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Tuesday, October 18, 2016, 09:27

Pictures beyond the frame

By Dara Wang

The Hong Kong-based Lensational has set out on a mission to liberate women who have grown up in poverty and without much education by teaching self-expression through photography. Dara Wang reports.

Pictures beyond the frame

On a weekend afternoon about a year ago, an Indonesian house maid Arumy Marzudhy saw something that changed her life while strolling on a Hong Kong street. Probably it didn’t occur to her at the time that her life might be changed by seeing an old street sweeper bending to reach into a dustbin, nearly dwarfed by the pile of garbage bags that was already filled after one day toil.

Marzudhy recognized herself in that scene. At 28, she resigned herself to a lifetime scrubbing toilets in Hong Kong. The young woman took out her camera and snapped the picture through the “eye” of the concrete lattice work across the road — cold, dispassionate, offering no empathy — just as she felt others saw her.

“I felt I was just like her, working hard for money, even handling rubbish to earn it,” said Marzudhy.

The young domestic helper’s transformation started after she took up photography as a hobby at “Lensational”, a social enterprise whose mission is to teach women the universal language of self-expression, especially for those who may be subjugated in male dominated, patriarchal societies.

Every weekend, Lensational gathers its pupils in parks or on the streets of Hong Kong. Sessions are supervised by a volunteer tutor, who guides them toward mastery of the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras and teaches them photo editing.

Marzudhy is one of 400 women around the world, learning photography from Lensational. The organization’s founder is Bonnie Chiu Shun-yu, 23, a Hong Kong native. She tells China Daily her organization has over 60 volunteers working in 18 countries and regions, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya and Cambodia.

Chiu has made it her mission to show women that they can overcome their challenges and achieve their goals, the same as men. Photography is a good start and a field that Chiu says is ready for change.

Marzudhy is able to apply critical appraisal to her work when she looks at that photograph she feels the clammy texture of the damp garbage and smells the sour odor from the viscous liquid dripping out from the garbage bags.

It was sunny that day when she took her photos. To capture the feeling, she opened the aperture of her camera and slowed the shutter speed so that the elements of her shot were shown in striking contrast, as the sunshine beat down on the road while the place behind the lattice remained cast in shadow.

Photography was more than taking pictures. For Marzudhy, it was a means of venturing forth toward self-initiation, discovering the magical power to express feelings long suppressed and nearly forgotten.

Pictures beyond the frame
In a photo Arumy Marzudhy took for her village, a local farmer revealed a smile that beams like the sun as he stands hand in hand in the center for a rice paddy with a friendly scarecrow. (Provided to China Daily )

Her home was in Plumbangan, a village in Indonesia. Her life was here in Hong Kong, but her hometown was always in her thoughts. She always fancied finding the means to make life “better” back in her village.

“Many migrant workers from my hometown have returned home after getting old, without dreams and ambitions. They use their money to buy cars, beautiful houses and fields. That isn’t the life I want,” Marzudhy said.

Her “real dream” was to help her hometown to flourish by attracting more tourism. Her discovery of her talents in photography has become her vehicle for achieving that goal.

She began gathering welcoming images of her hometown, with an image of a local farmer wearing a smile almost as big as himself standing in a rice paddy where even the scarecrow is friendly.

The colors and the pristine purity of the place drew her Hong Kong employer and a reporter to visit her hometown.

“Villagers are so happy to see visitors. They volunteered to guide the tour around and even take them rafting on the river,” she said.

Marzudhy’s confidence grew along with her conviction that she could make life better for the people of her rural village. In June, she bought a piece of land in the village — 800 square meters — where she plans to build an education center for local kids. She plans to teach them English and broaden their world view by teaching them photography.

“Most parents of those kids are farmers who cannot afford expensive English lessons. There are no photography courses either,” Marzudhy said. “I will offer free courses for them, because from my experience I realize how important the two skills are. They drive people to communicate and to express.”

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