Interview #29 - Jasmine Abdullah

Jasmine Abdullah is a super talented photographer from Malaysia. She started creating images at 13 years old. Her work has gained some recognition in Instagram, and recently featured in Pursuit of Portraits' account.

Tell us about yourself? 

Hi and hello! My name is Jasmine, and I love making portraits. I’m currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I’ve been taking photographs, diving head first into this realm of visual creativity since I was gifted my first DSLR at the age of 13. Fast-forwarding life by 11 years and a 3-year hiatus recently from photography, here I am today. 

What’s happening with you lately?

Where do I even begin? I’ve just recently graduated and moved back home from Singapore and actually, starting work in a few short weeks. Though it’s been quite the roller-coaster ride making this transition, I’ve also been pretty busy getting creative with love, from behind the camera. From conceptual portraits, I do that pull on my heartstrings, all the way to fashion shows, lookbooks, weddings and family sessions. I’ve been keeping myself occupied most days. Channeling creative vibes to the fullest because you know, I’ll only have the weekends to do that soon!

What draws you into photography, specifically shooting portraits?

It wasn’t until recently that I really thought about what draws me into portraiture, and really, there are many things. I love every facet of it. There’s just something about seeing an idea or vision come to life, and becoming art. I especially love how we have the ability to make something, or maybe even a moment that’s so ordinary looks so peculiarly beautiful. Portraits allow us to share the way we look at things, or maybe even the world.

Do you remember your first ever shoot?

Yes! My mother recently reminded me that I actually had an album of photographs that I took when I was 13. Looking through those, the first actual series I did was make do. It was also the time I fell in love with black and white images.

How’s the photography scene over there in your perspective?

I’ve been following (and a fan, really) of works by several photographers from our neighboring country, Singapore, for the longest time and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered and even connected with like-minded creatives here, in Malaysia! All thanks to the social media. I'm so proud of the great works that many photographers here are producing, which I hope continue to inspire more budding photographers to step out of their comfort zone.

What are your challenges being a photographer?

1. Getting outreach. 

Portraits. What is it about them that makes it so easy to look at, but harder to appreciate? I love portraits, and I appreciate all of them. If you make portraits as well, you’d know what I mean. It’s sad that it’s always the things that are aesthetically pleasing that gets the most outreach. In actual fact, art was never meant to always look pretty, but instead, it’s supposed to be able to make you feel something. To give you butterflies, pull on your heartstrings and some, maybe even make you feel a little uncomfortable. I strive to tell stories in some of the images I create and the likes or views don’t really bother me. What matters to me is that people feel something upon seeing these images. That people resonate with them. That’s the challenge. 

2. The need to specialize. 

I’ve been told time and again that to be “successful”, I should specialize. Though that might be partly true, I look at photography as a spectrum, and there are many different “genres” that make up this spectrum. I’m not saying that we need to be great at all of it, but I think that we should be able to explore, and even pick up more than 1 facet to photography.  The challenge surfaces when potential clients write or call in, more than often highlighting the fact that I do so many things, but what’s my “specialization”.  It’s personally a challenge for me, but I’m more than happy keeping it this way.

How does the environment you’re living in influence your photography? 

Well, Malaysia does revolve around its socio-religious climate. Though many of us are all about freedom of expression, it does take a second (or days) to think about how much, can be too much. I’m all for celebrating individuality, sexuality, freedom and liberation. 

However, I’ve already had fellow photographers come up to me, pointing out that I like “extreme stuff” upon seeing my favorite series called Breaking Barriers X Joash , beautifully created with this dear friend and androgynous beauty. I agree to disagree on that statement. Yes, we try to make a difference, and maybe push the limits just a tad bit, but we still keep it tasteful, and respectful. I guess you could say I’m a little more thoughtful in what a put out there. Positive vibes, people!

Do you have certain aesthetics or method of shooting?

I’m drawn to moody images and tones but really, I adapt to any particular shoot. Aesthetics and methods vary from shoot to shoot, and I really enjoy trying new styles of producing a photo, especially in the post-processing phase. 

What draws you into shooting fashion?

