Interview #20 - Razlan Yusof

Razlan Yusof is born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He describes his work as "constant documentation of life", mainly focusing on portraits and he frequently shoots in film.

You can find his work on his website, Facebook and Instagram

Tell me about yourself

Hi there, my name is Razlan Yusof, currently living in the capital city of Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur. I am 24 years old and I’ve been taking pictures since I was 18 years old.  I love sharing my photography knowledge to anyone who wants to learn so don’t be afraid to ask me how I shoot a particular picture. Ask away, I won’t bite.

What’s been happening to life in general?

I just started work in this company called Enso Mediaworks. We’re a creative agency that focuses on visual productions. Other then that, I’ve been doing the same thing I did for the past 8 years by taking more photographs. Oh and I’m getting married next year, so that’s in the planning stage now. 

What made you start photography?

If I paid myself 1 buck for every time I’ve explained this, I would be a billionaire by now, haha! I actually never liked photography when I was younger, to be honest. Ever since I was young, I’ve always enjoyed drawing. In college, I had a digital photography class and I scored a D for that class. But my dad kept encouraging me to pursue it. So I picked up his Canon EOS 20D and starting carrying it with me everywhere I go. I was that kid who always had his camera on his shoulder.

Most of your work was shot in film. Why film?

Learning not to see your image straight away is always a challenge. We are surrounded with digital cameras and phone cameras, which allow you to see the finish product on the LCD screen. Not knowing what you’ve taken takes a lot of practice. Another thing is that, there are a lot of cameras you get to play with! I have 3 different medium format cameras that shoot the same film but built differently. Its fun experimenting with film and cameras, you know?

To what extent shooting in film is still relevant to this day?

To be honest, digital cameras do produce amazing pictures. But there are a number of us who are still intrigued in the film photography as the mechanism of the film cameras do play a huge role in producing our pictures, and at the same time different films do produce different looks. Some films from Fuji produce blue toned pictures and it varies on how you use it. Some black and white films will vary in terms of grains, contrast and etc. At the end of the day, film photography allows you to play around with various factors that actually do keep the film photography very interesting. Apart from that, film will never die as we have brands like Ilford, which still produces films, chemicals for the developing process and papers for printing in the dark room. This shows there is still a demand for film photography at this day and age.

What is your go-to film camera and film?

For film cameras, I have to say my Leica M6 and my Rolleiflex T. Well, that’s because these two are my lightest cameras I currently have in my weapon cache. If I could, I would bring everything with me everywhere I go! When it comes to film, for colour it has to be the Kodak Portra 400 and for black and white, the Fomapan 400.

What is your end product when given an assignment? What are you trying to achieve?

For me, the end product has to be what I had envisioned it to be. If I had a picture in my head that this particular shot would look good, I need to make that happen. I’m not a fan of experimenting during an assignment. I like knowing what the shot is going to look like even before the shoot begins.

What was your favourite assignment so far?

It has to be my photoshoot with Fuad Alhabshi from Kyoto Protocol for Pestle & Mortar Clothing. When I was given this assignment, I didn’t want to shoot Fuad like how everyone shoots a rockstar. I wanted it to be different. After one week of brainstorming with the Pestle & Mortar Team, I got this idea where I wanted to show both the rockstar side and the side where no one knows about.  I got this idea from Superman actually. Clark Kent during the day is a journalist who works in Daily Planet and at night he is Superman. So the idea for the shoot is like a split personality. During the day, Fuad is a financial analyst; by night he is the front man of Kyoto Protocol.

I also notice in your work that you’ve travelled a lot. How travelling affects you as a photographer?

To be honest, I started traveling and taking photographs in 2014, which was Nepal & Sarawak. Before that, I frequently had road trips around Malaysia. It’s refreshing to see new things. And sometimes, just being at that spot you’ve never been to feels good. Taking a photograph of that place is an experience that is worthwhile. 

When you travel what are you documenting into your images?

