A Dreamy Tribute in 35mm

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There is no nostalgia like analogue camera nostalgia.

With an eagle etched over his throat, 30-year-old Samuel Carter looks more like a tattoo-parlour apprentice than a self-made vintage photographer. “Photography has been my hobby for the past 12 years,” says the extreme music merchandise producer from London. “I shot a lot of music photography, mostly backstage stuff you don’t generally see in magazines, before I decided to take it to the next level recently. This is my first solo show ever.”

Carter and I met at a coffee shop along Lebuh Carnarvon after I visited his photo exhibit, Psycho Holiday – also the title of a song by Texas metal band Pantera – which ran from November 14-30 last year at the Ernest Zacharevic x E&O gallery located in the E&O Hotel. The series of pictures, grainy and dense in colour, is a collection of the best memories Carter has of Penang.

The shots are all developed from 35mm film and exude a wistfulness that contemporary digital photography can only obtain after hours of skilful editing. “Penang’s like a dream, something that feels like a memory with a hazy look. The images might as well be from 30 years ago,” says Carter. “I use digital equipment for my professional work, but my real interest is film. I love the nostalgic element of it.”

Nostalgia is indeed what struck Carter about Penang: “Penang is interesting because it’s quite a traditional place, but it’s much more liberal than I thought. The art scene is huge: it reminds me a lot of East London before it became too expensive – there are opportunities for everyone who wants to take them.”

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

Carter’s inspiration comes from absorbing the surrounding environment, trying to shoot glimpses of images that come and go in milliseconds – moments that never come back. “The whole point of my exhibit was to display Penang in a cinematic format using natural light and scenarios that Penangites see every day.”

He found his subjects as he walked around, losing himself to the island’s ebb and flow. “I realise that some of the pictures, like the boat or the parachute, could have been taken anywhere in the world. But the way I found those images and how I framed them is my personal tribute to Penang.”

Thus far, Carter has been humbled by local reactions. “(Penangites) are incredibly friendly and get the whole point of my idea,” he says. He loves it when someone walks around the gallery, recognises all the places and goes to him saying, “I’ve seen this before – it feels just like a memory.”

All of the images are automatically framed in his eye before shooting. “Things here are so different from what I know back home, and I thought they deserve to be captured as worthwhile memories,” he says. “My favourite shot is the boat. There’s something about the sea around it that makes me feel so peaceful, makes me want to get in and sail off in such a big, calm ocean.” 

Karen Lai

"Concrete heaven".

It strikes me as odd that someone with such a hardcore musical connection and lifestyle, and who named his website Death to False Dudes – a reminder of metal and punk’s call for authentic subcultural behaviour – would take such dreamy pictures. “Music’s been a huge part of my life; I’ve been into punk rock and heavy metal since my teens,” says Carter. “All the Psycho Holiday shots were taken as I walked around Penang listening to metal and punk music through my headphones, and I think that somehow, loud music became part of the show.”

Even so, Carter’s images communicate anything but chaos. “Someone told me that despite how crazy I look, they found the images very quiet and minimalistic. But I also think that it’s good to show a different part of yourself – I’m inspired by people, books, films… so many diverse influences that go well beyond my musical identity.”

Karen Lai

"Lucid dreams".

I ask him then why he thinks he had a “psycho holiday” here in Malaysia. “Well, it was pretty crazy,” he says. “I had the solo show at E&O, a group show at the Hin Bus Depot, travelled around Thailand and Malaysia… my girlfriend, who visited me, got pregnant while she was here. It’s been a pretty psycho time!”

As a foreigner, I ask Carter, what does he think of Penang’s increasingly diverse arts scene and its Western influences? “There are exceptionally good local artists like Bibichun; he’s got a Western vibe, for sure, but he’s born and bred here, and you can feel that too. Many international artists have come here, but I don’t think they came here to reproduce the style of Malaysia – that’d be like pretending to develop a local interest. To me, it’s more of a fair exchange.”

 

Nevertheless, I believe that the whole street art bandwagon has changed the meaning and importance of arts in Penang and Malaysia a lot. In a way, such change has limited the freedom of expression of international artists who have been requested to keep their work within the canons of a fleeting sense of “local authenticity”. Carter seems to be unaffected by this. “Mine is a tribute to Penang. If people like it, good. If not, I simply move on. I honestly don’t know if the situation has changed because of (street artist) Ernest Zacharevic or the media, but I think that as long as art continues to develop, it’s ultimately a good thing. For example, several artists from KL, like Kanji, have told me that they come here to do graffiti art because they get more support, and that’s great.”

Karen Lai

"A.F.O."

Before we down our coffee and part ways, I ask Carter about his future plans. “Become a father, first and foremost. Then I’ll do two more solo shows in the UK, probably in Bristol and Liverpool, with totally brand new shots. I always try to keep things unique for every show as I take pictures every day, and I want to keep evolving.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

Carter at his exhibit at the Ernest Zacharevic x E&O gallery.

But for now, it’s about Penang captured through hazy, dreamy lenses, in all its nostalgic glory.

 























Marco Ferrarese is a musician, author and travel writer. He has written about overland travel and extreme music in Asia for a variety of international publications, and blogs at www.monkeyrockworld.com. His Asian metal punk memoir, Banana Punk Rawk Trails, is available at bookstores. Follow him on Twitter @monkeyrockworld.



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