Just a few months ago, I never thought I’d be shooting anything to do with fashion! It wasn’t until a dear friend, threw me into the fire. After going out on an image adventure together, we spoke about her career in fashion as a model and all of a sudden, she gets me a pass to this fashion show. I fell in love. One show lead to another, which then was followed by several lookbooks and here I am! Actually, if it wasn’t for that first fashion show, I don’t think I would have tapped onto it. I even landed my first job in a career path revolving around fashion (which will be revealed in due time)! 

How’s the fashion scene over there?

I think it’s really good! There are so many local and regional talented designers, and I’m blown away every time they showcase their work on the runway. It’s so crazy, and just like what I said about making portraits, fashion, too is art in itself! Shows are a way of expressing, and it’s a beautiful art form. I love the artistry that goes into designing, and I hope the scene here keeps expanding! 

What are you incorporating when you do your fashion shoots?

I try to capture moments that people often miss when it comes to taking photos, be it during a styled lookbook or off the runway. This includes movement, lots of it, and details because the details do matter. 

Describe how do your approach your work

Sometimes I’m methodological and other times, I wing it. Some of my favorites are completely spontaneous, and almost unplanned. When it’s an actual project, I do draw up mood boards, looking for visual inspiration on Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. When an idea I have in mind doesn’t have an existing sample, I tend to draw it out. In stick figures, though! I’m never very tactical, and I’m completely flexible and alright with it if the shoot goes in a totally different direction. Like I said, it’s a joint effort my subject has got to enjoy, and be in the moment. 

What’s your post-processing like?

I like to keep it quick, and simple. I’m an avid Lightroom user, and I love creating my own presets! I always save presets as I go along. It’s amazing what you can do once you stop relying to ready-made presets like VSCO! Nothing against it, though. I use purchased presets now and then for a quick fix but really, it’s rewarding when it’s my own preset I’m using.

Do you have preferences for choosing subjects or models?

Not at all! I love getting creative with people. I believe that a great image is created together, and it really is a joint effort. I love figuring out what complements that particular model or subject, and making sure they are comfortable in their element. I find that I learn the most from shooting people of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and so on. But I do very much prefer natural-light portraits, and shooting outdoors! I’d hike for hours just to get to a location, so I’m pickier in regards to location more than anything. 

Any other works or photographers that you follow?

Many! If I listed them all here, it’s never going to end. I discover new favorites almost daily, So I guess checking out the follow list via Instagram would have to do. 

Do you value quality or quantity?

Quality, without a doubt. 

In what ways that camera gears or cellphone apps matter to you in producing the work?

I believe that you don’t need great gear to produce great images. I shot on my dinosaur-aged Nikon D40 for the longest time before switching, and some of my favorites were done using that camera. It all depends on what you do with it. I can’t say much about cellphone apps because I seldom edit on a smartphone, but I know that phones today has come a long way in terms of quality, too. Even Leica has been collaborating with phone brands, and that’s pretty awesome. 

Do you earn enough as a photographer?

I can’t really answer this question, solely because I’m not a full-time photographer. However, I won’t say that I couldn’t be earning more. If only people knew the time and effort we put in actually producing these images.

Who do you think are the audience of your work?

I really haven’t taken notice on that, but I know that other fellow creatives are part of them! It’s so nice how Instagram connects us all, and everyone’s supportive. I don’t have a specific target audience, though. 

How much you think people will value your work?

I believe that it’s very subjective. Different people have different aesthetic preferences, and it’s those who appreciate your eye that will value your work more than anyone else. 

How do you cope in getting the attention through social media or word of mouth?

I’m a firm believer in both social media and word of mouth. Either way, I’m just very glad that people do appreciate what I do!

Any music that you listen to lately? Books that you read? Movies that you just watched recently?

Looking at my most-played tracks on Spotify, it’s currently Frank Sinatra. I love to read. I have a mini-library in my room, and my favorite has got to be Harry Potter. Unsurprisingly, Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is my current movie obsession.


Anything that keeps you excited in the future?

2017 is just around the corner, and I’m just excited in what the year brings. I look forward to seeing work, photography, love and life progress.

Any last words?

Always trust the process. Keep shooting, editing, practicing and it’ll come. This applies to everything in life. 


You can find more of Jasmine's work below: