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Mohd Azlan 



This is where humankind and nature collide; as does myth with history; the ruinous aftereffects of colonialism with the supposedly retrograde aspects of our mist-soaked tribal impulses; wildness with imprisonment; ancestral collective memory with postmodern anonymous alienation; clouds with concrete; mystery with certainty.  


His vision is a transcendent one, consisting of the more elegant aspects of chaos, order, time and space, perspective, impression, projection, juxtaposition, orientation, frames within frames, structure, morphology, atmosphere, aura and, simply, appearance with its random associations.


Mohd Azlan presents objects and artifacts as evidence (seemingly random at first glance) though trapped in layers of taxonomic-like imagery that inevitably gathers them together, as they overlay then supersede one another, like ghostly traces that seem to have floated upward of their own accord from the lucid depths of the oracle-photographer’s developing tray.


But much more than serving up a one-dimensional intellectual game or rationalized grid on which to hang arguments or logical summations or assessments, his juxtaposed images seduce and play with our mental processes, hint at something more, draw us close, and then cut us loose again, as we seek to create some linear conclusion about their potential meanings.


The meanings—the stories—are there, as they are in any filmic or theatrical composition. And as with any element of, or character in a story, each reader interprets his or her own slightly angled version, as though through a reflection in a private mirror in which perceptions share equal weight and position beside a light that belongs to us all. However, this light glances away quickly from thought of hierarchy, leaving only faint or bold impressions in our ruffled minds.

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All Images/Photographs ©2024 Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib

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I asked him to explain the title. He responded at first as though citing from a dictionary.


“Mono: one; alone; single…


“Edge: the point or state immediately before something unpleasant or momentous occurs.”


But then gradually he eased into his own voice: “I think these are locations that will be sacrificed to modernization and urban development. Their absolute monumental figurations will later be demolished, forgotten and, as though they are already crying, ultimately lost within their plight of marginalization.


“Personally, their monotonous echoes continue to signal to me that I should document these specimens for future generations.”


When one hears such assertions, one thinks of Eugene Atget setting out to accomplish a similar goal on the streets of Paris at the fin de siècle, documenting the great city’s changes, and selling them to the Musée Carnavalet, or Gabriele Basilico’s architectural photographic work in Milan, but only in combination with the photographs he made in Beirut in 1991, to reconcile the glaring contrasts of modern encroachments that should be more frequently set side by side with the 20th century’s legacy of destruction. 

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Even Daidō Moriyama on the streets of Tokyo comes to mind momentarily. However, it is arguable that Azlan goes further in the social sphere, like the surrealists who were inspired by Atget, but then followed in his steps and beyond, during the first decades of the 20th century.


Like a “chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” the famous surrealist quote by the Comte de Lautréamont, Azlan’s schematic abstractions draw our personal dreams and limitations more deeply into the reality of his functional constructions that even include the topographical, graphological, and morphological. 


If the viewer allows him- or herself to fully engage with the work (not by seizing, but by easing into, them), one discovers what the artist has already found and now knows well…that space between the subliminal and the illuminated, between silence and sound, between objects and the objectified, similar to the surreal but beyond it in psychological scope, where art and science merge their various uses into a whole, as do function and form, the elegant and the earthbound, the rooted and the fluid. 


Here time is defied; presence is all. 


It takes the skill and vision of a master artisan to bring disparate elements together harmoniously and to full realization.   

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The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.


                                                           — Aristotle

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At certain moments Azlan’s palimpsests/collages oscillate, flap and quiver on transparent scaffolds of structure and order, at other moments, of metaphor and symbol, still at another, on a framework of simple objects and perspectives, in aerial views or suspended between the rigid delineations of urban planning drawings. One seems always to be caught unawares. And yet, these components flow together, beyond and around the gridlock of historical limitations set up by our postmodern regressions to a place where myth, intuition, and empathy hold sway, but also in sync with the historical record. (Not so incidentally, “Kuala Lumpur” means “muddy confluence.”)


It’s as if the medical imaging specialist (Azlan is also a diagnostic radiographer) has transcended the useful limits of science and seeks those essences that cannot be seen, reproduced, or reduced to mere anatomical notation or societal prognosis.  


