is their individual style of working; not where they come from.” Since the past few years, photographers from South East Asia have been winning accolades at international levels. I asked Abdul what he felt about it. He believes that there is a lot of untapped potential. “Asian photographers have to take advantage of this growth and recognition to produce important, powerful works and make a difference”.
Enjoying Every Bit of it!
“Photographs are the sum of all the experiences, and thoughts”—a simple statement that reflects the understanding he pours into his images. The modesty and passion that he puts into his work is what makes him what he is today. “As a selftaught photographer who started shooting three years ago, I believe I have developed a very personal and sensitive style coupled with strong aesthetics. I am constantly open to new challenges.”
While he started with a variety of assignments from commercial to news photography, Abdul focuses on just news and documentary photography today. He further expresses that he would like to continue covering issues like poverty as long as it is present. “I have freedom, I have voice, and I will try to make use of it for the benefit of the right cause. I hope that I will be able to do this as long as I can—I am enjoying every moment of it.”
Tips by Abdul
- Time management, good networking skills, persistence, alertness, and hard work are instrumental to success.
- The internet is the most powerful medium to promote your work today.
- Never choose this career for the money. Just be honest with your work and never give up.
About Abdul Rahman Roslan
Abdul Rahman Roslan is a 25-year-old photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Abdul shoots many personal assignments and also freelances for wire agencies like AFP, EPA and Reuters. He prefers his images to be unfinished frames that leaves questions and emotions in the mind of the viewer, At present he is documenting the impact of urbanisation on various communities in South East Asia.
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Better Photography.
Tags: Profile, Neha Mutreja, photojournalist, documentary photography, June 2009, Abdul Rahman Roslan, Kuala Lampur, Social Issue, Poverty, European Pressphoto Agency