Tan Joo Lee – Born in Malaysia – A Photographer's Journey
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Tan Joo Lee

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of the Born in Malaysia team. This project has been meaningful on so many levels. First of all, reconnecting with Kenny and Allie, both of whom I had worked with in the past, has been a treat.

When Kenny showed me his photographs, I was gobsmacked. In the two decades or more since we first met as we started out in our respective careers as colleagues, he has matured into a sensitive and compassionate photographer. Every photograph in this book is evidence of the man he has become. Born in Malaysia is not a photographic ego trip but his sincere attempt to make sense of this country we love but sometimes don’t understand.

My challenge was to help him tell the story of his journey. He had seen so much, heard so much – and had so much to say. My task was to tease through all the threads of his experiences, impressions, memories and finally, his often illegible notes to find the right strand or two that would guide the reader to the heart of each photograph.

Writing was surprisingly easy in many ways, and yet so heart-wrenchingly difficult. Living a largely sheltered urban life, I have been shielded from many realities. These pictures are a visceral reminder of the many facets of Malaysia and I profoundly share Kenny’s sense of loss. At the same time, I hold on to hope that there is a better Malaysia waiting to emerge and in the pages of this book, there is heartening evidence of that as well.

Born in Malaysia is ultimately a collaborative experience – Kenny’s photographs and stories, and my words, all beautifully and thoughtfully put together by Allie. Throughout the process, we were always on the same page, always pulling in the same direction. Thank you, Kenny and Allie, for the pleasure and privilege. ~ Joo Lee

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