By letting go of the limitations of the merely functional, and yet keeping them close  and at the ready, Azlan is able to weld logic to intuition, memory to history, dream to purposeful functionality and into maps of collective consciousness, thereby producing x-ray-like leaves of local habitation, forensic documentations of failed or aspiring humanity.


Macro- and micro-textures are flattened together as though in a bacteriologist’s Petri dish or beneath a glass slide. Meanwhile, branches of trees are rendered as veins of a single leaf pressed in a book. 


Technique and vision have been wed, beyond the photographer’s usual bag of tricks (selective focus, double/triple exposures, blurs, spills, silhouettes, scratches, scrapes,  dull or overexposures, reticulation, staining (in Azlan’s case, with coffee), to realize a vision that includes newsprint headlines, etchings, layers of old documents, tracings, faded urban street maps, negatives, drawings, handwriting, in several languages including both Malaysian and Arabic, all gracefully floating together with the weight of memory. Whether it is ours or his or those who have already passed or are yet to be born remains unimportant.




Not only does Azlan not process his images digitally, he calculates and maneuvers by hand each stage of the creative procedure in order to actualise a pre-existing idea. Even the paper he uses for his prints is developed using a special process. After having collected leftover coffee from his workplace cafeteria each day, and once he has a sufficient quantity of it over a two or three week period, he dilutes it with photographic chemicals.


There is a John Dos Passos-like quality to the gathering of evidence by way of collage in order to help tell each story. Nothing is shunned: neither culture nor politics, nor art, nature, work, class, poverty, wealth, weather, traffic, bridges, power lines, nor seemingly simple and disconnected objects, in one instance, a hat (a khaki communist cap embellished with a red star, the image of the cap juxtaposed with those symbols of financially induced globalism, the Petronas Twin Towers; in another there is a boot hovering in the sky, perched as though to stamp “on a face forever” in Orwell’s language, his “vision of the future,” or perhaps simply serving as a handmade example of an anonymous sweatshop worker’s toil; finally, there is the intrusion of technology by way of the tilted placement of an airliner in a wan sky. Indeed, color has been drained from these veils of perspective, these sheaths of documentation, these “proofs,” evoking a mood and a sample of modernity vitiated of life force. 


The strategically randomized placement of these objects is fraught with meaning, and brings to mind Alphonse de Lamartine’s line: “Objets inanimés, avez-vous donc une âme qui s’attache à notre âme et la force d’aimer?” Nostalgia plays it’s low-key role as well, but not in any way that remotely approaches the destructively sentimental.

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One is reminded of a quote by the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva:  

“For the spell is older than experience. For the tale is older than the record.”

Although a quote from Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra would be better suited and perhaps reflects more accurately Azlan’s same concerns: “Ever tried stopping a tank with a neatly crafted stanza? Or filling a child’s belly with an over-ripe metaphor?



“And now when the shadow
of the jackboot hangs
ominous over their beloved land
they walk as zombies
unable to distinguish right from
wrong from right
their minds furred with lichens
like the dark side of trees.”



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In Azlan’s words: “I was exposed early to the daily struggles of life in the city. The disparity between the lives of the rich , the middle class and the poor is more amplified here than anywhere else in our country.”


No wonder he has sought to create what he calls, “a silent opus of quiet images.”

From Kampung Baru to Chow Kit Market and Jalan Tiong Nam to Jalan Pudu and Jalan Tuanka Abdul Rahman, from Changkat Bukit Bintang to the eponymous Brickfields and Pekeliling flats…


A onetime mining prospectors’ settlement at the confluence of the Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang on the Peninsular Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is now an alpha world city and, though situated in a tropical rainforest environment, has become the financial and economic center of Malaysia.


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Article ©2024 James B. Williamson


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Currently working as a senior diagnostic radiographer, fine art photographer Mohd Azlan possesses a set of steadfast principles about the role of the artist in society, which are enunciated in his photographs. Passionate about his concepts and craft, his commitment to them translates directly, and with immediacy, into his work.   All photographs ©2024 Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib

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