P r e f a c e
This site is an attempt to present in the most appropriate manner, the works of one of the pioneers of Malaysian photography, His Majesty Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah of Terengganu (1907 - 1979). It does not include the entire scope of the His Majesty's work but focuses mainly on his candid observations of his home state of Terengganu. It leads us to a return to the past, to pre-independence Malaya, and enables us to have an in-depth historical and cultural insight of the country. This can be seen by just gazing at these photographs that speak volumes of the photographer's talent. His Majesty has immortalised the scenes and the people and suggests to us, the viewers, that their memory must live on.
His Majesty ascended the throne in 1945, almost immediately after the end of the Second World War. However, due to pressing official commitments during the first three years of the country's return to peace, His Majesty was unable to pursue his photographic prowess which he had acquired in the 1930's. The period of 1948 - 58 - which this site covers - happens to be an important time in our country's history, climaxing through our independence from colonial rule in 1957. It is therefore highly significant and important that these photographs should contain as much breadth, variety and depth of the time and place.
His Majesty was not only a very good photographer but also an accomplished print-maker himself. He had entered his works for competition in the various Malayan International Photography Salons in the 1950's, simply being registered as "Sir Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, Kuala Trengganu" (Note the old spelling for Terengganu). His Majesty met with remarkable success, winning numerous honours and prizes, climaxing with the winning of the Grand Prize in a Malayan International Photography Salon in Singapore in the mid 1950's for the photograph sublimely titled "Mariam". The full extent of his awards is still being researched and therefore not listed on this site as yet.
Research work on His Majesty's photographic exploits began almost ten years ago. I had done that in earnest, without any influence from any quarter; and for the simple reason that the photographs had given me an endearing memory of my childhood. For the first few years it was moving at a snail's pace, lacking any real direction. However, persistence pulled me through and over the years I managed to increase my undertsanding of the collection. The original recovery of the thousands of negatives slowly led to the next step of cataloguing them. However, due to other commitments in the following years, serious work virtually stopped. Fortunately impetus was regained resulting in the exhibition of a few of His Majesty's prints for the first time in more than forty years (since the days of the Malayan Photographic Salons) in November 1996.
Since not many vintage photographs (those printed by the Almarhum himself) presently exist, the biggest challenge of this exhibition was the printing of the originally fragile but relatively well-kept negatives of various medium format sizes of 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches, 2 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches; and large format of 4 by 5 inches. They were shots taken by various cameras, including "Linhof, Rolleiflex and Leica". Next, came the task of finding the correct type of paper to print the negatives. The unavailability of the required ready supply locally almost turned the task into a nightmare. I had to seek the assistance of a dealer friend in London who managed to save the situation. Thus in the early months of this year, I had to resort to experimenting with almost all kinds of fibre-based photographic paper.
The recent prints in this exhibition were printed with deliberate care and expertise, with the pre-requisite that it truly reflects the printing philosophy of His Majesty himself. The results achieved due to such strict self-imposed controls have been outstanding. In addition, since the negatives were in a fragile state with some surface scratches, much post-printing touch-up work had to be done that involved many long hours. As it was possible to have all these tasks done in Kuala Lumpur (and not elsewhere as first feared) I therefore managed to regularly monitor the situation and evaluate the quality of the printing.
One could only guess as to what or whom had really inspired His Majesty. In his most favored private collection I would find prints by Marjorie Dogget, from Singapore and K.F.Wong from Sarawak, distinguished photographers in their own right. His Majesty did not work entirely on his own and the gathering of thoughts of these photographers may have inspired them to strive for higher achievements, ultimately contributing greatly to the growth of photography in this country. The honesty and dedication of His Majesty as a photographer could not be questioned - exemplified by the many hours spent writing and translating complex English photographic texts into Malay Jawi (a derivation of the Arabic alphabet) which he carried on till his final days (His Majesty always had a preference to read and write in Jawi).
The photographs that were selected for this exhibition had presented me with a difficult task as the de-selection process of many more others (to give an idea, the de-selection of a few hundred). I hope I have successfully met the ultimate criterion of this exhibition which is to favour the collective vitality of the whole, and to capture the very essence of the photographer's message.
His Majesty Almarhum Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, Sultan of Terengganu from 1945-79 and Yang Di Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia 1965-70, has left us and the coming generations a priceless legacy.
RAJA MOHD. ZAINUL IHSAN SHAH
Director / Custodian
Elm Quay Fine Arts
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Credit: "Images of Terengganu, 1948-58 : The Vision of Sultan Ismail" would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of Petronas Gallery, who sponsored a special exhibition at the Petronas Art Gallery and publishing of the Cataloge and MIR Communications Sdn Bhd, who sponsored this Website. My untold gratitude also goes to my technical advisory team of professional photographers, Eric Peris and David Lok whose expertise and dedication to this art form have proven invaluable an indispensable. My sincere appreciation as well, to close relatives and friends who have shared my enthusiasm.
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