Friday, June 03, 2011

A Visit to Old Kuching Prison

It was a normal weekday that took me for an errand to the Sarawak Post Office, but along the way I was passing the Old Kuching Prison. To my surprise, it has been torn down !! Well, not exactly 100 percent demolished, the process of tearing it down must have been halted temporarily due to the Gawai Holidays. The majority of the roofs and walls were taken down, but the core skeletons and some parts of the buildings are still standing. Seeing such a compelling view, I took a detour away from my errand route and started exploring the abandoned prison, or whats left of it.

This was my first visit to a prison of any kind. I was a little bit sad because I did not manage to catch the place before the demolition procedures began. Caoturing the place as it was standing still would have been different. Nonetheless, I was still quite taken away with the things I found in the remains of the prison buildings. There were old records of the prisoners, registration papers, old photographs, court orders, and all sorts of assorted documents everywhere in the main office building. As I explored deeper and deeper, I found that the cells were mostly already destroyed to rubbles, but the main administration space and offices were mostly untouched. Going through the bits and pieces of clues being left behind felt like there were so much life to the place, but too bad, all that has already come to an end.

All images were taken with Olympus E-5 and Zuiko 8mm F3.5 Fisheye lens. 
Note: Exposure balance may be inconsistent and slightly inaccurate, I am currently away from my usual working desk computer. 

I particularly like some of the exposed skeletons and bare structures of the buildings. Sorry, you are looking at a civil engineer here, those are the things that get me going. Prison life aside, the view of the destruction and demolished structures were quite outstanding. Not an everyday encounter, I must say, and it is the things that I do not really see often that truly attracted my attention. You have to admit, it is a rare opportunity to see the inside of a prison.

I was not prepared for this session, I was only armed with the Olympus E-5 and the fisheye lens. The sky was threatening to rain, and the lighting was quite flat, not something favorable for scenery and building photography. Therefore, for most of my shots, I employed the Dramatic Tone Art Filter to enhance the contrast and dynamic range of the photograph. I converted all the images to black and white, because I feel that this set of photographs are best being presented in monotone. The prison knows no colours, that is for sure. 

For some of the photographs I have applied fisheye correction, so they looked like being taken with an ultra wide angle lens instead. I would not want to present everything in fisheye distorted format, else it would look uncomfortable as a set. I know the images would have been different, and probably better if I had my 11-22mm wide angle zoom lens, but lets just cut short all the what ifs and start making the camera click and click and click. Less complaining is the key to making more images (and hopefully better too).

I was told and encouraged to diversify my photography exploration, and to discover fresh ideas, something less repetitive and different from my usual showcase. Well, this entry has got to be one of the most unusual ones I have made recently. I went into the prison, literally, to grab some images.

I did not stay long, probably for a little more than an hour or so. The prison did give me the creeps. However, I had a blast in there, enjoying my photography. Sounds so wrong, right?


  1. this blog entry is so refreshing! u did good robin but please be careful where u explore ya?


  2. WOW...i love this set Robin...I agree with the monotone choice and dramatic tone filter brought this alive. Question for you...can you simulate a filter like this on the E-PL1?

  3. Hello Marcus,
    Thanks mate !!
    Don't worry, the place was perfectly safe, it was one stone throw away from my old school, and I know the whole area very well.

    Hey sgshultz,
    Thanks !!
    The Dramatic Tone is nothing but a pseudo-HDR look-alike effect, which can be achieved by using various post-processing softwares (eg photomatix).
    You do need to shoot RAW to schieve this. Also, you have an option to do REAL HDR, but that will be too much work.

  4. Spooky, eerie yet evocative photos. Nice!

  5. Chong,
    Thanks !!
    I think it was spooky because of the black and white treatment. If it has vibrant colours it would look too ordinary LOL

  6. No. It won't be 'too ordinary' when the photos have vibrant colours. It will cast a misconception... that prison is a happy place to be in. Haha!

  7. Chong,
    LOL !!! There is a fine line between happiness and misery, no?

  8. Nice B&W set Robin. I like macro shots with fisheye lens & the first picture especially.

  9. Hello Xuenphotoz,
    Thanks for the compliments mate !!

  10. Robin, so canteekk.. Like your style of story telling

  11. I don't even know it was torn down already...the old pictures of the prison guards and prisoners looks interesting! Can go in there without permission? lol. :)

  12. Hello Lindy,
    not many people know about the prison being torn down.
    It was in early June I went there, I am currently in KL. Not sure whether the place is still accessible or not.

  13. Hello Robin:

    I came across your site and saw those pictures. Great shots.

    However, what stirs me most is the scenes of the prison interiors and the old prison records that were irresponsibly left behind.

    For civilians who have had family member who are inmates of Sarawak prison, they would want to have an assurance that the prison are in well-kept order and system where their life are in the hands of the persons operating the prison. Seeing those records (though some may be old) intentionally left behind for public eyes proves to the people that the security and privacy of the prisoners, and their families are being compromised, and the Prison Superintendent's duties not effectively and efficiently carried out.

  14. I believe you've done Sarawak a great service for shooting the pictures in the nick of time. The building is now all gone. It's all worth the trouble.

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  16. This building was not built for keeping prisoners. It was originally a hospital