Most of us can’t leave home without our smartphones for practical reasons, but Grace Ho Pui Wan won’t leave hers behind because it’s her camera and her most important creative tool.
“My smartphone is a must-have. It allows me to take a snapshot in a jiffy if something interesting catches my eye, ” said the Kuala Lumpur-based photography enthusiast, who sometimes also carries her pocket camera along.
Ho first developed an interest in photography in 2013. In seven years, the mother of two has gone on to win an impressive number of online photography competitions.
Last month, she clinched the Excellence Award in US-based photography magazine Black & White’s Portfolio Contest 2020.
“Winning the award came as a surprise. I am happy because I challenged myself to shoot a portfolio and present the photos with a theme story, ” explained Ho, a general manager of a construction company in Kuala Lumpur.
She impressed judges with her portfolio, One Day At A Time, which features 15 photos taken at a shantytown in Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta.
Ho, who is in her late 40s, took the photos last year while attending a photography workshop in Jakarta. She had the photoshoot at the squatter area because she wanted to document the struggles of the community, who live in tiny homes (1.3m x 3m) without furnishing and share communal toilets.
“It was a memorable experience having the shoot at the shantytown. My subjects, mainly children, women and the elderly, were unaware when I captured their photos. They were very appreciative to see their images on the camera.
“Despite our language differences, it’s a unique experience interacting with people of different cultures. I’ve learned that a sincere smile is an international pass that can break the ice everywhere, ” said Ho, who took four days to complete her photoshoot. Out of the many genres of photography, Ho has an affinity for photojournalism, specifically street photography.
Photojournalism allows her to document events as they unfold. Through her photographs, she documents life in public areas while capturing the emotions and interactions between her individual subjects.
“Street photography is a challenge because I do not stage my photography. You need to have a sharp eye, fast reactions and expect the moment to happen spontaneously, ” said Ho, who has documented poignant community stories in India, Indonesia and Egypt through her street images.
“Humans see the world in colour, and a rendition of the world in monochrome makes viewers more focused on my subject’s emotional state, ” said Ho.
In March, she added another feather to her cap by winning second place (Merit of Excellence – Silhouette award) at the 13th International Color Awards, a California-based online photo competition.
Other awards under her belt include the SpotLight Award at California’s 2019 Black & White Magazine Portfolio contest, and second prize (Advertising/Architecture) in the 2018 Prix de la Photographie Paris online photography award.
“I’m blessed to have received awards from different photography competitions.
“Winning these awards has motivated me to push the envelope further and challenge myself in different photography genres.”
Age is just a number
Ho was in her early 40s when she first dabbled in photography. It started as a hobby and an avenue to destress from the pressures of work.
It was her close friend, the late diving instructor and photographer Ujin Goh, who motivated her to pick up photography as a diversion from her busy work and family life routine.
“Ujin always encouraged me to make time for myself. He knew I had an interest in photography and coached me on the basic skills and techniques in photography.”
In 2016, Goh helped Ho to submit her photos for the Monochrome Awards, an international black and white photography contest.
Sadly, three days after Ho submitted her entries, Goh died of a heart attack. Two months later, she received news that her submission earned an honourable mention.
“That was my first ever photography award. Sadly, I could not share it with Ujin. His passing served as a reminder of the importance of balancing work, family and play, ” said Ho, who further honed her photography skills by reading books, watching photography videos on YouTube and attending courses.
Every year, she also allocates a certain number of days for photography expeditions with her friends.
“Whenever I plan such trips, I ensure it doesn’t disrupt my work schedule.
“My laptop and handphone are always with me so I can work remotely.
“I enjoy learning new skills with my photographer friends. These trips have enabled me to open my eyes and mind, and sharpen my interest in capturing imagery in different places and countries, ” said Ho, adding that her husband has been supportive of her interest.
Ho encourages women to pick up photography as a hobby.
“Even though working mothers have many responsibilities, they must make time for themselves. All you need is a camera and some necessary photography skills to kickstart your hobby.
“As a serious photographer, time management is essential to balance work and family commitments. For outdoor photography, be prepared to travel long distances, sleep in sleeping bags, and carry heavy photography equipment, ” she advised.
Despite these challenges, Ho continues to enjoy photography.
“The time I spend on taking photos is my ‘me’ time. I enjoy being alone to appreciate my
surroundings and wait for the perfect moment to click my shutter.
“Photos can evoke a person’s emotion and inspire the viewer to know more about different subjects, ranging from people, to culture and nature.
“Photography is also a way to perpetuate a moment, with all the associated emotions and feelings. When photographing a landscape, I will feel much satisfied when I manage to capture a beautiful scene through my eyes, mind and lenses, ” said Ho, on a concluding note.