I’ve always enjoyed doing street photography. I love photographing humans. Portraits are my forte - I love meeting new people and listening to their stories. 

What is your favourite place to travel?

I’ve been to Japan and Australia when I was a kid but I gotta say my favourite place would be Kathmandu, Nepal. Why? Because the culture there is super laid back, everyone is so chilled out and nice, and also that’s the only place I’ve been just to take pictures! I’m keen on going to India soon but I’m getting married next year and weddings take up a lot of money, so my traveling ideas are now are all on pause.

I’m a big fan of your portrait works. What do you look into for a portrait?

By just looking at someone’s face, you will have an inclination of the person’s emotions. And my camera is one of those tools that can freeze those emotions and capture it in a photograph. Just photographing them in their own element tells a story.

What aspects of social media do you think that can help photographers?

Instagram is a place where you can see different photographs displaying different things. It is one of the best tools photographers can leverage on to get inspired. I am always on Instagram just looking at other people’s work. I try not to copy them but get inspired and see what I can do to improve my work.

It’s inevitable that there are simply too many photographers. How do you work out to make your images stand out from the rest?

Well, a lot of people know me as the guy with that crazy ass film camera! But in all seriousness, I just try to do things that other people don’t. A lot of photographers are scared to go up to a stranger for a photo but I love doing that – I love engaging with people.

Do you believe camera equipment or smartphone apps matter in creating work?

It depends on the photographer itself. I’ve seen some iPhone photographers who produces amazing work with their phone. And I’ve seen professional photographers producing amazing work with their fancy equipment. There isn’t a right or wrong when it comes to this question. In the end, it’s just up to the person itself and where they want to do with photography. 

Are you earning enough as a photographer?

Hahaha, I guess so? Not too bad, I guess. Other then photography, I do venture into videography and graphic design as well. Those can be my income as well.  I did graduate with a Diploma in Advertising & Graphic Design, and that helps me earn a living too.

Any photographers that you’ve been following? To what extent they influence your work?

Man, where do I begin? I look at so many different photographers that take different kind of photographs. For starters, Paul Gadd – a British photographer based in Malaysia and founder of The Print Room, has been my teacher and mentor for almost 4 years. He specialises in documentary and now currently working on his Twisted Life series. He is one of the photographers, who has made a life-changing impact on me and without him; I would not be where I am today. Apart from that, I love looking at 13th Witness, trashhand, and Van Styles when it comes to Instagram. And as for the legendary photographers, I would say Henri Cartier Bresson for his street photography, Annie Leibovitz for her fashion photography and Richard Avedon for his powerful portraiture work. But, the photographer I look up to most has to be Jonathan Mannion – the man responsible for most of the hip-hop artist’s album covers in America. And here’s a little secret for you. My fiancée managed to contact Jonathan Mannion and apparently, he is going to send a personal video of him for me for our wedding. How cool is that?!

What music are you listening to lately? Any TV shows or movies you’ve recently watched?

I am currently hooked on to the new album from The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect and Fleet Foxes. But my music genre changes from time to time. It really depends on the mood, I feel. I can listen to hip-hop to rock to K-POP if I wanted to! The only TV shows I’ve been catching up on are The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. I love the DC Universe but I am not a hardcore fan. I don’t read their comics that much but I love the idea of it.

Any upcoming projects for you?

I’ve got some stuff written on my notebook but so far I haven’t started on any yet. I’m still searching around for ideas and focusing on getting as much aspiration as I can from my environment.

Any last words?

For those who think film photography makes you a better photographer, it’s not always the case. Yes, you do learn to shoot without a digital LCD at the back of the camera — and that is tricky, but at the end of the day it comes down to you, yourself. Just use what is comfortable for you and if you prefer using your smart phone camera and edit them on VSCO then so be it. Just shoot with whatever you have and if that makes you happy then keep doing it. Find your forte, and everything else should just fall into place. Photography is supposed to be fun — and it is.